Spring stunners for pots

By Andy McIndoe

Prepare Now for Spring Bulbs

There is no shortage of pots and containers in our garden: grouped around the terrace, on the steps and all around the house. Most of them are planted permanently with shrubs and perennials; these form the foundation of our container planting schemes. This leaves the fun part: the seasonal addition of flowerbulbs and bedding subjects to add a dash of colour, flower form and to keep the look fresh, vibrant and exciting.

[caption id="attachment_9206" align="alignleft" width="550"]Tulips on the terrace Tulips on the terrace[/caption]

I have to say my favourite subject are the tulips and I usually grow thirty or more pots of around fifteen to twenty varieties; some new ones and some reliable favourites. For me the most important qualities are flower form, long flower life, and of course colour. I start with new bulbs every year. I would never risk compromising the display by keeping bulbs; yes, sometimes they perform again, but often they are disappointing in year two.

[caption id="attachment_9207" align="alignleft" width="550"]Tulipa 'Ballerina Tulipa 'Ballerina[/caption]

So my top tips for this year: the first has to be an old favourite Tulipa ‘Ballerina’. Tall, elegant with pointed buds and petals this lily-flowering tulip is soft glowing orange. Last year I partnered it with the lovely Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’, a variety with ochre and olive foliage, tinged orange at the tips of the shoots. By the time the tulip flowered the euphorbia had produced its frothy flowerheads of brown-eyed, lime green bracts in a sunny spot at the front of the house. I also grew ‘Ballerina’ on the terrace against a backdrop of ferns and acers. It is a very good colour with any red and brown foliage tones and it’s the perfect partner for traditional terracotta pots.

[caption id="attachment_9208" align="alignleft" width="550"]Tulipa 'Brown Sugar' Tulipa 'Brown Sugar'[/caption]

If you like orange-brown tones you will love Tulipa ‘Brown Sugar’.  This is a classic open single tulip with caramel petals and a lovely fragrance.   I know no other tulip which has such strong, robust stems, so it is ideal for more exposed and windy situations. It lasts for up to four weeks if the weather is cool and it is positioned out of full sun for part of the day. In my experience this is one tulip that will last in the open ground from year to year.

[caption id="attachment_9209" align="alignleft" width="550"]Tulipa 'Angel's Wish' Tulipa 'Angel's Wish'[/caption]

Sometimes I grow a new variety that I simply fall in love with; last year a lasting affair with Tulipa ‘Angel’s Wish’ began. I saw it originally at Chelsea Flower Show, but good as it was there it could not live up to its appearance in our garden. Elegant silky blooms of satin white flushed with rich cream become more beautiful by the day. Strong stems, wonderful upright leaves and amazing flower life make this a truly outstanding tulip. If you are a lover of white and cream flowers this one is a must.

[caption id="attachment_9210" align="alignleft" width="550"]Tulipa 'Pink Diamond' Tulipa 'Pink Diamond'[/caption]

I find some pink tulips rather coarse in flower form and colour, however that is far from true of Tulipa ‘Pink Diamond’. The shimmering blooms of ice pink are divine with dark flowered varieties or against a background of fresh plum foliage. Position a pot where the flowers catch the spring sunshine and under plant with blue forget-me-nots.  If that sounds just too pretty for your tastes then try it: it is the ultimate “feel good” spring pot planting scheme.

[caption id="attachment_9211" align="alignleft" width="550"]Tulipa 'Spring Green' Tulipa 'Spring Green'[/caption]

I like the form and fresh appeal of viridiflora tulips; they are the ones with pointed petals flushed with green at the base. ‘Spring Green’ is still one of the best: sparkling white and apple green fine-boned flowers open on strong, slender stems. I like to plant a pot of it against a leafy background; it is also good in the open ground and often establishes well.

[caption id="attachment_9212" align="alignleft" width="550"]Tulipa 'Carnaval de Nice' Tulipa 'Carnaval de Nice'[/caption]

Although I am not a great one for double tulips they do have that wonderful “Dutch Master” look when teamed up with velvety violas and heucheras in an old terracotta pot, urn or maybe a fake lead container. You only need a few bulbs; let them relax and do their own thing, these are not regimented characters. Tulipa ‘Carnaval de Nice’ changes character as the flowers mature, becoming more beautiful as the days pass.

[caption id="attachment_9213" align="alignleft" width="550"]Fritillaria meleagris Fritillaria meleagris[/caption]

So what do I grow in pots other than tulips? Often I plant a pot or two of white Narcissus ‘Thalia’ or the deliciously fragrant ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’. I also love to grow the snake’s head fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris in pots.  I have more success with them grown in this way, as long as I buy the bulbs early and plant straight away, they do not like to be out of the ground for too long. It also enables the flowers to be seen and admired at close quarters. I do recommend planting a few small pots of fritillaries to use on the garden table, or bring indoors when in bloom.


[caption id="attachment_9214" align="alignleft" width="550"] Anemone blanda Blue Anemone blanda Blue[/caption]

I first saw bowls of Anemone blanda at the Keukenhof. The blue ones are the ones to grow. Soak the tubers overnight and plant them extravagantly just a centimetre or so apart. There is nothing more cheerful than a bowl or shallow pot of shining blue, smiling anemones on a sunny day.

Secrets of success. Whether you are growing tulips or any other flowerbulbs in pots there are three things to remember:

Use a quality potting compost with added John Innes for best results. Hillier multi-purpose with added JI is perfect.

Plant your bulbs with three times the depth of the bulb of compost covering them.

Don’t forget to water them, especially in spring as the leaves develop.

[caption id="attachment_9215" align="alignleft" width="550"]Tulipa 'Brown Sugar' Tulipa 'Brown Sugar'[/caption]

Andy McIndoe

... Read more

Stay updated

Receive free updates by email including special offers and new courses.

You can unsubscribe at any time


Related posts

Our best selling courses

Awards & Accreditations

  • Good Web Guide
  • Red Herring Winner
  • Royal Horticultural Society
  • Education Investor Awards 2021 - Finalist
  • CPD Accredited (provider 50276)