Tulips don’t have to perform as a formal stand-alone display in pots or borders. They also look great in mixed displays, with complementary and contrasting flowers and foliage.
Contrasting colours and shapes of other plants can accentuate the bold form and colours of tulips. Before the buds open, fresh new growth from lower growing plants will create a textured backdrop. While in flower, similar or contrasting palettes will bring out the colour of the blooms. And, once the tulips are past their best, mixed planting will help disguise fading blooms and untidy foliage.
Choose plants that thrive in sun and free-draining soil – the same growing conditions as tulips. Also, consider their flowering times and plan for succession of colour or foliage interest. Experiment with different combinations in pots, as well as the border.
More on growing tulips:
Find out which plants will look good growing with tulips, below.
As spring advances, forget-me-not, Myosotis sylvatica, becomes a carpet of bright green leaves topped with clouds of small, rich blue flowers. It makes a wonderful soft backdrop for tulips of all colours and the long-lasting forget-me-nots will provide interest once the tulips have faded. Here they grow with tulip ‘China Pink’.
Box, Buxus sempervirens, adds a contrasting shape and structure to the planting scheme, creating a contemporary look. These clipped box balls have been interplanted with deep red tulip ‘Pretty Woman’, leathery-leaved Hosta sieboldiana, pale pink aquilegia and bleeding heart. The lush foliage of the softer plants and the delicate, nodding flowers accentuates the formality of the tulips and the well-clipped box.
With lollipop stems topped with striking red blooms, these tulips pop up among a patch of low-growing red-leaved hebe. Hebe is a natural fit in terms of sharing the same requirements for sun and well-drained soil, but also forms a shrubby backdrop, which sets off the colour and form of the tulips.
The delicate, finely divided foliage of bronze fennel, Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’, makes a good foil for many different colours. Here it provides a lovely contrast with tulip ‘Queen of Night’, bringing an informal mood to the display. Florence fennel works equally in ornamental borders with the added bonus of appealing to insects and birds.
Honesty, Lunaria annua, works beautifully with the elegant dark purple tulip ‘Queen of the Night’. A pretty biennial, honesty has white or purple flowers. When allowed to naturalise in a border, it contrasts well with the bold, formal tulips. Honesty is also grown for its distinctive translucent seed heads, which are used in dried flower arrangements.
With its familiar blue flowers growing en masse through April and May, our native bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, makes the perfect companion for tulips. Here, it grows in the foreground with tulips, including ‘Irene’, ‘West Point’ and ‘Ronaldo’, pop up behind from low-growing foliage. Plant tulips among large bluebell clumps, for a meadow-like display.
Tulips can work in areas of dappled shade, flowering before trees come into leaf. Light up the edge of a woodland scheme with yellow and white tulips, such as tulip ‘West Point’ and ‘White Triumphator’. Team them with a mass of spring flowers and foliage plants. Try a mix of wallflower ‘Sunset Primrose’ or ‘Sunset Apricot’ with fresh green ferns to fill in the gaps.
It’s worth trying out different planting combinations in containers. Here, pink tulips are planted with pink bluebells and tiarella for a combination inspired by plants that might grow together at the edge of a woodland glade. The fluffy flowerheads and lobed leaves of the tiarella contrast and soften the display, as well as disguise the bare stems and foliage of the tulips.
Choose plants that thrive in sun and free draining soil – the same growing conditions as tulips. Also consider their flowering times – ideally plan for succession of colour or foliage interest.