Towards the end of May the long slender buds of Tulipa sprengeri are poised on 12-16" stems above the fresh green leaves - glaucous, shining , sharply pointed and slender too. On a sunny day first one and then another of the buff-bronze buds split to reveal the scarlet petals and soon the flowers are fully open. A group of them look like flames against a darkly green beech hedge.
Originally Tulipa sprengeri's home was near Amasya in North-West Turkey, but there are no reports of any being found there since 1896. In gardens they will grow happily in good soil whether in sun or in partial shade, among shrubs or in an open border. There are even claims that they will grow in the grass. They are the last of the tulip species to flower, a dramatic full stop to the season. Their bulbs are easier to come by than they used to be but are inclined to pull themselves deeply into the soil and, being on the small side, are difficult to find and extract. Naturally the cost reflects this. Fortunately those long buds are eventually echoed by buff seed pods tightly packed with seeds; to digress a moment the pods, if the seed is extracted or allowed to fall without breaking the inner divisions, can be painted to provide a creditable copy of the flower for winter arrangements.
The seeds can be left to their own devices and will, in time, come to flowering size. A perhaps better way is to sow some in pots every year and, when the bulblets are judged large enough not to be at risk, to plant the potful in a selected place. The resulting clump may be a crowded one at first but the bulbs will soon choose differing depths and create their own space.
There is a larger, taller form known as 'Dick Trotter's variety'. A friend of E.A.Bowles and a keen plantsman other good things came from him: in this instance the size and height are the only differences, the vivid colour remaining the same. Unlike some of the species, Tulipa sprengeri does not need to be lifted ( it would be a problem if it did!) but can safely be left to naturalise. Beware though - when they do, any attempts to dig a few up for importuning friends usually result in damaging many, and also perhaps the friendship!
Carl L.Sprenger, 1846-1917, was a German nurseryman at Vomero, near Naples. T. sprengeri was first described by J.G.Baker, Kew, in the Gardeners' Chronicle 1894 and was said to have been sent to the nursery firm of Dammann in Naples by one Muhlendorff, a German botanist living in the Amasya area. In pursuit of further information Anna Pavord's superb monograph "The Tulip" produced the link - Dammann & Cie in Naples was actually owned by the aforementioned Carl Sprenger.