Somehow, it is suddenly April and almost the end of the Easter holidays. We've had a mini heatwave, followed by snow flurries. I've dug out the sunglasses and flip-flops, only to exchange them for a parka and woolly hat a few days later.
You can't predict the weather but I can reliably predict that the first tulips in my cutting garden will bloom at the beginning of April. Different tulip varieties do flower at different times, so whether you are growing them for cutting or for a garden display, it makes sense to choose from early, middle and late flowering varieties to extend the season for as long as possible.
I have to say though, that if you leave them in the ground, in successive years, I've found that my late-flowering varieties such as 'Queen of Night' actually flower earlier than stated in those gorgeous bulb catalogues - late April/Early May, tends to mean mid-late April for me.
The perennial question with tulips is should you treat them, as the Dutch do, as annual blooms and dispose of the bulbs each year, or can you get them to flower again?
The answer isn't straight forward. I find that some varieties do reliably come back year after year for me whereas others (even those that I chose as reliably perennial - I'm talking about you 'Bleu Aimable'!) just disappear never to be seen again.
I can only speak from experience, and with different soil and climatic conditions, you may not find that these tulips perform for you but I have found that 'Exotic Emperor', 'Purissima', 'Queen of Night', 'Turkestanica' and 'Showcase' have all been coming up, and slowly bulking up, for the last 5 years.
In Sarah Raven's new book 'A Year Full of Flowers', she has a whole chapter on tulips with lots of recommendations for perennial tulips and varieties recommended for cutting. Perennial recommendations include 'Ballerina', 'Light and Dreamy', 'Purple Dream', 'Spring Green' and 'Mistress Mystic'. I have to confess that I have dozens of books on growing flowers but I still found some nuggets of wisdom in this book, along with the amazing photography which makes you want to buy every tulip mentioned.
For garden borders, I would try to stick to the lists of reliably perennial tulips, especially if you are weaving these bulbs through your garden borders as it's a faff to take them up and plant anew each year. Species, Fosteriana, Darwin Hybrid, Viridiflora and Lily-flowered tulips are those recommended as most likely to pop up again.
If you are growing for cutting, maybe choose a mix of the stalwarts and supplement with others that take your fancy but may not make a reappearance.
Experiment - leave your bulbs in and see what happens in the years to come. If some fail to reappear then plant new ones. It's nice to add to your collection over the years and this year I will be taking out some of those 'Exotic Emperor' and 'Purissima' that have done so well as I now have too many of them and I want to get a bit more variety into the cutting beds.
Try to keep a record of which varieties you have planted so if you do find a great tulip which is beautiful for cutting and comes back every year, you will know which variety to buy again. I have a list but still have some tulips whose names escape me.
The recommended planting advice if you want to ensure that your tulips bloom again is to plant them deep - about 10-15 cm. By planting them deep, you also minimise accidents when planting in the borders as you are less likely to put your spade for fork through a bulb later in the season when the foliage has disappeared.
If you are leaving your tulips in, you need to deadhead them if you haven't cut the flowers already and then leave the foliage to die down. I grow mine in a cutting bed dedicated to dahlias. The dahlias need space when fully grown but when the tulips are out in flower, the dahlias are still underground so you can maximise the planting space and cram them in around your dahlia tubers.