There are several reasons why large-flowered tulips are so popular for spring gardens: their flamboyant colour mixes, their hardiness, and the way mixing hybrids offers ever-changing floral designs, April to June.
If you want your large-flowered tulips to produce diverse blooms over a long period, plant early, midseason, and late varieties together.
But if you prefer one glorious flower show in one place, then plant only early varieties, only mid-season, or only late types.
Triumph or Fosteriana types are early large-flowered tulips.
Mid-season tulips include Darwin or Gregii hybrids, fringed tulips, or the multi-flowering tulips with 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 that by staying within a particular series: for instance, 'Orange Emperor,' 'White Emperor,' and 'Red Emperor.'
The colour combinations of tulips get more theatrical every year. Many have "flames" of contrasting colours ascending the petals, such as the delectable white purple-flamed 'Zurel.' Others have one colour merging into another, such as the deep red white-blushed 'Armani.'
In the Viridiflora tulips, the petals are brushed with green. The basically white 'Spring Green' has now been joined by 'Yellow Spring Green' and the fuchsia-pink 'Virichic.'
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. 'New Design' is a well-established variegated-leaf favourite now available almost everywhere.
A new viridiflora is 'Purisima Design,' a short-stemmed single early-flowering selection with white flowers and leaves edged in 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 heartbreakers in our wet B.C. springs.
Rain weighs the petals down until the flower-heads hit the mud, and slugs 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.' It 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, and absolute dry soil in summer. The container can be positioned in a sunny spot before soil is added, and the potting mix amended to be sandy/gritty and well-drained.
Once tulip foliage dies down, the bulbs can be removed, dried, and kept in paper bags or cardboard box over summer. Then summer annuals can replace the tulips.
Tulips are easily lost if people leave tulip bulbs in containers and plant annuals - which need regular watering in summer - over them.