A fanfare of glamorous tulips is one of the glorious highlights of spring, their shapely blooms creating brilliant brushstrokes of colour. Flowering in succession from March to late May, there are tulips aplenty to fill the whole of spring, in colours to suit all tastes from romantic pastels to bold primary shades. Though showy tulip hybrids steal the scene, there are dainty and delightful little species, too.
Tulip flower shapes are wonderfully diverse, ranging from elegant single blooms to huge, blowsy, double and multi-coloured flowers. The simplest ones include Single Early, Single Late, green-tinged Viridiflora and the stylish point-petalled Lily Flowered group, while showier ones include Fringed, Double and Parrot groups.
Stem height varies from 10cm (4in) to in excess of 60cm (2ft). When deciding what to grow where, consider height and flower size as well as flowering time, especially with larger blooms that are more susceptible to damage in spring gales.
Plant tulips for swathes of colour. Hybrid tulips are marvellous for pots, raised beds and borders, while smaller, daintier species tulips suit border edges, banks, rockeries and grass. Taller flowers give lots of space to underplant and potential for fabulous colour combinations: spring bedding plants are classic partners and elegant tulips rising from a carpet of forget-me-nots, bellis daisies, wallflowers or sweet Williams create a gorgeous colour-spangled tapestry.
While species tulips and Kaufmanniana and Gregii types do reflower if left in the ground for the following spring, most hybrids won’t do so reliably. Really, for high-profile positions in pots or raised beds, it’s best to treat tulips as annuals, which goes against the nature of many gardeners, but the few weeks of guaranteed fabulous colour are well worth a yearly outlay – think of them as long-lived bunches of flowers! If you have space, lift bulbs after flowering and replant in an out-of-the-way spot, then harvest any that do re-bloom as cut flowers.