I've ordered my bulbs for planting this autumn. They haven't arrived yet, but will come sometime in September. So I was surprised to read Dan Pearson's advice in yesterday's Observer Magazine that 'Now is the perfect time to plant bulbs for next year'. I know this is part of a September checklist, but I would still argue that it is not time to plant, especially at this end of the month. Even the earliest do not need to go in for while - you can work this out by the fact that the bulbs are not available yet. And anyway, how would you plant bulbs when everything in the garden is still green and flourishing and alive? Now is also most certainly not the time to be thinking about potting up paperwhite narcissi and prepared hyacinths for forcing; it needs to be a lot colder and darker for that to happen.
But, now IS the time to think about buying bulbs. We get ours delivered from a couple of suppliers who send out the bulbs together in September, irrespective of recommended planting times. We then plant them all at the same time, over a series of weekends in November and early December. This includes the daffodils and crocuses that traditionally go in the ground in September, and we never have any problems. (We've had several lovely autumns recently and the ground has been too warm for the bulbs, plus we've still had other plants still looking good that I haven't wanted to pull out just for the sake of getting bulbs in at the 'correct' time.)
And now a word of advice about buying tulip bulbs. There is absolutely no need to pay a lot of money for tulips. The newspaper and magazine 'offers' and the packs of bulbs with pretty pictures in garden centres are outrageously overpriced. Many work out at around 50p per bulb which is mad when you think how much is still involved in getting them to the flowering stage and the fact that in spring you can buy cheap bunches of tulips at eg 20 for £10 which works out at... 50p per flower.
I've done some price comparisons and find that some major bulb specialists who do mail order business charge an average of £5 for 10 bulbs. Then you look around and find others selling exactly the same varieties for as little as £5 or even £4.50 for 25 bulbs. The only difference is that they don't have smart, glossy catalogues, don't take part in expensive flower shows, and don't sponsor posh gardens. If you buy from these great value suppliers whose tulip bulbs work out at an average of 18-20p each, and you choose varieties that you won't find in the shops and supermarkets next spring, you will be quids in. (I'm not talking about rare and unusual tulips that do cost a great deal, but the vast majority of garden tulips which should be good value, but can end up sounding very exotic and special when they cost 50p instead of 20p.)
My favourite, down-to-earth, reliable, friendly suppliers whose prices are competitive and fair are Peter Nyssen and Gee Tee Bulb Company. The minimum tulip order is usually 25 of any variety so you don't have to buy hundreds or thousands of bulbs but, believe me, you will be tempted. (It might be worth thinking about buying with a friend or two and dividing up the bags.) You do not need to pay more.
To sum up my advice: do read Dan Pearson's articles because they are mostly excellent with great photos (eg this), but don't plant bulbs yet.