I have been busy finalising my tulip order over the last couple of weeks and thought it might be useful to have a look how I plan my tulips for the spring. I find bulb buying quite a difficult exercise – always a case of ‘my eyes being bigger than my belly’ as my father would say (or more accurately bigger than my wallet!). I have many favourites that I know will be on the list every year to top up bulbs already in the ground, but there are always so many lovely new varieties in the catalogues and I want to try them all!

When growing tulips I have three categories to plan for:

  • 1. Tulips That Will Grow in Borders In the Main Garden
  • 2. Tulips for the Cutting Garden
  • 3. Tulips for Pots and Container

In the main borders I have colour themed tulip plantings that largely reflect the summer colours of each border. I will plant between 2 and 3 varieties in each bed to ensure a succession of tulips and I bulk buy tulips for these plantings – often 100-200 per variety. I never dig these tulips up and some continue to flower well for years. I find the fringed and parrot tulips the most unreliable and the single varieties the best for good repeating.

Tulips need to be planted at a good depth (about 8 inches deep) in well drained soil in full sun. In damp shady soil they will rot and if planted shallowly the bulbs will split into many tiny bulblets which do not flower for years. I have never had any success with leaving tulips in pots as they always split, so I lift them after flowering and plant them in the ground to die back. It is possible to lift and dry the bulbs and store them for next autumn, but I find this too labour intensive so leave everything in the ground and keep my fingers crossed. By toping up borders every year I know there will always be a few large sized flowers to enjoy.

An example of a colour themed border can be seen below, showing Purple Prince, which is joined by Shirley a week or two later. Both varieties are single earlies, but flower for weeks on end if the temperatures remain cool and compliment each other very well. They flower with the deep purple hyacinth Woodstock and later perennials in this bed will flower largely in the same pink and purple tones.

Tulip-Purple-Prince Tulips-Purple-Prince-and-Shirley

In a large border just before the woodland I grow a succession of three orange tulips, ending with the fragrant tulip Ballerina seen below. These partner well with the zingy greens of euphorbias and are followed by apricot roses and later heleniums, crocosmia and orange dahlias.


For bulk purchasing I find The Gedney Bulb Company very reasonable and their service is excellent.

By way of contrast, in the Cutting Garden I am looking for a greater variety of tulips with a long succession of flowering, but I do not need the quantities of the main garden. I need enough of each variety to fill one or two vases, so I buy in quantities of 25 or 50. If I am trying a new variety I would always opt for 25 to give the opportunity to see how it performs both in the garden and in a vase. A good vase of tulips needs at least 12 stems and 20 will give a much more full and luxurious effect.

The first tulips to flower in the Cutting Garden this year were these very bright tulip Cilesta (in flower at the same time as the forsythia).


Below you can see tulip Cilesta growing with Jan Reus, Dordogne and Apricot Beauty in the Cutting Garden:


The next photo shows how I plant the tulips around the edges of the large cutting beds. In this way I can avoid treading on the often wet ground when picking and if the bulbs are left in to die back I can avoid disturbing them when planting summer flowering bulbs and dahlias in June. Tulips for the Cutting Garden are purchased from The Gee-Tee Bulb Company, The Clare Bulb Company and Sarah Raven.

Spring 2014 was the first time I have grown tulips in the Cutting Garden and I started the season intending to pull the bulbs up with the flowers and plant new stock this autumn. That is how a commercial cutting garden would operate. For my purposes I soon realised that this was too labour intensive and I have left most of the bulbs in the ground. The Cutting Garden is very wet through the winter, but bakes in full sun during the summer so it will be interesting to see how well the bulbs repeat here.


My favourite orange shades from last years cutting beds were the stately Apricot Impression,


The scented Ballerina,


And the frothy Orange Nassau,


My favourite pinks last year were Gander’s Rhapsody,


Lilac Time,


The late double tulip Angelique,


And the dark pink double tulip Chato,


My all time favourite white tulip for both cutting and in my main borders is tulip White Triumphator,


Last year I also grew the similar but shorter Tres Chic in the Cutting Garden,

Tulip Tres Chic

I also love the reds for cutting – here you can see tulip Carnaval de Nice (white with red streaks) which is a perfect partner for the dark red Rococo or Kingsblood.



Another favourite red is the very long lasting Jan Reus:


My final colour variety in the Cutting Garden are the very dark (almost black)  tulips of which the late double Black Hero is my absolute favourite.

Tulip Black Hero Tulip-Black-Hero

I rarely dig tulips up in the main garden – I just order a few extras for each bed every year and if a bed performs particularly badly I will plant all new stock the following autumn. This year I need to restock the white tulips under the pergola, but I will just add 50 each of Purple Prince and Shirley to the South Terrace, which looked very good last year.

The accepted wisdom for planting tulips is not to start too early – late October and November are the best planting times and even into December works well. I like to have most of my tulips in the ground by the end of October though, before the weather gets too dismal, so I will start planting in early October. I plant in groups of 10 spread randomly across the border that I am restocking. In the Cutting Garden I plant all of each variety together for ease of picking in the spring.

Having finished the Cutting Garden and main borders I just have the pots left to consider. The colour theme here changes each year – this year I can feel a pink inspiration coming on. Any bulbs unplanted at the end of November will find themselves in pots in the greenhouse where you can steal a couple of weeks on the season.

I have a few untried varieties to trial this year in the Cutting Garden, so am looking forward to sharing some new tulip photos in the spring! I would love to hear what your favourite tulips are and any tips you have on growing them.