Flamboyant Parrot Tulips for a Fabulous Spring

Spring bulbs are for fall planting, and when you plan next spring’s garden palette, plant boldly with Parrot tulips. These bulbs were bred to impress. Each bloom has feathery, undulating petals in brilliant colors that look more tropical than temperate. Many a still life has detailed the artful beauty of these tulips.

Parrot Tulip Origins

Tulips made their way from the Middle East to Europe and quickly became flowers for rich nobles. Most breeding and selection happened in Holland, which is still the case today. When unusual tulips with broken colors began to appear in Dutch gardens in the 1630s, their popularity soared.  These rare bulbs fueled Tulip Mania, a phenomenon where bulbs were purchased for sums equivalent of hundreds of thousands today. The mania crashed after a short couple of years–much to the financial woe of collectors. Since then, many modern-day hybrid divisions have been developed, such as Darwin, Triumph, Fringed, and Parrot tulips.


Parrot-like viral-infected tulips, such as these in a 17th century still life by Hans Bollongier, fueled Tulip Mania.

Today’s Parrot tulips have many of the same floral features of the Tulip-Mania types but are a result of selection and breeding rather than disease. They and can be traced to the 18th and 19th centuries, so they’re at home in both modern and heirloom gardens. Early Parrot varieties appeared as genetic sports (mutants) of standard tulips. For example, the award-winning Parrot ‘Rococo’(1942) appeared as a chance sport of the single early tulip ‘Couleur Cardinal’ (1845). In the mid-1970s, they discovered a genetic Parrot tulip, and through breeding, many new varieties appeared.

Parrot Tulips and Companions

Consider height and color when planning your Parrot-tulip-filled spring garden. These factors guide pairings for the most beautiful garden ensembles. All are cold hardy and bloom from mid to late spring. Here are just a few selections cultivars and companions from which to choose.


‘Apricot Parrot’ has undulating petals of apricot, pink, and orange with green feathering.

‘Apricot Parrot’ (16-18 inches): A mix of apricots, pinks, and greens exist in each scalloped, flamboyant blossom. The bright-yellow tulip ‘Strong Gold’ will highlight its apricot hues while the pretty pink tulip ‘Salmon Pearl’ will bring out its pinks. The white, orange-red-cupped daffodil ‘Barret Browning’ will blend well with the mix.

‘Amazing’ (18-22 inches): This tulip looks like a birthday party — the deeply feathered flowers of apricot and raspberry-pink are radiant. Its raspberry color is intensified by the deep-rose-pink tulip ‘Don Quichotte’. Flank the pair with the white and apricot-cupped daffodil ‘Chromacolor’.

Black and Purples

Tulip ‘black parrot’ is fused with deep burgundy and purple.

‘Black Parrot’ (20 inches): Bold fringe and deepest burgundy, purple, and near-black color make ‘Black Parrot’ stand out in the garden like night. The plum-red Triumph tulip ‘Bastogne’ will bring out its deep color while the pure-white daffodil ‘Snowboard’ will add a shock of white.

‘Blue Parrot’ (22 inches): Rather than blue, the wild, irregular flowers of ‘Blue Parrot’ are violet-purple with white tips. Pair this with orange and yellow ‘Daydream’ tulips.

‘Rococo’ (14 inches): This remarkable tulip has undulating, feathered flowers of deepest red marked with purple and green.  The green, gold, and rose Viridiflora tulip ‘Golden Artist’ is a bold partner.


‘Green Wave’ (20 inches): Broad, green feathers mark the pink, deeply incised petals/tepals of this untamed tulip. As the flowers age, they open wide. The white Darwin hybrid ‘White Clouds’ is a safe pairing for such an exotic flower.

‘Pinkvision’ (18-20 inches): The pink, feathery flowers have small markings of green at the base. Plant them alongside the daffodil ‘Las Vegas’, which is ivory with large butter-yellow trumpets.

Reds and Oranges

‘Estella Rijnveld’ (20-22 inches): Bicolored flowers of white with broad feathers of red grace this 1954 variety. Plant the tall, lively tulip among the white Darwin hybrid ‘White Clouds’.

‘Bright Parrot’ (14 inches): Large, glowing red flowers of red with flaming yellow tips are borne on shorter plants. Plant it with the equally compact Narcissus ‘Actaea’, which is highly fragrant, pure white and has tiny orange-red-tipped yellow cups.


‘Flaming Parrot’ (22 inches): The award-winning tulip glows in the sunshine. It has bicolored yellow blooms with stripes of red down each petal/tepal. Pair it with another award-winner, the long-lasting, golden daffodil ‘Gigantic Star, which has huge, 5-inch flowers.

‘Carribean’ (16 inches): Here’s a beautifully bicolored Parrot of gold with fanned, red-feathered tips. The canary yellow daffodil ‘Unsurpassable’ is a perfect compliment.


White parrot tulips are bright white and green.

‘White Parrot’ (18 inches): No Parrot tulip is just one color. These white blooms are feathered with green. Plant any spring bulb of the same height and bloom time alongside it.

Planting Tulips

Healthy tulip bulbs should be large, firm, and ivory with a papery covering. Any brown spotting, dry patches, or blue mold on the bulbs indicate poor health. These may underperform or rot. In this case, either return the bulbs or buy new.

The bulb on the far right shows a touch of yellowing and blue mold at the base, which means it may rot or underperform.

Plant large tulips and daffodils 6 inches deep. A bulb planter or planting knife are handy tools for getting the job done quickly. Before planting, work the soil and add fertile amendments as needed. OMRI-listed Black Gold Garden Compost, with its rich blend of compost, bark, and Canadian Sphagnum peat moss, will help your bulbs root quickly and grow well in spring.

At planting time, lay the bulbs out in the pattern you wish. Intermingle the bulb pairings evenly or in sweeps of single colors. Always plant them diagonally rather than in rows. In general, space them 6 inches apart. Fertilize with bone meal or fertilizer formulated for bulbs.

You will not believe the flamboyant party in your garden once mid- to late-spring arrives. You can also cut and bring your Parrots indoors for still-life-worthy flower arrangements.

Spring Garden Soil Amendment

wagon with sedums
Amendments help garden and container plants perform better all season.

In a perfect world, we might be able to dig into the soil at any place in our garden and have it be like reaching into a bag of rich potting mix. This is, of course, wishful thinking. Unfortunately, for many of the plants we grow, whether ornamental or edible, some amending of the soil is probably required for optimum results.

Know Your Soil pH

When discussing soil amendments, it is a good idea to begin at a basic level, and the first thing a homeowner needs to know is the pH of the soil and what nutrients are missing. Most longtime gardeners will know of a soil testing laboratory where they can send small bags of their soil for a complete analysis. If you are unsure of how to find a reputable lab, check with your local garden center or state extension service as they will probably have several to recommend. Usually about one cup of soil collected from

Tulips with grape hyacinths make wonderful spring color containers.
Tulips with grape hyacinths make wonderful spring color containers.

various parts of your garden is needed for a good analysis. Check with the lab to see how many different soil samples they recommend you send. Once you have the results from the soil test, you can begin to amend the soil with what it is lacking. Also, be sure to take into consideration the plants you will be using as different plants may require different soil types and different nutrients.

Amend Before Planting

I like to remind readers that you have one chance to amend the soil around the root system of a plant when you are planting it. That is why I consider the proper preparation of the planting hole a crucial element necessary for your plant to thrive. This is not quite as important when planting annuals, but for permanent shrubs and trees, it is your opportunity to get it right.

In my own garden, the one item most lacking is compost or some type of organic matter in the soil. Whenever I am planting, my first choice for amending the soil is Black Gold Garden Compost Blend, and I always try to have some on hand. If I am planting a 1-5 gallon size plant, I try to dig a hole twice the size of the container. Then I mix the conditioner with some of the existing soil and use this mix both under and around the new plant. In areas where my soil tends to dry out quickly in the summer, if I have plants that like to have their roots moist, I add Black Gold Just Coir in the top several inches of soil as I have found this has excellent water holding retention qualities.

Amending Clay Soils

When I have sections of my garden that have heavy or clay soil, I not only add the compost but also pumice. I also use pumice in areas of my garden where the drainage is poor and I use it in some of my containers as a safety net to help insure excellent drainage and

The brilliant red new emerging leaves of the Japanese maple ‘Hana Matoi’ are helped along by a little spring amendment.
The brilliant red new emerging leaves of the Japanese maple ‘Hana Matoi’ are helped along by a little spring amendment.

increase aeration. For some of my containers, especially those where soil will be visible for most of the season, I add Black Gold Earthworm Castings. Visually this enhances the soil when used as a top dressing and it helps enrich it as well.

Spring fertilization is something I do every year. Recently I have been fertilizing some of my established plantings with a quality all-purpose fertilizer. I like to lightly cultivate it into the soil and then either water or let the rain carry it down to the plant roots.

We have been having some glorious weather here in the Pacific Northwest, and it has provided us with some great ‘windows’ for gardening. Take some time to relax and enjoy the beauty we are surrounded with. When I walk in my neighborhood, I see the flowers of tulips, daffodils, magnolias, flowering cherry and the many colors of Japanese Maples as their new spring leaves appear. The list could go on. Enjoy the peace and serenity of your own surroundings and beauty nature provides.

Peonies and Iris, Oh My!

Adelman 'Madame de Verneville'
The herbaceous peony ‘Madame de Verneville’ is a fine old French cultivar. (image by Carol Adelman)

As I mentioned in my April article, the spring season in the Pacific Northwest has been phenomenal but warm.  The winter was mild and many marginally winter-hardy plants survived.  Earlier this month we had weather in the 80’s, which is almost unheard of  in this part of the world.  Not only in my own garden but in others I’ve visited, many plants are blooming earlier than normal.  This has been most noticeable in common seasonal bloomers like iris and peonies. Weather is certainly one of the things happening in our garden that we cannot control; all we can do is make the best of it.

Continue reading “Peonies and Iris, Oh My!”