Sandy’s Garden ... Tulip Divisions

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

Association football is moving into its final phases of the 2017-2018 season.

As the directors, managers, players and supporters of clubs in the lower levels of their leagues worry about which division their team will play in next season, it can be comforting for a gardener to know that there are divisions in the horticultural world which are not based on performance. Some plants are propagated by division – by being split into two or more parts, each of which will grow into an independent plant. And some … most notably tulips … are split into divisions by their characteristics and have neither hope of promotion nor fear of relegation.

In the case of tulips, there are no less than fifteen divisions - some say sixteen, although the majority view is that the varieties sometimes included in this diverse division properly belong in one or other of the generally-recognised fifteen divisions. And, although the average gardener … like myself … has little need to know what these divisions are, it can be interesting to know how on earth there can be fifteen distinct divisions of flowers which are all sufficiently similar that virtually everyone can identify them as ‘tulips.’

Division 1 features the earliest tulips to bloom, specifically those which are described as ‘single-flowering’ as distinct from those which are termed ‘double-flowering,’ a name given to varieties of flowers with extra petals, often containing flowers within flowers. In the case of tulips, division 2 is the home of tulips which produce semi-double to double, peony-like flowers. Both divisions include flowers in a wide variety of colours; and the species in both division 1 and 2 are particularly valued for producing their flowers in the early spring.

The largest of all the tulip divisions is division 3, the home of the so-called ‘triumph’ tulips. Their cup-shaped flowers on strong, medium-length stems are available in a very wide variety of colours, their drawback being that most species in division 3, although perennial, have a relatively short life span and need to be replaced every few years if they are grown outdoors in natural conditions. A better choice for growing ‘in the wild’ as it were, are the Darwin tulips of division 4, whose large brilliant flowers in warm colours … red, pink, orange, and yellow … will appear year after year with little or no attention from the gardener.

Division 5, the single late tulips as distinct from the single early tulips of division 1, features some of the tallest of all tulip varieties and produce their flowers later in the spring. The varieties found in division 5 are available in more colours than the whites, pinks, reds, yellows and purples of the lily-flowering tulips of division 6, whose long, pointed, outward-arching petals bring lilies to mind. Division 7 … the fringed tulips … is for tulips whose flowers have, well, fringed petals; and division 8 … the viridiflora tulips … is for species whose flowers have prominent green markings on their petals. The once very expensive members of division 9 … the Rembrandt tulips … have striped markings on the flowers, markings which were caused by a virus; the only members of division 9 available today are virus-free Rembrandt-type cultivars. Parrot tulips with feathered or curled petals form division 10; and double late tulips, or ‘peony-flowered’ tulips constitute division 11. The small Kaufmanniana tulips, whose flowers resemble stars when fully open, are division 12; their opposites, with some of the largest of all tulip flowers, form division 13 - the Fosteriana tulips; and it’s back to short stems for the Greigii tulips of division 14, their brightly-coloured flowers being an excellent choice for borders. This leaves division 15 as a catch-all for wild species, for horticultural cultivars, and for hybrids which don’t have a home elsewhere.