BOSTON — Tulip trend trackers say bulbs yielding either orange or purple flowers are de rigueur this autumn planting season. Interest in the two colors has been building over the past few years, but seemed to explode when Margaret Walch, director of the Color Association of the United States, recently told a New York Times columnist that orange is the "color of the millennium." Since purple pairs well with orange in the garden, it also seems destined for millennium status.
Orange and purple may come as a bit of a shock to those of us who revel in the beautiful pastel shades. According to Sally Ferguson, director of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center in New York, pastels are not disappearing. "No one wants to give up on pastels," she says. "It is like wearing a favorite sweater day in and day out. One day you just ask yourself, 'Why don't I try another color?' "
Other bulb favorites, including tropicals, miniatures, edibles, night blooming "moon gardens," and fragrant flowers still sell well. In fact, Ms. Ferguson believes that interest in tropical plants may have led to the orange and purple boom. Bold, vivid colors occur naturally in many tropical plants.
Orange and purple spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and crocus, are not new to the market. Most have been available for more than 100 years, but were shunned by many gardening aficionados. "Orange used to be thought of as a color for prison jumpsuits," Ferguson says, "but we have learned to appreciate how fantastic it, and purple, look in the landscape."
While there are numerous ways to incorporate the newly discovered bulbs into gardens, Ferguson recommends two basic planting methods. The first is to mass-plant small purple or blue-flowering "naturalizing" bulbs, meaning that they duplicate themselves on their own. When in bloom, the flowers will create a breathtaking carpet of color. She particularly recommends this technique for grassland areas, woodland settings, and large, informal gardens.
The second method involves underplanting orange tulips with lower-growing purple-hued plants, such as grape hyacinth or blue and purple "Glory of the Snow" camassia. Ferguson calls this the double-decker approach. "It can create a lovely bouquet effect," she says. "The entire garden will benefit from the orange and purple artful accents."
Someone who has tried both methods, and countless others, is Judy Glattstein, author of "Flowering Bulbs for Dummies" (IDG Books Worldwide, 1998) and a noted lecturer and gardening consultant. In a four-year period, she has planted more than 16,000 bulbs on her property. With the 6,000 she plans to add this autumn, that makes a total of 22,000. "I try to practice what I preach," explains Ms. Glattstein.
She offers some valuable advice on selecting, storing and planting bulbs. "If you can pick a good onion, you can pick a good bulb," she says. As with onions, look for bulbs that are firm and heavy with no signs of mold. Tulip bulbs are also graded by size, large being better.
Glattstein does not recommend storing bulbs. "It's best to buy and plant," she says. If you need to place bulbs in storage, put them in a paper bag and keep them in a cool, dark, and dry place. Storing can promote mold growth and may cause roots to grow prematurely.
Never store bulbs in a plastic bag, which increases moisture buildup, and never store near ripening fruit. Apples, for example, give off bulb-damaging ethylene gas when they ripen.
Most bulbs should be planted in a hole that is approximately three times as deep as the width of the bulb. Add compost or a commercial fertilizer containing controlled-release nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Bulb Booster works well, and many gardeners prefer it to bone meal. Water thoroughly. Unless your garden is in an arid setting, further waterings usually are not necessary.
This season, Glattstein loves the Prinses Irene tulip, fashionably colored in an apricot-orange shade and feathered with purple. It also possesses a light floral fragrance. Glattstein says, "Few people experience the fragrance of bulb flowers because cold temperatures do not carry scents very well."
Even if you have chosen a variety without fragrance, this season's flowering bulbs will surely dazzle you with orange and purple passion next spring. Glattstein simply says, "Buy bulbs. You will appreciate it later."
Ferguson adds, "After a drab and dreary winter, bulb flowers bring color and a whole new world to your garden."
ORANGE TULIPS AND OTHER BULB FLOWERS
Tulipa "Ballerina" - This elegant flower has a lovely fragrance and luminous marigold-orange color.
Tulipa "Orange Sun" - Sometimes referred to as Oranjezon; a true, bright-orange sunshine color.
Tulipa "Orange Emperor" - Oprah Winfrey once declared this salmon-orange tulip as her favorite.
Tulipa "Prinses Irene" - Described above. It is also quite sturdy and holds up in strong winds.
Tulipa "Little Princess" - A small, fragrant species marked by a pitch -black heart edged in white.
Tulipa "Best Seller" - A lovely salmon orange laced with overtones of copper and dusty-rose.
Hyacinth "Gipsy Queen" - This is as close to orange as a hyacinth gets.
Fritillaria imperialis "The Premier" - It grows up to four feet-tall with cascading orange bells.
Eremurus "Cleopatra" - Known as a Foxtail lily, it looks like orange fox tails when backlit by the sun.
PURPLE TULIPS AND MORE
Tulipa "Arabian Mystery" - This dark purple-violet tulip has petals edged in white that shimmer to lavender shades in sunlight (see photo, above left.)
Tulipa "Black Parrot" - This possesses phenomenal fringed, ruffled petals in velvety-purple-black.
Muscari latifolium - A deep purple-blue grape hyacinth with an unusual tuft of ice-blue florets. Excellent when planted with daffodils and tulips.
Fritillaria persica - Here is a tall grower with purple, green and plum colored bells.
Allium gigantium - This plant with fuzz balls of compact purple florets can reach five feet tall.
Hyacinthus "Peter Stuyvesant" - This is nicknamed the "essence of purple" because of its wonderful fragrance and rich color.
Iris reticulata "George" - Often called the rock garden iris," it has plum-purple petals with markings of yellow and white.