Fall is tulip planting season. Everyone loves the tall, majestic tulip varieties, but a growing trend -- especially in small space gardens -- is to plant species or botanical tulips. These lower-growing tulips have many special attributes. They bloom early in spring, have bright colored flowers on 6- to 10-inch-tall stems, withstand cold temperatures and spring storms, and multiply over time. Unlike hybrid tulips that look best planted in large masses, species tulips fill in small spaces and complement flowers such as forget-me-nots and pansies.
There are more than 100 species tulip varieties available, and some of the most popular ones are Tulipa greigii, Tulipa tarda, and Tulipa bakeri.
Tulipa greigii is a short, squatty tulip with long, pointed, 4-inch-long flower buds. The buds open in full sun like a water lily, but close tight as the temperature cools at night. The colors vary from orange-scarlet to cream and yellow and include a bicolor selection.
Tulipa tarda features flowers with six, star-shaped petals -- yellow with white tips -- that are clustered tightly together. After flowering, they develop very attractive seed pods.
Tulipa bakeri produces large, lilac-colored flowers, and 'Lilac Wonder' is a popular selection. Although there's much variation in flower color among the species, most botanical tulips grow best in light soils that have been worked to a depth of 12 inches. They flower best in full sun.
For more information on growing species tulips, contact the Netherlands Flower Bulb Exchange (www.bulb.com/springguide98/tulip/06.asp).