Gardening: It’s tulip time

Tulipa Ballerina amongst Tulipa Jan Reus and Queen of the Night at RHS Harlow Carr. 'See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. PA Photo/Which?/Christina Bollen.
Tulipa Ballerina amongst Tulipa Jan Reus and Queen of the Night at RHS Harlow Carr. 'See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. PA Photo/Which?/Christina Bollen.
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Tips on how to beautify your garden’s borders by planting tulips - plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.

You have probably planted most of your spring bulbs by now, but it’s not too late to add tulips to the mix, ready to create a riot of colour next season.

With this in mind, Consumers’ Association magazine Which? Gardening has been scouring the country to ask head gardeners exactly how they achieve their show-stopping tulip displays.

In RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Harrogate, North Yorkshire they use a sizzling combination of Tulipa ‘Ballerina’ (orange), ‘Queen of Night’ (dark purple) and ‘Jan Reus’ (dark red).

Garden manager Alison Goding explains: “The Triumph tulip ‘Jan Reus’ starts flowering in April and is 50cm high, while ‘Queen of Night’ and ‘Ballerina’ flower in May and are 60cm high, so the overall display has more depth and lasts a bit longer.”

The tulips are in a raised bed filled with topsoil, mixed with garden compost and grit to improve drainage and bulbs are planted at a depth of three to four times the size of the bulb, 15cm apart.

A cooler theme is adopted at the Dorothy Clive Garden in Market Drayton, Shropshire (, combining white tulips ‘Purissima’ with masses of soft blue forget-me-nots and Allium ‘Purple Sensation’, which appear in late spring.

Margaret Barry, deputy curator of the garden, says: “This ‘cool’ theme is pleasing on the eye due to the limited tones of colour.

“The varying textures also make this display appealing: a fluffy carpet of forget-me-nots punctuated by strong, linear stems supporting symmetrical blooms.”

The gardeners change the bed every year and in spring 2014 will be offering a vibrant display of ‘Purple Flag’, ‘Christmas Orange’ and ‘Christmas Marvel’ (cerise pink), with an underplanting of deep-blue ‘Sylva’ forget-me-nots, which don’t tend to self-seed as much as other varieties.

If you want ideas for stunning pots of tulips, look no further than Rousham in Oxfordshire (, where you can see amazing displays of majestic purple tulips, interspersed with pots of white ones. Varieties include ‘Jackpot’ (purple with white edge), ‘Snowstar’ (white), ‘Ronaldo’ (stocky purple-red), ‘Havran’ (tall dark purple) and ‘Ballade’ (pink with white edge).

Head gardener Ann Starling says: “I started with purple varieties then added others. I first staged the tulips in pots like this about eight years ago. I repeat it each year because it works, and purple is a different colour for spring.

“We empty the pots of their summer plantings then fill them with 15-25 bulbs each.

“The pots are sometimes put into coldframes in cold weather.

“If you do shelter planted-up pots in this way be careful, as you have to water them.”

Square containers work as well as round pots for tulip displays, as visitors to Easton Ruston Old Vicarage in Norfolk ( will find. Plant the bulbs in rows, as close as possible without the bulbs touching.

Mixed Rembrandt tulips - so called because they have similar markings to the tulips painted by the Dutch Old Masters - are planted in layers with tulip ‘Zurel’ and ‘Flaming Spring Green’ to make a refreshing combination.

There are many options, but grey-coloured containers are a good choice for pale tulip combinations.

Generally, the larger the better but if fibreglass faux lead is beyond your budget, consider the less expensive fibreclay instead.

If you want to naturalise your tulip bulbs, you may find inspiration from displays at Sleightholmedale Lodge in the North Yorkshire moors (, where you can see a mixture of Tulipa sprengeri with bluebells and cow parsley.

Garden owner Rosanna James inherited this tulip.

“My mother planted a few of these tulips in the late 1940s and 50s,” says James.

“After some time, she noticed that it’d spread by seed, and what you see is the result 60-70 years later.”

T. sprengeri is one of the latest tulips to flower, often in late May. A native of Turkey, it thrives under a well-drained bank of deciduous trees. The bulbs are expensive, but you could try them at the edge of a gravel area or between paving stones.

James advises: “The tulip takes four to seven years to flower from seed.

“In the meantime, you need to keep the area weed free.

“We use a weedkiller containing glyphosate once the tulip foliage has gone brown to control docks and cow parsley.

“We scatter the seed on the ground every year.”

:: The full report on tulips is available in the November issue of Which? Gardening magazine.