It’s the time of year when all the bulb catalogues come through and all those of us who enjoy our metal garden furniture start dreaming of how to spice up the patio. I confess, tulips are a real passion of mine and always make me remember a lovely photo shoot we did years ago for our cast aluminium garden furniture range which involved our very young son, his favourite Orpington hens and some pots of colourful tulips. It all worked a treat together – the lovely puff pastry colour of the hen, the bright red and purple tulips, a scattering of vibrant blue muscari and the gleaming metal chair. I’ve often tried to recreate the look in my terracotta tubs, but rarely do the tulips come together so well and for some reason, the hens have developed a taste for both muscari and tulip leaves.
What to do
Even so, I am determined to give it another go. A sneaky bit of mesh over the pots keeps both the squirrels from digging up the bulbs and the hens from grazing on the young shoots in due course. The trick with tulips is to get ahead of the game. You are not supposed to plant them until the first frosts since the ground temperature must be cold enough to prevent dreaded bulb disease. This tends to mean that by the time the outdoor temperature has dropped, it’s really miserable out there and no fun planting bulbs. If you get your tubs clean and filled in readiness, with the protective mesh ready for covering, you can stick in a few bulbs in a matter of minutes. Stuff the prepared pots out of sight under the metal patio table or aluminium garden bench, and wait for the new shoots in spring.
When it comes to fabulous combinations of bulbs, I cheat a bit. I tend to look at the garden catalogues renowned for their good taste, and copy the bulb mixes. I then buy the bulbs in bulk elsewhere for less money. My favourite combination is couleur cardinal (lovely strong scarlet), with havran (one of those auberginey almost black ones) peppered up with princess Irene (a veritable tequila sunrise in flower form).
The Finishing Touch
This is a gorgeous blend of height and colour only improved by a quick sewing of muscari on the top. The muscari come through before the tulips and cover the top of the pots with attractive green shoots, almost like designer grass. In due course the little blue flowers draw the eye away from the rather untidy tulips as they begin to poke through, and when you’ve got the mix of orangey, reddy purples with that striking blue, you’ve got a really good display.