Late to the spring party they might be, but tulips more than make up for it by distributing the best fizz, excitement and noise among your more demure garden guests. Diminutive crocus, scillas and fritillaries have their place on the plot, of course, but position a few attention-seeking tulips around your front door and no visitor will be in doubt of the seasons. There are over a dozen different botanical divisions of tulips, from the classically shaped Darwin hybrids like ‘Oxford’ to the fanciful fringed, parrot and peony-flowered varieties. The goblet-shaped blooms of lily-flowered varieties such as ‘Mariette’ and ‘Queen of Sheba’ add elegance and style to any cut flower arrangement.
Let’s not forget that tulips can be pocket-sized, too, though. Species such as Tulipa sprengeri, T. sylvestris and T. tarda are slightly more compact and their more perennial character makes them excellent for naturalising in gravel gardens or in swathes among short turf. All tulips resent excessive wet and prefer to push their faces into the spring and summer sun. Plant them in October or November, with around 15cm of soil or compost above their heads (smaller species can be planted less deeply). Ideal spring conditions at flowering time are dry and cool, which holds the blooms in suspension longer than that of balmy, or blustery, May days.