House & Gardens Magazine | April 2018


Focus on... Heritage tulips

Polly Nicholson started Bayntun Flowers 10 years ago with the aim of growing British flowers for her own artisan floristry. She now grows 100 varieties of tulip in a cutting garden at her home in Wiltshire, and is trialling heritage varieties. She uses them as specimens, arranged singly in antique bottles of different heights and randomly grouped together, or as part of larger, wilder arrangements in which they create an element of surprise. ‘My favourites are probably ‘Columbine’ and ‘Insulinde’,’ she says. ‘I love their scale – compact and tulip-shape, despite the vogue for ever bigger, pointier or featherier cups, and this scale also seems fitting for the extraordinarily rich and delicate markings they wear.’ Both these varieties are true ‘broken tulips’, with the flamed or feathered markings that originally came about as the result of tulip breaking virus.

These delicate beauties were the tulips that inflamed passions in seventeenth century Holland, when Tulipmania saw bulbs changing hands for enormous sums of money. Any tulip can be affected by tulip virus (which is carried by certain types of aphid), with the result that the base colour is broken into interesting patterns, but of course they are fundamentally flawed as the virus will weaken the plant, which will dwindle and eventually die. However, varieties like ‘Insulinde’ (1916), ‘The Lizard’ (1903) and ‘Columbine’ (1909) have become genetically stable despite the virus, meaning that bulb specialists are able to raise stock from them. 

Heritage varieties of tulip are difficult to come by, as growers produce small quantities; the bulbs are expensive and you have to order early before supplies run out. But if you are determined, you can track down bulbs from growers such as Jacques Amand in the UK ( and the historic bulb conservation centre at Hortus Bulborum in Holland ( Polly Nicholson is hosting a bulb day at Bayntun Flowers on April 5, 10am–4pm, with a talk by writer Anna Pavord and a demonstration by florist Shane Connolly. The day costs £285, including coffee and lunch.


LEFT Among Bayntun Flowers’ many varieties of tulip are ‘Insulinde’, dating from 1915, a classic ‘broken tulip’ with distinctive feathered markings, and the fragile watercolour-pink ‘La Joyeuse’ (top right), which dates from 1863. Owner Polly Nicholson (pictured on left with florist Shane Connolly and gardening writer Anna Pavord) loves the heritage varieties for their smaller, compact shapes and ‘extraordinarily rich and delicate markings’