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Mixing tulips made easy

French Blend is one of the tulip mixes Tim Schipper offers at Colorblends. French Blend is one of the tulip mixes Tim Schipper offers at Colorblends.
By Carol Stocker
Globe Correspondent / October 15, 2009

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Tim Schipper had his Eureka! moment back in 1985. The third-generation Dutch tulip merchant was visiting potential customers at a swank Washington, D.C., golf course with a full-time horticulturalist. “The guy was a total tulip nut,’’ Schipper recalled. “He showed me these flower beds where he had combined different colored tulips and they looked fantastic.’’

Schipper had never seen anything like it before, he said, because the Dutch considered mixing and blending tulip varieties a “heresy.’’ They viewed tulips as a crop, like wheat or potatoes, and they went to great lengths to keep their colors pure and separate in the growing fields.

“And this carried over into how tulips were used in decorations,’’ said Shipper. Traditionally, they were grown in distinct blocks of colors, not intermixed.

But Americans like to mix and match, something that’s trickier than it looks. The red and yellow tulips you order from a catalog might look great together - on paper. But in the garden, they might bloom at different times or be the wrong height. The variability is why most purveyors sell daffodil mixes, not tulip mixes.

When Schipper started creating his own tulip mixes for his company Colorblends in Bridgeport, Conn., he found that nine out of 10 tulip combinations he planted in his test garden didn’t work.

“The timing was wrong. Or some types were too big. Or some were too short. Or they were no longer available from the grower,’’ Schipper said.

Through trial and error, Schipper has developed and marketed dozens of beautiful tulip mixes that do work. “Blending tulips is a little like mixing chemicals,’’ he said. “Get it wrong and nothing happens, or maybe too much. Get it right and the colors seem to feed off each other.’’

Schipper clearly has an artist’s touch, because some of his combinations are as stunning as they are unlikely. He considers the names of the tulips he combines a trade secret but he gives his mixes their own names, such as “French Blend,’’ which sounds like a coffee but is instead a spectrum of eight compatible colors.

“Purdy’’ is a happy-go-lucky combination of poppy red, deep purple, and golden yellow. “Above & Beyond’’ has three tulips that work even though they bloom at slightly different heights. “Aladdin’s Carpet’’ is the most fashion-forward mix, using six wild tulips, three muscari, and a dwarf narcissus that give the effect of a wild meadow.

For more information, visit www.colorblends.com or call 888-847-8637.

Schipper’s tulip tips
1. Plant your tulip bulbs before Thanksgiving.

2. If you prize perfection, pull the tulips out and discard them after they bloom once, because they diminish in subsequent years.

3. But if you want to keep tulips around to bloom a second spring you have to leave the foliage in the ground until it gets all yellow and ugly (i.e. “cured’’). “Cutting down green bulb foliage is like stripping the leaves off a tree,’’ he said.

4. If you have a deer problem, don’t even try to grow tulips. “Hang out the white flag of surrender,’’ Schipper said, “and switch to daffodils.’’