Now is a fine time to plant tulip bulbs to bloom in April (the great 'Red Emperor' and its allies and the Darwin Hybrids, bred by crossing T. fosteriana and the Darwins) and May (the late-blooming cottage and breeder tulips).
In Washington the best buy for most gardeners is the Darwin Hybrid group, and of these my own favorite is 'Jewel of Spring,' a soft, light yellow verging on ivory flower with a wire edge of red -- this red sometimes is not easily seen and is never conspicuous, so the effect is that of a great goblet of luminous color.
It consorts happily with pink azaleas, and is as permanent as any tulip I have tried. In good well-drained soils in the sun, where the tulip leaves are allowed to die down naturally, it will come up every year without loss of size for years -- I have a few left that have been in the same spot 15 years.
Probably all tulips of this hybrid group have strong constitutions, though none has lasted quite so long as 'Jewel of Spring' with me. A superb large early tulip of T. fosteriana breeding is the white 'Purissima,' sometimes called 'White Emperor.'
The well-known vermilion 'Red Emperor' is also very large and with some gardeners (not me) it actually increases. It blooms early in April in sheltered sunny spots with the daffodils and is usually gone before the azaleas are in full bloom (about April 25). This may be just as well, as its brilliance is not always admired with softer colors. There is probably no tulip now on the market that is not lovely in itself. Sometimes I have planted single bulbs of a variety just to see what they look like, and out of 100 or so kinds I have not found one I did not like.
There is a tremendous shortage of very late tulips, possibly because gardeners want tulips early rather than late. The only one I can think of that will usually bloom with tall bearded irises is the breeder 'Dillenburg' and its sport, 'Orange Parrot.' These have the additional merit of being intensely perfumed, which few tulips are.
It rarely occurs to the gardener, but tulips of the tougher sort ('Jewel of Spring' is typical) do rather well in thin grass in half shade, such as 20 feet from the trunk of an old oak where the sun penetrates but not much -- the kind of place where azaleas thrive. In such places they look fine if planted with a light hand, and not too many. In a 40-foot square backed by azaleas and oddments, I have maybe 15 or 20 tough tulips rather widely spaced, each one perhaps three feet from the next, but not mathematically spaced. Somewhat like a few cows in a pasture.
I have had trouble, for some reason, finding Tulipa sprengeri, a beautiful smallish red-tawny flower. It is probably best raised from seed, once you find a source for seed. It is beautiful in short grass.
Naturally tulips in grass are not possible where the grass is mowed before summer, and the large tulips, even when thinly planted, do not look good in natural woodlands, and are best in quite artificial surroundings, as in those small woodsy azalea patches in front of city houses.
A number of gardeners fail to get daffodil bulbs in the ground in September (which I prefer) or October. I have planted dormant daffodil bulbs as late as February, which is fairly outrageous, and flowers the first year were on extremely short stems. Still, it's better than not planting them at all, if you should discover some in a bag you overlooked.
The eminent Victorian gardener William Robinson was the first to make popular the planting of daffodils in great drifts in the woods. One year he planted 60,000, another year 80,000, and another year 100,000, so he had plenty of daffodils. Sometimes these were not planted until March, a horrendous thing, but they settled down after a year or two and performed admirably.
Of course daffodils for naturalizing are very tough varieties, not the great bouncing beauties of the show bench. One year I left a good many bulbs of the somewhat raggedy (but with a totally glorious disposition) old pink 'Mrs. R.O. Backhouse,' on top of the ground. I like to think this was an experiment, but in fact I just got tired of planting them. They had increased rapidly, and while the flower makes a good show in large quantities, its perianth is rather windblown. After the ice and snow and heaving and thawing, they all bloomed fine in the spring, the bulbs sitting still on top of the soil. Within a couple of years (for I never was terribly good at picking up things) they had settled into the ground, what with rotted leaves and perhaps the help of some contractile roots, and behaved just like the ones decently planted. This is not, of course, the way to grow daffodils for show. I mention these various dreadful examples merely to express my firm view that no bulb should be thrown away unless it is soft and half rotted. It is very like taxes. People should pay them on time (I do) but it is better to pay them late than not at all.
We are all, though in widely differing ways, rather shiftless and no-account. I am pretty fanatical about planting things on time and planting them well, though possibly I have some fault in other directions. And I know many gardeners get carried away by absurd matters like going to work and having to see doctors and then the next two Saturdays it rains, etc. They are therefore late getting bulbs in. If this should be you, well you are a sorry specimen indeed, but get them in as promptly as you can, and you probably won't even notice the difference next spring.