A dozen tulip bulbs is all it takes to make a sensational splash next spring. Instead of dotting bulbs in the border, pack them into pots - and concentrate all that colour into one spectacular display. With containers, you have the freedom of choosing whatever tulips you want, without having to consider how they'll fit into their surroundings.
© GAP photos/Elke Borkowski
Half a dozen tall, roomy terracotta flowerpots - The Garden Centre Group sells inexpensive machine-made versions - plus a bagful of compost and a sack of bulbs could be your basics for a glorious potted tulip field that you can install on the patio, down the garden steps or around the front door. Have the whole field blooming at once in one glorious burst come April; suitable candidates that bloom at a similar time might be double-flowering earlies such as primrose Montreux, sulphur-yellow Monte Carlo and rose-pink Foxtrot.
Extend the flowering period by adding some mid-season triumph tulips such as scarlet Red Mark and deep beetroot Negrita. Or keep the best fireworks till last, choosing fabulous, flamboyant parrots, viridifloras, fringed and feathered varieties that bloom with the first alliums.
My bulb order includes the luscious Apricot Parrot, viridiflora gold and green Artist, fringed lilac-pink Matchpoint and Zurel, ivory white with beetroot feathering.
While one massed colour has impact, two colours can have more, provided they complement one another, such as single early tulips Apricot Beauty and plum-coloured Couleur Cardinal, which acts like a flattering shadow to throw the lighter colour into relief. The carmine "flames" on the stunning pale orange Prinses Irene make a perfect foil for darkest maroon-black Havran, which is not only a stunning velvety shade but sometimes produces two to three flowers per stem.
Just like a bought bouquet of mixed tulips, a dolly-mixture of several paintbox colours in one big pot works well, too, so long as all varieties bloom at the same time.
Use containers to flatter the flowers: purple Tulip Recreado, with toning blue-green leaves, for example, looks drop-dead chic in a black fibreglass pot, and any of the dark shades, including the fabulous double-flowered Black Hero, suit a plain bucket of galvanised metal to perfection. Just knock in a few holes for drainage.
Tub trugs with holes punched in their bases make practical and colourful display cases for massed tulips; imagine a purple tub holding lily-flowered orange Ballerina, or a sky-blue tub filled with early flowering scarlet Red Riding Hood, the windowbox favourite.
© GAP photos/Friedrich Strauss
You can also double the display by doubling the bulbs, making two layers instead of one, adding a thin layer of compost between the two; the pretty, ruffled flowers of powder-pink Angelique, for example, are twice as luscious when displayed at different levels.
For all tulip bulb container plantings, use a soil-based compost such as John Innes No 2 and mix 75:25 with grit, to ensure free drainage. Pack in the bulbs, but with none of them touching each other or the sides of the container. Keep squirrels away by covering the surface with chickenwire, bending it over the sides of the pot to secure.
For best results, use top-grade, large bulbs, and start afresh each year. When next spring's tulips have flowered, empty them out of their pots and bury them in any spare patches of ground: smaller, less uniform, they will still pack a punch in years to come.
Top tulip bulb suppliers
* Jacques Amand (living colourbulbs.com) 01962 840038
* Sarah Raven (sarahraven.com) 0845 0920283
* Avon Bulbs (avonbulbs.co.uk) 01460 242177