Container tulips with maximum impact

RHS Garden Harlow Carr's Sarah Bell highlights impactful, distinctive tulip cultivars to try, with key tips for success

Tulip 'Queen of Marvel', 'Mistress' and 'Ollioules'. Smaller pots: 'Queen of Marvel' and Bellavalia paradoxaOnce treated as a form of currency and coveted like precious stones, the tulips are amongst the most magnificent bulbs the gardener has at their disposal. There are 15 different groups, divided according to flowering time or flower form, available in a rainbow of colours with a multitude of petal shapes and sizes. They lend themselves particularly to providing drama and interest for any early summer container.

Tulip ‘Queen of Marvel’, a double early, with cherry-pink scented blooms, teamed with the sugar pink of Triumph tulip ‘Mistress’ and the slightly later-flowering Darwin Hybrid tulip ‘Ollioules’, is a great three-bulb combination. This will give you beautiful flowering covering many weeks.

Tulipa 'Exotic Emperor' with Hyacinthus 'Carnegie'Tulips make good bedfellows for other early flowering bulbs to provide a visual impact. Tulip ‘Exotic Emperor’, a Fosteriana white-tinged green tulip, flowers from early April onwards, and heralds from the mountainous regions of Uzbekistan. Teamed with the snowy white hyacinth ‘Carnegie’, they smell and look great. To finish off the display, try putting the coloured stems of Cornus or willow into the pot (pictured below) to provide height and interest through the winter, only removing them as the bulbs emerge.

Tulip 'Valery Gergiev' with Muscari aucheri 'Dark-Eyes'The fringe tulip ‘Valery Gergiev’, a gorgeous primary red with tasselled petals, provides a statement planting in a container alone, but teamed with Muscari aucheri ‘Dark Eyes’, it is a bold doorstep combination.

The key to success

For pots with attitude, use well-draining compost (tulips hate sitting in wet soggy conditions), and being generous with the amounts of bulbs you use. Fill your pots two thirds full with compost, and lay the bulbs point up cheek by jowl. If you are putting a mix of tulips in, mix them up in a bucket first, and then put them in the pot, the effect is more random and natural-looking. If you are using other flowering bulbs, layer them according to their bulb size, largest first in, then up to the top of the space in the pot with the smallest ones – for example Muscari can be put in last, and just poked in below the surface of the finished pot. Top dress your containers with gravel, this helps with the drainage and provides a layer of protection before they emerge. Happy planting...

More on tulips...

See our RHS Plant Shop for a range of tulip collection packs to buy.

Find RHS tulip growing advice.

Learn more about planting bulbs.

Containers require a lot of care; see RHS advice on maintainance.

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