How to grow tulips, by the gardener who creates the incomparable display at Parham Park

Every spring, Parham Park is lit up by the appearance of thousands of tulips, drawing visitors from around the world. Tom Brown, Parham Park’s head gardener, shared his tips on how to grow these striking blooms with Jacky Hobbs.

Each spring, the gardens at Parham gleam with the sheen from the petals of 10,000 tulips. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, almost half of these – the equivalent of 15 bucketsful a week during the flowering season – are cut and brought indoors to provide arrangements for the West Sussex Elizabethan manor house, as they have been for the past 70 years.

Orchestrating such a show falls to Tom Brown, the head gardener. His is no easy job, as he must not only provide enough cut flowers for the great halls and parlours, but also create a continuous flow of blooms through the colour-themed beds and borders of the four-acre Walled Garden.

The house and gardens at Parham Park, Pulborough, West Sussex, are open Wednesday to Friday and Sundays, from April to mid October, 12pm to 5pm. Guided tours are available – see for more details.

Tom Brown’s guide to growing tulips

  • When working out which cultivars and how many of each you want for cutting and for the garden, do pay attention not only to colour and form, but also to the heights and flowering times, so that you create a balanced show
  • Order bulbs early as popular varieties sell out quickly
  • Generally, the more expensive the bulb, the better the quality

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Ballerina tulips in the garden at Shepherd House. ©Val Corbett/Country Life

  • Reduce the risk of damage from tulip blight by rotating beds annually and planting bulbs late in November/December
  • Parham’s light, sandy soil is ideal for tulips. When planting on heavier soil, add horticultural grit to improve drainage
  • When planting in beds, dig a square-shaped, spade-sized hole and place 5–7 bulbs 10in deep in each. Planting at a greater depth increases the bulbs’ chances for flowering again
  • To grow tulips as cut flowers, plant them intensively in rows. Dig a trench and place bulbs 10in deep an inch or two apart, leaving 12in between rows

Tulips at Plas Cadnant, Menai Bridge. ©Val Corbett/Country Life

  • Lift all tulip bulbs in the cutting garden. By treating them as an annual, you ensure a reliable supply of flowers. You can replant the lifted bulbs, if wished, in less important areas of the garden
  • After flowering, feed all of the bulbs that are to remain in the ground, to help their growth the following year
  • In pots, plant masses of bulbs, touching cheek by jowl, for a bumper display

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