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Tulip theatre | Creating drama with tulip jewels

Tulip theatre | Creating drama with tulip jewels

What plant is more perfect for creating drama than the tulip? This wonderfully elegant plant rises up out of beds and containers in a most theatrical fashion-standing proud and tall above most other bulbs and perennials. I love tulips. They remind me of weekend visits to Holland when I was a child, the saturated fields of colour stretching endlessly to the horizon as we drove through the landscape. They also make me think of some of the great tulip loving garden designers. Helen Dillon’s creative displays of lush tulips in Spring for example, which seemed to explode throughout the garden-from borders, containers and even metal dustbins. Or designer Charles Rutherford’s London garden which I visited some years ago, where tulips spire up wildly amidst the beautifully uncontrolled yet well thought-out garden planting.

I guess tulips remind me of gardens that have visual drama. Unapologetically showy, many tulip varieties have serious wow factor. From the elegant sensual almost black-purple velvet texture of the ‘Queen of the Night’ variety to the ruffly playful smaller ‘Margarita’, which is also vibrantly scented, there are plenty of colours, shapes and sizes to work with when it comes to bringing them into your own space. In my own garden I have planted a mix of purples, whites and pinks which I have planned in drifts of colour and surrounded with some evergreen Euphorbia × martini which creates a nice lime green highlight in the border. Thankfully many of these come up year after year and where there are some gaps I simply replace them with some new ones the following planting season.

Tulips are not for the low maintenance gardener. Most tulip varieties are not perennial and tend not to make it through the Winter. Having sad that, many of my own do come back year after year so the main thing is giving them the correct growing conditions. They love full sun and need good drainage. When it comes to planting, October is the perfect time to get them in the ground. I tend to plant them 25cm deep and adding in a little grit avoids the bulb getting too damp and waterlogged which they hate. The added benefit of getting them in that little bit deeper is that the tall leggy stems tend to have more stability in growth this way.

Tulips also grow really well in containers and there are plenty of varieties to choose from. I love the neat little Tulipa ‘Maytime’ which grows to about 50cm in height and has an unusual reflexed flower shape. They are a particularly sturdy tulip too and would be a great addition to a balcony space. The tulip ‘Peach Blossom’ is a smaller one again and grows only to about 30cm in height. They also stand up to wind and rain well making them very valuable for patio containers or balcony spaces. The most noticeable thing about them is the wide-open double flower which almost resembles a rose in character. So whether for swathes of colour in the border or eye-catching containers, tulips are a must have for some drama in the Spring garden.

A month of Tulips

start planning your trip now

This tulip season the place to be is June Blake’s garden in Wicklow. Every year, this masterfully laid out garden comes alive in Spring with theatrical displays of jewel like colour and this year the designer has planted up over 10,000 new bulbs. The designers previous vocation makes sense when one considers the delicate and artful design of the planting schemes in these gardens.

June Blake used to be a jewellery designer and this shows in the jewel like collections of tulips and how they are arranged. Here she has managed to take a vibrant and showy plant and give it an ethereal quality clever placement and sympathetic combination with the more delicate swathes of grasses and perennials. This year’s display promises to be a truly stunning one and one not to be missed

A month of Tulips runs from April 14 – May 14

Guided Tour with June each Sunday @ 2 pm and Tea/Coffee, Plant Sales and Book Sales -Wednesday to Sunday 11am to 5.30 pm For more go to

June’s 3 favourite Tulips

“Tulips ‘Ballerina’ is a beautiful marigold orange lily flowered scented Tulip. It is fantastic mass planted with other Lily Flowered Tulips such as ‘Burgundy’ or ‘Purple Dream’. These are all good mid-season Tulips in the ground every year and replenish with more of the same. This results in a multilayered informal and wild display in late April and early May year after year.

Tulips ‘Redshine’ is another favorite Red Lily Flowered Tulip I use in a wild meadow setting planted randomly and sparingly. The idea here that it almost looks accidental in the tall meadow grass. The beautiful Red Flowered contrast with fresh green grass and I never mix colours. each year I add fresh bulbs which further enhance the naturalistic scene.
I use Tulipa ‘Couleur Cardinal’ in pots. Not a very tall tulip only 35cm but is a beautiful intense bright red with plum tones on the outside. Looks fantastic in an old ceramic pot or along walkways.  First introduced in 1845 this gorgeously scented and truly stunning long lasting heirloom tulip has stood the test of time, as one of the all-time favorites. “

Dramatic Designer combination 

I love when Tulips are combined with perennials or annuals to create a really unique scheme. Here’s a lovely planted arrangement using the queen of the tulips. To really set it off I recommend a lovely oversize terracotta planter!

Tulipa ‘Queen of the night’

Erysium ‘Knowles mauve’

Centaurea montana

Anemone coronaria ‘Lady series’ -choose the pink variety

Lobelia ‘Sapphire’ (Trailing)


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