Tulips are the show-offs of the bulb world - available in a huge range of colours and heights, but almost without exception they shout 'look at me!'. There really is no better way to bring a splash of colour to the garden in late spring, whether you go for subtle pastels or bold combinations.
The name "tulip" is thought to be derived form the Persain word for turban, which the bulbs can resemble. Originally from Southern Europe, the Near East and Central Asia, they have been cultivated for over a thousand years, and have become naturalised in many low mountain temperate areas. Introduced into Northern Europe in the 1500's, they became the focus of the so-called 'tulip mania' phenomenom which occured in the 1630's, where single bulbs could fetch extortionate prices. Thankfully you can now find a huge range available for sale here without paying a king's ransom!
Tulips, like narcissus, are divided up into divisions - all the varieties within a single division share some key attributes. The 'early' and 'late' divisions are pretty self-explanatory, and can help you choose bulbs which will either flower at the same time, or follow on from each other for successional planting. Division 3 Triumph and Division 4 Darwin Hybrids make excellent choices in windy or cold spots, as they have strong stems and make robust plants. The Division 6 Lily-flowered varietes are some of the most elegant and chic tulips, long pointed petals which open out into dramatic stars of colour. Division 8 Viridiflora bulbs are epitomised by the ever popular variety T. 'Spring Green', and all show that characteristic subtle green feathering running through the petals. For rockeries, pots and window boxes, go for the Kaufmanniana or Greigii divisions, small but perfectly formed.
Tulip bulbs should be planted quite deep - at least three times the height of the bulb. Don't be in a rush to plant these, as planting early can mean the foliage emerges early and can suffer from frost damage. October or November is fine, although you can safely plant up until January as long as the bulbs are stored in a cool, dry (and mice-free) place.