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.’
Phillipa advises how to create tulip displays
- 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’.
- 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.
- 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’.
- 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.
- 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.
Photographs Abigail Rex. Words Tamsin Hope Thomson