Tulips in vibrant blocks, soft drifts and elegant pots provide a rush of dramatic colour in spring at Ulting Wick in Essex. The stunning scene requires expertise, planning and a lot of hard work; Philippa Burrough spends weeks planting thousands of bulbs to ensure each spring spectacle is every bit as good as the last.

The garden is beautiful year-round, but visitors come primarily for the tulips in spring and exotics in late summer. ‘We have to play to our strengths,’ Philippa says, ‘and tulips work really well in Essex because we have free-draining soil, and then because we’re on gravel the soil heats up so we can do all the exotics that other people struggle with.’

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Phillipa advises how to create tulip displays

  1. In pots we tend to keep it simple – try orange violas planted on top of lily flowered tulips, such as ‘Ballade Dream’ or blue forget-me-nots combined with the purple tulip ‘Victoria’s Secret’.
  2. Tellima grandiflora is a wonderful foil for tulips in borders because of its early tall airy growth in spring, or you could try early-flowering perennials such as Geranium phaeum ‘Misty Samobor’, or biennials such as honesty.
  3. Look at the foliage in your borders and think about which tulips would complement it. The glaucous foliage of sedum goes very well with pink/purple tulips, or you can combine evergreen grasses such as Stipa tenuissima with fiery orange tulips like ‘National Velvet’, ‘Cairo’ or ‘Abu Hassan’.
  4. Know your tulips – some have very fleshy leaves, like Darwin hybrid ‘Ivory Floradale’,
    but dainty lily tulips, such as ‘Ballerina’, have thin, delicate leaves, so they won’t dominate the plants around them.
  5. When planting tulips in borders, plant as many as you possibly can in a drift for impact. A few tulips looks mean. The same applies to pots, which need fresh tulips every year.
tulips garden multi coloured tulips

The kitchen garden in spring is a riot of colour, planted with a multitude of mixed tulips

tulips garden multi coloured by barns

The vividly colourful tulips stand out against the backdrop of an old 18th century wooden barn

tulips garden greenhouse and box hedging

Candy pink hues of mixed ‘Barcelona’, ‘Shirley’, ‘Survivor’, ‘China Pink’ and ‘Hot Pants’ tulips surround domes of box balls beside the greenhouse

tulips garden kitchen garden

Spring beds in the kitchen garden are enclosed in hedges of clipped buxus and planted with a mix of honesty, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, wallflower ‘Giant Pink’ and narcissus

tulips garden white garden

The small White Garden is planted with ‘Spring Green’ and ‘Angels Wish’ tulips, among vivid green euphorbia, set off by box spirals, Dianthus, and Hayters White

tulips garden borders

In the circular garden the pink and purple tulips contrast against the bronze beech hedge

tulips garden lawn area

Beyond a spring bed of tulips and honesty, a decorative white bench overlooks the formal lawn

tulips garden in pots

Mixed tulips sit in containers by the greenhouse, including ‘Estella Rijnveld’, ‘Gabrielle’, ‘Ballerina’, ‘National Velvet’, ‘Brown Sugar’ and Marianne 

tulips garden mixed border 2

‘Ballerina’, ‘Spring Green’ and ‘Westpoint’ tulips in a colourful spring bed

tulips garden essex barn

Every year the planting is tweaked and perfected but for visitors it will always look like the finished article – a spring garden at its very best

tulips garden flower grid

Tulips: 1. ‘Survivor’; 2. ‘Marianne ‘; 3. ‘Recreado’; 4. ‘Estella Rijnveld’; 5. ‘Strong Gold’; 6. ‘Spring Greens’; 7. ‘Ballerina’; 8. ‘Mistress’; 9. ‘Merlot’; 10. ‘Rem’s Favourite’ with papaver foliage;
11. ‘Gabrielle’; 12. ‘National Velvet’

Photographs Abigail Rex. Words Tamsin Hope Thomson