The stem should be strong, elastic, and erect, and about thirty inches above the surface of the bed.
The flower should be large, and composed of six petals. These should form almost a perfect cup, with a round bottom, rather wide at the top.
The three exterior petals should be somewhat larger than the three interior ones, and broader at their base. All the petals should have perfectly entire edges, free from notch or serrature. The top of each should be broad and well rounded. The ground color of the flower, at the bottom of the cup, should be a clear white or yellow; and the various rich colored stripes, which are the principal ornament of a fine Tulip, should be regular, bold, and distinct on the margin, and terminate in fine broken points, elegantly feathered or penciled. These are the principal points of excellence, in the eyes of a florist; yet with amateurs there is some difference of opinion.
The colors which are generally held in greatest estimation, in-variegated striped sorts, are black, golden-yellow, purple, violet, rose, and vermilion, each of which is varied in different ways; but such as are striped with three different colors, in a distinct and unmixed manner, with strong regular streaks, and but little or no tinge of the breeder, are considered the most perfect.
The cultivation of the Tulip is mystified by the elaborate directions generally given for its cultivation. I have succeeded, for many years, in producing very fine flowers by a simple course of cultivation; the varieties in my possession being probably as fine as can be obtained from any collection in Europe, having been imported, a few years since, at great expense.
The finer sorts of Tulips should always be planted in beds, containing a considerable quantity of bulbs; but they look very well when disposed in small groups, in the borders, particularly the more common sorts.
The proper season for planting is in October. If kept out longer, they are somewhat weakened, and will not flower so finely.
A bed for two hundred and fifty Tulips, should be thirty-six feet long by four wide. The bulbs to be planted in rows, seven inches apart, and seven inches distant from each other. The ground being marked out, the soil should be taken out to the depth of twenty inches. The rich surface mould should be first taken off and placed by itself, while the subsoil must be taken off out of the way. I have found the best soil for Tulips to be that made of decayed turf, from an old pasture, well incorporated with old, thoroughly-decomposed cow-manure, with a little sand, if the soil be adhesive; for the Tulip and most bulbs delight in a loose soil. The exact quantity of these three materials is laid down by some florist as one third of each, but I have not been so nice. My mould is light enough without much sand, and the quantity of manure is very small, not more than one-eighth. When highly manured, the flowers will make a ranker growth, but it is injurious to the flower. The mould or soil should be prepared beforehand, and frequently turned to receive the influence of the air and sun When the bed has been dug out as directed, the cavity is to be filled with this compost, a week or ten days before planting. My practice is to fill it even with the surface of the ground. This, when settled, will be the right depth to plant the bulbs, if planted on the surface. The planting should be done in a pleasant day. It should not be done directly after a heavy rain, for then the soil will be heavy. That the roots may be planted exact, I prepare a board, six and a half inches wide, the length the width of the bed. On the edges of the board I mark the distances the bulbs are to be planted from each other, by sawing in a notch; thus, three inches from the end, for the first, and from that seven inches, until the whole number, seven, are made, which will leave three inches on the other side. Stretch a line on one side of the bed, and, by keeping one end of the board up to it, the planting may be done without any trouble, and every root in its right place, provided the board is placed square across the bed at each removal. Having placed the board, let some fine sand be placed where the bulbs are to be set. The roots should then be gently pressed into the earth, close up to the notch, but not so deep as to cover them, the large bulbs a little deeper than the smaller ones, and remove the board; then completely envelop each root with a little cone of sand, or very sandy earth, and so proceed until all the bulbs are set. Now with a spade gradually cover the bulbs with the surface soil, until the bed has been raised four inches above the level of the walk. This will cover the bulbs about three and a half inches, the proper depth. Let it be carefully smoothed, but not with any instrument that will interfere with or put out of place any of the roots which have been set. All the care necessary, after this, is to throw some light protection over the beds before winter sets in, to be removed by the first of April. Afterwards keep the bed free from weeds. To have the flowers in the greatest perfection, screen them from the sun, in mid-day, by an awning. A powerful sun soon destroys the beauty of a Tulip bed, by causing the colors to run together. A bed of late Tulips is generally in its highest perfection about the 20th of May, and may be kept in fine condition a fortnight longer, by taking the trouble to erect an awning over them. I take up my Tulips about the 20th of June, and dry them under cover, in an airy place, and, when dry, take off the offsets and plant them out, while the flowering roots are each wrapped in a piece of waste paper, and put away, in a box or drawer, in a dry place, until wanted to plant. One hundred different varieties, with their names and colors, reputed the very best, may be obtained from Holland, at the cost of about $25; but I have found, by experience, that some of the rarer and most expensive sorts are not included. Very good border Tulips, including fine double sorts, early and late, single, parrots, etc., may be obtained from 50 cents to $1 per dozen, and some of the common sorts at much less price.
Tulips sometimes succeed very well, in any good garden soil, without extra preparation. The Due Van Tholl Tulips, single and double, are some of the most esteemed early sorts, the single being the most suitable, and about the only one that succeeds well in pots and for forcing.
The sorts that are planted in the borders may be set in groups of from three to five bulbs. These need not be taken up oftener than once in three years. Separate the offsets, as they become so crowded that they will not flower well, and besides, as the new bulb is formed every year, below the old one, the roots will penetrate so deep, that, if permitted to remain many years, they become so weakened they will not flower at all.