Tulips flower pretty much from when early spring flowering bulbs such as snowdrops, daffodils, crocus etc finish around the end of March until roses and mixed herbaceous borders steal the limelight in June and July. That makes them useful plants in any event, but tulips also bring some of the most stunning colours (and colour combinations) you can find anywhere in the British plant kingdom. And rather like dolphins, tulips make people smile irrespective of the weather, the time of day or their mood.
There are literally thousands of varieties to choose from. Hundreds of those are sensational so this list will not even scratch the surface. However, one way of deciding is to start with where you want to grow them:
Go on, be brave. Hermitage is just stonkingly, fabulously, outrageously stunning. It works in almost any container and looks sensational in terracotta. If Hermitage is too brave for you, then have a look at Armani either by itself or planted with a white tulip such as Diana.
The world is your oyster here. They all look good and much will depend on the other colours you have in your border in April/May. But here are three, for fun. As Georgina says, "Clear the floor for Foxtrot". Never was a tulip better named. Fully double, Foxtrot is a flurry of pink and cream petals - a small drift looks for all the world like nature's equivalent of Strictly.
If you do not have room in a container somewhere, then nothing beats White Triumphator for elegance. Pure white, tall, stately and breathtakingly beautiful. Not for a windy spot, however, talking of which, if you are worried about the odd South-Westerly at gale force anything, then take a peek at Albion Star. She looks as delicate as anything with almost pure white petal with pink flushes. And she is vertically challenged, but this is one of the sturdiest and toughest of tulips which will take pretty much any kind of weather.
Naturalising with tulips is a little bit of a misnomer. Their need for good soil often means that orchards and hedgerows are not suitable. Not always, but it is a consideration. So we generally recommend that you let them colonise your border instead. Having said which, pretty obviously, our Tulip Naturalising Collection well.... naturalises. 'Nuff said. For single varieties outside that collection, you might like to try Blackjack, Flyer, Creme Upstar or Flaming Purissima.
It always seems so unfair to pick out just a few. I have missed Monte Carlo - the best double yellow tulip there is. Spring Green really has some green as well as being a fresh white - really stylish And life would be incomplete without the parrots - Black Parrot and Blue Parrot.
November. Or if you miss November, then December. There is no need to race to get them in the ground and there is evidence that they are more likely to suffer from one or two diseases if they are planted before the soil has cooled a bit. So November. We may well deliver them sooner than that if you have earlier flowering bulbs in your order as well. If that is the case, just keep them somewhere cool, dry and dark until November.
There are no exceptions to this rule: ALL tulips like well-drained, nourishing soil. The more organic matter you incorporate the better they will flower. And the better organic matter you incorporate the better the drainage.
Tulips love the sun and as much as possible. This makes them excellent subjects for borders which tend to be relatively shade free in April and May.
There are exceptions to the next rule - some of which have been mentioned above - but tulips prefer some shelter from the wind. They have huge flowers, sometimes on tall stems and being buffeted is not their idea of fun.
In a way, most of this has been covered. Start with good soil, sunny, sheltered position. If the soil is not good, improve it, plant somewhere else or be prepared to be disappointed.
Plant tulips DEEP. At least three times as deep as the bulb is tall. If you want them to naturalise, then make that four times as deep as the bulb is tall. The shallower they are planted, the more bulbils (baby bulbs) are produced after flowering. These weaken the mother bulb and so make it less able to put on a show the following year. So if in the past you have planted tulips, and they have died out after a couple of years, it is most probably because they were too shallow.
Tulips look best in groups - we generally recommend 10-15 bulbs as a minimum, but 20-25 is better. Leave 6-8 cms (about 3") between bulbs if you intend to leave them there.
All the above rules apply. Good soil, good position. Plant them deep.
Aftercare is pretty easy. Deadhead as soon as the flower has dropped its petals. Wait for the leaves to completely wither and then remove them if you are leaving the bulbs in the ground. Many people prefer to lift their tulips when they have flowered as the bulbs keep very well in a dark, dry place with a temperature somewhere around 18-22C (60-65F) until November when they can be planted again. If you want to do this, then the time is when the leaves have withered completely - just leave them on the plant so you can see where it is and remove the leaves after lifting.