You know what I said previously about a "guaranteed spring show"? Well, in the case of tulips (especially) that only goes for the first year. In fact, some people treat them like annuals. I have found that is not always the case, and with some research you can give your bulbs the optimum conditions and have many years of pleasure viewing spring vistas. The first matter is choosing long lasting bulbs.
White Flower Farm offers some tulips they call "perennial" and those are a safe bet. (Of course, the names of the cultivars are not listed, so you can't just pick them up from the garden center).
Tulips and Daffodils in the Landscape
There are many ways to use tulips and daffodils, so I hope you don't mind that I only mention my favorites. I've seen beds of mixed varieties which were very effective, but I prefer groups of the same type interspersed with small bulbs or low perennials. A section of twenty-or-so bulbs when using tulips; as little as ten for daffodils, create a focal point for the eye. In a former garden, I used a delicately colored group of 'Elegant Lady' lily-flowered tulips, in creamy ivory blushed with rose, next to 'Blue Ideal' hollandia iris (the fall-bulb type), surrounded with clouds of blue flax and footed with Alyssum saxatile 'Citrinum'. I was very taken with this picture in late May.
One is always reminded to keep track of heights and bloom times; it is so disappointing to see a beautiful stand like 'Mt. Hood' daffodils obliterated by the mistakenly placed taller partner. 'Mt. Hood' is an old-fashioned, but truly lovely daffodil in cream-white. Another beautiful old variety is 'Mrs. R. O. Backhouse', with a soft coral-pink cup. The whites and Pink cup daffodils show most effectively in a slightly shaded spot, just not too shady or they don't bloom.
If you have high shade of deep-rooted trees, or some smaller spring blooming trees such as redbud or dogwood, small groups of daffodils are naturalistic and picturesque. As long as you forego the mower, it is a beautiful landscape feature. Of course, when neatness counts, the late showing foliage of hostas is perfect to camouflage the ugly growing out phase of the daffodil. Please forget about braiding and rubber bands, unless you feel those knobs add an abstract art quality to your planting.
Miniature daffodils are quite easy to work with. They are as good as the the larger members of their family, just having smaller scale.
'Tête à Tête' with Iris reticulata among some interesting rocks is an idea to try. Yes, I tend to like the small and delicate effects of spring flowers, but when loud, proud, and gorgeous is wanted the 'Red Emperor' tulip provides pomp and circumstance. As with most of my tulips, it is hard to keep a perennial stand, but the Red Emperor is a good red and isn't as short-lived as some of the other types of tulip. It is wonderful alongside the chalk white bloom and deep green foliage of perennial candytuft (Iberis sempervirens). The Greigii type of tulip tend to be perennial and 'Cape Cod' is one of the best. Most are of short stature, but one named 'Oriental Beauty' is very leggy. A quality better found in the sturdy upright Darwins, I think. But it is nevertheless, quite a beautiful tulip.
The approach for tulips is different than for daffodils. First consideration is color: daffodils will mix and match in sunrise, yellow, and cream tints, so color is not an issue. Tulips, like lipsticks, are bright or light, anything from orange to lavender, and of so many forms and intensities that it is like using a new paintbox. You can give your garden the face color you want - even clown makeup!
The safe and easy way to use tulips is in front of evergreens, at the foot of trees, or beside walks. They can be placed in martial-looking blocks or blowsy drifts. The tulips are framed by the evergreen shrubs, and no need to worry that after June the space is bare, although it is often a space for a bright patch of annuals. It is a little trickier integrating them into a garden bed. I invariably slice some when working later in the season, and the areas they inhabit must have some late showing perennial to take their place. Tulip foliage is much better to deal with than daffodil, and some of the Greigii type actually have nice striped leaves. Still, all will fade and disappear by Mid-June.
May I braid or get rid of the leftover foliage of my daffodils or other bulbs?
Not if you want beautiful flowers the next season and beyond. The leaves produce food for the bulbs, so you really need to allow them time to grow until they wither... then remove them. You can find out all sorts of things about daffodils at the Minnesota Daffodil Society's compilation of FAQs and more.
In the city, I grew a number of the specie tulips: the peppermint tulip,'T. clusiana', was a slender, delicate beauty. I grew it in a lightly shaded area, although tulips almost always appreciate sun. In the rock garden,'T. dasystemon' was fine: small, flat plants with yellow and white blooms. There was one called Turkestanica or something, it was small and very similar in look.
The Kauffmannias and Greigii, Be sure to read more about tulips in Just Tulips!
Some good combinations mentioned on the "Minor Bulbs Page" are: Tulip Showwinner (red), with white Crocus; Tulip Heart's Delight with Scilla Siberica; Tulip Red Riding Hood with Anemone Blanda White Splendour; Tulip Pinocchio with Muscari Armeniacum; Tulip Couleur Cardinal (late) with Scilla Siberica (early)
Alchemilla mollis with White triumphator tulips ( a white lily flowering tulip)/, Tulipa Groenland with Dicentra Spectabilis
Others are: Angelique Tulip planted in a bed of Forget-me-not; Alyssum saxatile 'Basket of Gold' with daffodil 'Jet Fire', or Alyssum saxatile 'Citrinum' with 'Jack Snipes'- both those daffodils are short cyclamen types. Give this come contrast with moss phlox in blue or harmony with a white form. All should bloom together.
Pink tulips, blue Myosotis, white Iberis, and pale yellow Corydalis.
purple Aubrieta, white Arabis, pale yellow Daffodils, and sulphur yellow Crown Imperial
As you might notice, the early spring perennials make good companions for Tulips and Daffodils. Besides Arabis, Aubrieta, and Myosotis, there are the Alyssum saxatile 'Basket of Gold' and Alyssum saxatile 'Citrinum',
Phlox subulata (Moss Phlox), Iberis sempervirens, Bergenia, groundcover Ajuga - all make a beautiful frame.
Dutch bulbs are easy care- the growers have taken care of producing a superior plant wrapped up inside that bulb, just waiting for you to put into the ground.
All bulbs need similar requirements: amend the planting area with some bonemeal, perhaps some sort of sand ( greensand adds nutrients), and plant at the approximate depths recommended.
The names of some that performed well for me:
The small types, such as Kauffmanniana 'Hearts Delight' (pink), 'Waterlily' (cream), the Greigii 'Cape Cod' (yellow and red) were all good -as most of the specie and hybrids directly related to them are.
The large Darwin groups have a few: an ivory white called 'Ivory Floradale' which has actually increased and stayed large.
'Gen. Eisenhower' a good red, and 'Pres. Kennedy' bright true yellow, were very dependable. I had ordered those last two from Brecks years ago.