Tulips have come a long way from being just a handful of species introduced into Europe from central Asia. Selective breeding and incredible genetic diversity have led to a rainbow of colours and flower forms. But although all but a few specialists can claim to know all the varieties that have sprung from these humble beginnings, certain varieties are universally recognized as being among the most remarkable flowers ever. Of these, Tulip Queen of Night is the name that’s on everybody’s lips.
Tulip Queen of Night graces top ten lists across the internet, features in almost every article written about tulips and has inspired hundreds of paintings and thousands of photographs. Is it new? Is this tulip really black? The answer to both these questions is “no”, but the reality of this classic tulip variety is more intriguing than novelty value or any exaggeration could make it.
The Regal Queen of Night
The Queen of Night Tulip is amongst the most sought after of all tulips. One of the rare, near-black tulips, its deepest purple blooms are so close to black that in certain lights they may seem pitch black.
Unusual though it may be, “Queen of Night”, regarded by many as the closest thing there is a true black tulip, isn’t a Johnny Come Lately. The variety has been making waves since the middle of the last century, and every breeder trying to take tulips from near black to pitch black will consider Tulip Queen of Night as a possible parent for their attempt at the elusive pure black tulip.
Can Tulip Queen of Night be Improved?
We’re not sure if a truly black tulip would be an improvement on Queen of Night. After all, this stately lady does indeed look black – until the sun illuminates her petals. Then, a dark burgundy-purple lights up the blooms, bringing the petals to glowing life.
As old as this hybrid may be, it remains a firm favourite, and even if clever plant breeders were to take the tulip a shade darker, Queen of Night would still be worthy of admiration. For now, our queen reigns supreme as one of the few tulips to flirt with darkness so effectively, that the word “black” isn’t altogether inappropriate.
Gardening with Dark Colours
Dark colours call for a little gardening creativity if we’re to make the most of them. Unlike bold yellow and reds, they don’t draw the eye with flamboyant bright colour. However, when planted in the right setting, the effect can be truly spectacular.
One easy way to make Tulip Queen of Night enjoy the prominence she deserves is to plant your tulips against a pale background. For example, a white or cream wall will make the ideal, contrasting foil for this regal tulip.
Another solution is to combine Queen of Night with light or bright coloured single late tulip varieties. White is an obvious and elegant choice, but pinks are just as striking, and even reds or yellows contribute to setting off the velvety dark blooms. Contrast is key, and developing striking combinations is a creative challenge that every keen gardener is eager to try.
Pots also bring plants into prominence, and with Queen of Night, white containers win over the earthier shades. Again, contrast is the key to making the near-black blooms stand out.
However, the only real “rule” is that there are no rules! We have seen extremely striking mass plantings in which no contrasting elements have been introduced. This said, a lonely black bloom amongst bright brethren could lose much of its impact.
Black Tulips in Literature and Plant Breeders’ Dreams
If black tulips have never entered your fantasies, you’re probably not alone, but the idea has been around since before Queen of Night appeared on the scene to (very nearly) turn the fantasy into a reality. Alexandre Dumas wrote “La Tulipe Noire” a novel about a prisoner who develops a black tulip with the help of his jailer’s daughter. The tulip was as “dark as the ink with which I am writing to you,” a fantasy flower the like of which had never been seen before.
Perhaps if Dumas had seen Tulip Queen of Night (which wasn’t around yet), he would have felt that his fantasy had become a reality. He may even have felt a little disappointed, since his story is about achieving an unreachable goal.
Still, no matter how black it may look or how iconic its status as a garden plant, Dutch plant breeders are still hard at work pursuing the elusive goal of an even blacker tulip – perhaps even a pitch black one.
Plant Tulip Queen of Night Bulbs this Autumn
If you’ve never grown these majestic tulips, this autumn is the time to start your spring flowers. Remember that bulb quality is the beginning of flower quality and choose top-sized bulbs. Choose a pale coloured setting or a contrasting single late tulip to offset your dark blooms, and be sure that the location gets plenty of sunshine.
As a tall-stemmed tulip, harsh winds can cause a lot of damage, so be sure your area is out of range of harsh spring winds. Remember that gardens offer microclimates that are created by adjacent plantings and aspect, so even if the place you live tends to be windy, there’s no need to rule Queen of Night out of your spring flower planning.
Add plenty of well-rotted compost to the soil to make it light and well-drained, plant your bulbs, and wait out the winter. You’ll be in for a treat this spring! Feel free to cut blooms and bring them indoors. They last quite well in the vase, but you may have to shorten the stems to overcome floppiness.
Other than this, there’s nothing you need to know. As exotic and elegant as they may be, Queen of Night Tulips are remarkably easy to grow. So, go ahead, plant, and enjoy!