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SHOWSTOPPER TULIPS: Choose your palette now for a spring display of glorious colour

SHOWSTOPPER TULIPS: Choose your palette now for a spring display of glorious colour

  • Nigel Colborn advises now is the time to stat planning your tulip colour palette 
  • UK gardening expert also says height, and flowering times should be considered
  • He says that October and November are the best months for planting tulips

Tulips are spring superstars. You can line them up like Trooping The Colour or scatter them randomly, in a border. For containers they are superb — on their own or mixed with companion plants.

There’s nothing subtle about massed tulips, especially if they’re orange, scarlet or yellow. But when pastel colours are blended, they can be movingly beautiful.

Now is the time to start planning. October and November are the best months for planting tulips. But if you want plenty of choice, buy your bulbs soon. They will keep for months, in a cold, dark place.

In formal beds, tulips look enchanting above a blue mist of forget-me-nots. In mixed spring containers, they can stand proud above mini-carpets of pansies or spring daisies. Wallflowers are natural companions for tulips, as are polyanthus.

October and November are the best months for planting tulips, Nigel Colborn says

A typical tulip provides only three weeks of colour. But companion plants, especially wallflowers and forget-me-nots, bloom from March almost to June. Primroses and polyanthus are nearly as long-lasting, but tulips are the show-stoppers.

When selecting your bulbs, it’s important to think about colours, heights and precise flowering times. But if you prefer a multi-coloured mash-up — that can look superb.

In a border, small groups of hybrid tulips make cheerful highlights. For wild gardens or informal planting, quaint little Tulipa turkestanica often buds in February. In June, scarlet T. sprengeri is the last to flower.


Tulips for bedding are by far the most popular. The number of varieties can be bewildering, but you need to know when they’ll flower. That’s important when you’re blending colours.

Flowering times are usually provided in bulb catalogues, so always check those when planning your colour mix.

You’ll find it helpful to know each variety’s physical characteristics. For early flowers, I grow Fosteriana varieties such as Flaming Purissima and White Emperor. I love the March show, but dislike the weakness of the tall stem. For mid-season, choose the classic, reliable and universally popular Darwin Hybrids. The world’s most popular tulip, scarlet-petalled T. Apeldoorn is a Darwin variety. Among bi-colours, Banja Luka is yellow with scarlet flame patterns.

Mid-season Triumph tulips come in more novel colours. The variety T. Slawa has deep, sombre purple petals with contrasting pink edges. T. Gwen has white flowers, each petal edged with feathery streaks of pale violet.

The season ends with almost black T. Queen of Night, ivorycream T. Big Smiles and orange, lily-flowered T. Ballerina.


When teaming tulips, it’s crucial to know their flowering dates. Even then, different seasons produce different results. That’s why it’s wise to include early, mid-season and late varieties.

Plant bulbs with their tops at least 10cm below the soil surface. If you plant deeply, badgers often fail to sniff them out.

When growing in containers, you can plant double layers.

That ensures a denser, brighter show in spring. You can also include forget-me-nots or spring daisies as companion plants. 


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