There's nothing for it - you just have to succumb. Each April the tulips appear, and no other bulb creates such a surge of affection, is awaited so eagerly or rewards its devotees so generously. There are plenty to choose from, and some people are able to share their affections equally between the lily-flowered, the species, the parrots and the viridifloras.
But I am a one-tulip type. For the past eight years, since I first gave it a try, the only one for me is 'Abu Hassan'. There is nothing in the garden for me to match its combination of form and colour: at a time when almost everything popping up (and there is plenty to choose from, this month) is a lurid yellow ('cheerful') or blue ('soothing') 'Abu Hassan' gives a show of subtle dried-blood red, rusty and dark, laced with feathers of gold. A blotch at the base of the flower gives an unexpected flash of acid green-yellow as the flower unfolds or droops in middle age.
The colours, wonderfully mixed on the rear of the petals, are a terrific foil for the lime-greens of the earliest euphorbias, the smoke-purple-grey of emerging bronze fennel foliage or the bronze-green of the evergreen Carex testacea.
I daresay this monomania is a bit unhealthy, and it's true that this year I have mixed the 'Abu Hassan' with Tulipa 'Kees Nelis' - hopefully a better companion than the 'Gavota' I used to pair it with. I can also see a return next year to an old favourite that has been abandoned over the past five years, falling out of favour as 'Abu Hassan' moved in; Tulipa whittallii, very early with beautiful form, bronzed tangerine and a Chartreuse green base to the petals will be back in 2012.
For this year though, 'Abu Hassan' still rules the roost, looking magnificent against the rusted Cor-ten steel of my raised water tank and the young fennel leaves. These photos were all taken over the past three days, as the buds filled and opened - within a few days the blooms will be past their best, but for the moment, this tulipomane's obsession is happily satisfied. There's just one outstanding question - would I love this tulip as much if it was still known by its earlier name, 'Slim Whitman'? Answer? Yes, of course...
Paul Ridley Design