Tulips are divided into 15 divisions chiefly defined by their flower characteristics and sometimes referred to in bulb catalogues. Broadly speaking, their flowers can be described as single or double; cup-shaped, bowl-shaped or goblet-shaped; fringed, parrot or lily-flowered; long, slender-tepalled or star-shaped.
When choosing tulips, consider their flowering times, suitability for borders, containers (see below), or a rock garden where the smaller species such as Tulipa tarda AGM or T. kaufmanniana can be best utilised. Some are ideal for naturalising in fine grass; in particular, the low-growing tulip T. sprengeri AGM.
Amongst the most popular for bedding, borders or containers:
Tulipa biflora: from late winter, produces fragrant, star-shaped flowers in ones or twos with white petals which are golden-yellow at the base and flushed grey on the undersides. Height 10cm (4in).
T. ‘Mount Tacoma’ (Double Late Group): Pink and green buds open to peony-flowered creamy-white blooms in late spring. Height 40cm (16in).
T. ‘Purissima’ (Fosteriana Group) AGM: Single, bowl-shaped slightly fragrant pure white flowers on sturdy stems produced mid-spring. Height 35cm (14in).
T. ‘Spring Green’ (Viridiflora Group) AGM: Green-feathered ivory-white flowers in late spring. Height 40cm (16in).
T. ‘White Triumphator’ (Lily-flowered Group) AGM: Graceful long-stemmed flowers of pure white. Height 60cm (2ft).
Purple-black or violet-blue flowers:
T. ‘Black Parrot’ (Parrot Group) AGM: Distinctive crimped and curled, cup-shaped single bright violet-blue flowers are shaded bronze on the inside of the petals, borne in late spring. Height 60cm (2ft).
T. ‘Blue Diamond’ (Double Late Group, peony-flowered): Bowl-shaped dark bluish-purple flowers in late spring. Height 40cm (16in).
T. ‘Blue Heron’ (Fringed Group) AGM: Purple-fringed violet-purple flowers, cobalt-violet with white stripes inside the petals during late spring. Height 60cm (2ft).
T. ‘Queen of Night’ (Single Late Group): Velvety dark purple-black cup-shaped flowers in late spring. Height 60cm (2ft).
T. ‘Angelique’ (Double Late Group) AGM: Peony-shaped, full, slightly ruffled shell-pink flowers are suffused darker pink. Height 30cm (1ft).
T. ‘Attila’ (Triumph Group): Single cup-shaped pinkish-purple flowers on strong stems. Good for forcing. Height 40cm (16in).
T. ‘China Pink’ (Lily-flowered Group) AGM: Elegant deep-pink goblet-shaped blooms have white bases inside, with swept-back pointed tips. Height 50cm (20in).
T. ‘Foxtrot’ (Double Early Group): Soft pink flowers with darker undertones. Height 30cm (1ft).
T. ‘Apeldoorn’s Elite’ (Darwin Hybrid Group) AGM: Red-feathered buttercup-yellow flowers flushed yellowish-green at the bases in mid-spring. Height 60cm (2ft).
T. clusiana var. chrysantha AGM: Stems with 1-3 yellow flowers, flushed reddish-brown outside, becoming star-shaped. Height 30cm (1ft).
T. ‘Hamilton’ (Fringed Group) AGM: Buttercup-yellow flowers with darker yellow fringes and anthers in late spring. Height 50cm (20in).
T. ‘Sweetheart’ (Fosteriana Group): Ivory-white flowers with lemon-yellow flames, deep yellow inside. Height 30cm (1ft).
T. ‘West Point’ (Lily-flowered Group) AGM: Primrose yellow flowers in late spring. Height 50cm (20in).
Apricot, crimson or red flowers:
T. ‘Aladdin’ (Lily-flowered Group): Yellow-margined scarlet flowers in late spring. Height 45cm (18in).
T. ‘Apricot Beauty’ (Single Early Group) AGM: Cup-shaped soft salmon-pink flowers, later with orange margins. Good for forcing. Height 35cm (14in).
T. linifolia AGM: bowl-shaped bright red flowers, each petal marked with black at the base. Height 30cm (1ft).
T. ‘Rococo’ (Parrot Group): Ornate green-feathered carmine-red blooms. Height 45cm (1.5ft).
T. praestans ‘Fusilier’ (Miscellaneous Group) AGM: One of the best dwarf varieties with 3-5 heads of bright scarlet-red blooms per bulb. Height 20cm (8in).
For the more rare and unusual species and cultivars from the Miscellaneous Group try:
T. acuminata: Has distinctive long, narrow red and yellow petals. Height 15-20cm (6-8in).
T. humilis ‘Odalisque’: With yellow-centred, beetroot-purple flowers during March and April. Height 10cm (4in).
T. orphanidea Whittallii Group AGM: With bright tangerine-orange flowers blotched olive-green at the base, in April-May. A colourful addition for the rock or alpine garden. Height 30cm (1ft).
T. praestans ‘Red Sun’: Has flask-shaped buds which open to star-shaped pillar-box red flowers from March to April. Height 20cm (8in).
RHS Find a Plant
RHS trial Tulipa, Small-flowered tulips 2006–2008
RHS trial Tulipa, 2008