This section is from the book "Flower Gardening", by H. S. Adams. Also available from Amazon: Flower gardening.
No plants are more interesting to grow in the garden than the bulbous ones, especially those that are hardy. There is a peculiar fascination in buying a dry brown, black, white or yellow bulb, sometimes a mere mite of a thing, burying it in the ground, leaving it there all winter and one day in spring finding it doing its share to beautify the earth. And not the change of a seed into a plant seems so marvelous a transition.
It is in the springtime that bulbs are of the most value in the garden. At that time of the year they are simply invaluable. Not that there is any lack of perennials for spring, if flower lovers would only cast their eyes about; but in neither form nor color can these perform for the garden the gentle offices of the bulbs. Veritable herbaceous perennials though they be, they are absolutely distinct.
A close observation of American gardens for many years has shown that here is a field well-trodden in no more than a few spots. Only the tulip, hyacinth, narcissus and crocus are grown commonly, and of these it is rare to come across all four in one dooryard. As if this were not bad enough, tulips, to most, remain tulips; hyacinths are hyacinths, the narcissus is a narcissus and the crocus is a crocus, just as if the horticultural world had stood still since the middle of the last century. Single or double, red, blue, purple, pink, yellow or white are still the common differentiations. Of course, these four bulbs can give abundant satisfaction at that, but a greater satisfaction is lost through ignorance of the variety that has converted the modern catalogue into a veritable treasure-house.
Tulips have been separated into important subdivisions since the early days of their culture; it is the emphasis on the subdivisions that is modern. You speak now not of tulips in general, but of a particular class. The commonest bedding tulips, known as early-flowering, are both double and single and the growth is low. "While their precise origin is lost in remoteness, they are supposed to have come from Tulipa suaveolens, a species from the southern part of Russia. The old tall single bedding tulips are styled late-flowering, May or cottage tulips. These range from two feet to, in some cases, the height of an ordinary walking-stick and bloom well along in May, immediately following the others—which begin in April. Their parent species is T. Gesneriana. For many years they were neglected save in the British and Flemish cottage gardens—whence they have been rescued, to become one of the most admired classes.
Late tulips were themselves divided some three hundred years ago into four classes—breeders or self-flowers, that is to say, all of one color: bizarres, bybloemens and roses. A peculiarity of tulips is that in cultivation a seedling blooming for the first time is generally self-colored; then, after a few years—they have been known to wait three decades—there will be a change to a feathered state. The lower part of the petals remains as before, but there will be marginal pencilling and wide and narrow stripes or blotches. Bizarres are the ones 1 with yellow bases and markings of red, maroon and brownish shades; bybloemens are white, marked with purples that grade to what is called black, and roses are white with many shades of pink and red markings.
From this race has come a comparatively new one, the Darwin, which some amateurs regard as the finest of all. Certainly it is a noble race, well calculated to send into ecstasies of delight any one who has seen an exhibition of the star varieties—say twenty-five specimens of each, magnificent in form and color and the stems more than two feet long. The Darwins are selfs, or nearly so; some of them are shaded, shot or edged with another tone and the centre may be white, blue or black. No tulip colors are more exquisite.
When the Darwins "break" into a lasting variegation they are known as Rembrandts. These are very strikingly blotched, striped or flamed and vie in color combinations with the bizarres, bybloemens and roses.
Parrot, or dragon, tulips are a very old class. The large blossoms have deeply toothed petals and the color variegations are extraordinarily picturesque. They remind one rather of macaws than parrots. Golden inside and the outside shaded and feathered with scarlet, purple and green is a summary of the gorgeousness of one variety. The parrot tulips bloom in May. While they are very showy, their somewhat artificial air, weak stems and irregular flowering habit have always kept them out of the foreground.
A further classification of English tulips is sometimes made. These are the old English florist tulips and are merely another group of breeders that have broken, being sub-divided into bizarres, bybloemens and roses. Then there are the tulip species, a great number of which have been brought into cultivation; there are thirty-four of them in a single English list and of these not one has been more than a rare visitor to an American garden. So it is plain that the cup of tulip happiness is being only sipped.
Of the species, a few are in the American market. The sweet-scented Florentine tulip (T. syl-vestris, or florentina) is a very pretty yellow one and the little lady tulip (T. Clusiana) is a perfect gem. The latter, which is pale red outside and white inside, will do well in the garden if planted among stones and plant roots in light soil and a warm, sheltered place. Three red ones, T. tuber-geniana, T. Greigii and T. oculus solis are all very handsome and there is an early pink or white one, T. Kaufmanniana.
The lack of tulip education is most deplorable in the case of the cottage and Darwin tulips. Any of these, but most of all the selfs, are among the very choicest material for giving the garden beautiful May color with sharply defined individuality of form. Such cottage tulips as Glare of the Garden, Orange King, Inglescombe Yellow, Mrs. Moon, The Fawn and Black Chief and such Dar-wins as Clara Butt, Baronne de la Tonnaye, King Harold, Mrs. Krelage, Peter Barr and Mrs. Stanley are a joy to handle in the making of a garden picture.