Skip to content
Menu Close
Paisley Bed Wave Hill

Paisley Bed Spring 2021

December 31, 2020

A dense blanket of tulips in Wave Hill’s Paisley Bed is one of those marks of spring that has long been a tradition of the season. It is a fleeting display, however, that leaves an empty space from mid-May till the planting of summer tropical plants around July 4. In a departure from what has been the norm, Senior Director of Horticulture Louis Bauer decided that instead of planting up masses of tulip bulbs, he would try an experiment using biennials, but with a peppering of triumph tulips (Tulipa ‘Topkapi’). The result, he hopes, brings a variety of heights and sizes and longevity to this popular bed. I like to think of Louis’s experiment as a metaphor for leaving 2020 behind and moving into 2021 with a fresh perspective.

A short-lived plant, a biennial takes two years to flower, goes to seed and then dies. As Louis himself says, “We haven’t tried this before and I thought with everything sort of being turned on its head it would be a good year to experiment.” And experiment he did! The gardeners started the biennials from seed in June 2019 and have been caring for them in the greenhouses since.

Then early this past November, the gardeners moved the small plants into the Paisley Bed for overwintering, and to give them time to root in.

P Bed mid Nov 2020 planting biennials

During its first year, a biennial only produces a basal rosette, a dense clump of leaves encircling the base of the plant, which will remain evergreen through the winter.

As you dream your way through the winter, you can imagine a mix of well-established garden classics come spring, bringing a delicate palette of white, cream, yellow and lavender biennials to the Paisley Bed. Peeking through them, the sprinkling of triumph tulips will lend some extra height and bright splashes of magenta-pink. Late-spring blooms will include low-growing Lunaria annua ‘Sissinghurst White’ (money plant cultivar) and Erysimum cheiri ‘Little Kiss Lilac’ (wallflower cultivar). The grand finale, probably in June, will be an explosion of Alcea rosea (hollyhock) and Digitalis purpurea (foxglove) cultivars.

By the way, if you are one of the many who wait each year for ranks of tulips at the Paisley Bed, look for them waving their bright petals at the Pergola, in the Flower Garden and on the Kate French Terrace come spring.

A drastic departure from the ordinary sums up the year 2020. As we look ahead in these last days of the year, sharing these plans for the experimental, biennial Paisley Bed sounds a daring note of hope, for a new year that brings not just a return to some kind of normal, but new and creative energy, in our green spaces and beyond. Happy New Year!

2021 Spring Paisley Bed Plant List

  • Alcea rosea ‘Halo Lavender’ (hollyhock cultivar)
  • Alcea rosea ‘Polestar’ (hollyhock cultivar)
  • Alcea rosea ‘Spring Celebrities Lemon’ (hollyhock cultivar)
  • Erysimum cheiri ‘Little Kiss Lilac’ (wallflower cultivar)
    Synonyms include Cheiranthus cheiri
  • Digitalis purpurea ‘Dalmatian Crème’ (foxglove cultivar)
  • Digitalis purpurea ‘Lily’s Lilac’ (foxglove cultivar)
  • Lunaria annua ‘Sissinghurst White’ (money plant cultivar)
  • Tulipa ‘Topkapi’ (triumph tulip cultivar)

With this email, we are delighted to introduce Jess Brey, Wave Hill’s new Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter. A graduate of Cornell University’s Public Garden Leadership professional master program, she looks forward to sharing her interpretation of Wave Hill’s collection with readers.