There are several reasons why large-flowered tulips are so popular for spring gardens- their flamboyant colour mixes, their hardiness and the way that mixing different hybrids can bring ever-changing floral designs from April to June.
If you want your patch of large-flowered tulips to produce diverse blooms over a very long period, you need to plant early, mid-season and late varieties together. But if you prefer to have one glorious simultaneous flower show in one place, then you plant only one of each early variety.
Triumph or Fosteriana types are included among early large-flowered tulips.
Mid-season tulips can include the Darwin or Greigii hybrids, Fringed tulips or the multi-flowering tulips that have four or five blooms on each stem.
Late-flowering tulips include Lily-flowered tulips, Parrot types and the Viridifloras.
People who like uniformity of shape as well as flowering season can achieve this by staying within a particular series. For example, they could plant only Orange Emperor, White Emperor and Red Emperor tulips.
The colour combinations get more theatrical every year. Many have "flames" of contrasting colours ascending the petals such as the delectable white purple-famed Zurel. Others are "blushed" with one colour merging into another such as the deep red white-blushed Armani.
In the Viridiflora tulips, the petals are brushed with green. Yellow Spring Green and the fuchsia-pink Virichic have now joined the mostly white Spring Green.
One of the most spectacular viridiflora tulips is the late-season Chinatown. Its pink flowers are brushed with green and the deep green leaves are edged in white.
Many other variegated-leaf tulips are now available. Garant is a Triumph type with large yellow flowers and cream-edged leaves, while New Design is a well-established favourite now available almost everywhere.
A new viridiflora is Purisima Design, a short-stemmed single early-flowering selection with white flowers and leaves which an edge of yellow which itself is edged with pink.
Even a few double tulips dominate their planting spot out of all proportion to their numbers. But their luxurious flower heads are often heart-breakers in our wet B.C. springs. Rain weighs the petals down until the flower heads hit the mud and slugs move in to make a meal of them.
Occasionally a tulip is developed which is unusual enough to become a memorable conversation piece. The Greigii hybrid Fire of Love has bright red flowers and leaves which mix cream, red and green stripes. Another that's sure to get second looks is the fringed, red-flowered Barbados. This one has green flower buds covered with green spikes that turn brilliant red as they open outward.
Tulips can often be happier, more easily looked after and sometimes recycled to bloom next year if you plant them in containers. Tulips desperately need a light well-drained soil and absolute dryness in summer.
The container can be positioned in a sunny spot before soil is added and the potting mix amended to be sandy/gritty. Once the tulip foliage dies down, the bulbs can be removed, dried and kept in a paper bag or cardboard box over summer. Summer annuals can then replace the tulips.
Tulips are easily lost if people leave bulbs in containers and plant annuals over them which get regular watering in summer.
Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to her via email@example.com