How to plant the perfect pot of tulips

Pots look simple, but it takes a bit of planning to create a balanced display for five weeks of colour in spring. Designer Angel Collins shows how to do it.

A dolly tub makes a perfect container for tulips, setting them high up and almost at eye level, so you can see them in their full glory. I have learned that tulips work much better if planted with perennials, which help to hide the stems and nicely bulk out the sides. Here, I have used that lovely blue of grape hyacinths and forget-me-nots, but, in other pots last spring, I experimented with Euphorbia purpurea. Its purple leaves and acid-lime bracts set off richly coloured tulips to perfection. Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, the bronze-leaved cow parsley, makes another great marriage with tulips.

To get the best display, pick three or four contrasting, yet complementary tulip varieties that will flower at the same time, but which will grow to varying heights, within a range of 18in to 2ft. This way, you avoid that flat, one-dimensional feel that comes from them all being the same height.

To achieve a rich display, pack in the bulbs cheek to cheek, allowing barely half an inch between them. Arrange them in the centre of the tub, allowing space for a petticoat of perennials. To give the latter room to grow, plant them 3in apart.

Water well after planting and then wait until spring. They usually flower in about late April to early May and should keep going, barring being lashed by wind and rain, for a good five weeks.


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You will need

A dolly tub Plenty of compost, ideally bulb compost 20 x Tulipa ‘Virichic’ 20 x Tulipa ‘Slawa’ 20 x Tulipa Black Hero’ 15 x Muscari ‘Blue Diamond’ 5 x Myosotis sylvatica or M. ‘Sylvia Blue’

An alternative, pale-lemon collection of tulips

Tulipa ‘Françoise’ Tulipa ‘World Friendship’ Tulipa ‘Spring Green’ Underplanted with Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’ For frivolity, Fritillaria raddeana

Care notes

Before planting, add extra grit to your container, plus a small handful of mycorrhizal fungi

If squirrels and mice are a problem, dust bulbs with chilli powder before planting and cover with chicken wire

Tulips like a cold spell followed by some wet. In dry springs, as we had this year, make sure they don’t dry out or you may get shorter stems and smaller blooms

After the bulbs have flowered, you can plant them out in grass, where they look lovely with other spring bulbs