Garden designer Sean Pritchard on the best tulips to display for a joyful spring interior

In an extract from his new book: Outside In: A year of growing and displaying, Sean Pritchard takes us through his favourite tulips to grow and display
Sean Pritchard

A large part of the appeal of tulips lies in their wonderful ability to make a bold statement indoors – how when they’re cut and displayed, they take on something of the character of the space in which they sit. Tulips grow into the room. They move and twist towards the light. Their colours bounce around objects and furniture. Tulips simply have an uncanny ability to elevate the interior decoration.

I pack as many tulips as I can into a jug, stabilising them with chicken wire or a flower frog, then let them do their own thing. I place them on top of books or within little nooks and crannies. I sometimes use glass vessels, especially for the taller varieties, as I find seeing the whole stem – how it bends to support the blousy flowers – incredibly evocative.

I treat tulips as annuals and plant them in both containers and in the ground. Most tulips rarely put on as good a show after their first year of flowering, which means new bulbs need to be planted each autumn to maintain a show-stopping display. In this respect, they’re more high maintenance than other spring bulbs – which tend to be predominantly perennial – but the extra effort is always worth it.

Favourite tulips to display

‘Annie Schilder’
Sean Pritchard

‘Annie Schilder’ emerges later in the season like a precious jewel of fiery orange. The goblet-shaped flower has the slightest flush of pink through the petals that tempers the orange a little but doesn’t reduce any of the vibrancy. This is one of those bright tulips that I love to display indoors – its boldness so alluring in the dark light of the cottage – and it flowers on a good-sized stem, making it perfect for cutting. ‘Annie Schilder’ is classed as a Triumph tulip: a classic, goblet-shaped, single flower on strong, robust stems. A real delight.

‘Spring Green’
Sean Pritchard

You often hear gardeners talking about good doers and, for me, the ‘Spring Green’ tulip is one of them. Unlike most other tulips, ‘Spring Green’ seems to return year after year just as vigorously as the first time it flowered – I have a great clump of them in my garden that I’ve left undisturbed for several years. It is the most brilliant, almost translucent, white with splashes of vibrant green running up each petal (this touch of green is characteristic of the Viridiflora group of which it’s a member). ‘Spring Green’ grows tall and, despite its muted colours, makes a real statement. There’s something very magical about this tulip; it has an almost mythical quality that I adore.

Sean Pritchard

I can never have enough pink tulips, and ‘Aphrodite’ is one of the best. The flower is a two-tone pink with a darker flame-like flash running up the side of each petal. The flower opens into a perfect saucer shape held elegantly on a strong stem. ‘Aphrodite’ is a Single Early tulip which, as the name suggests, means that it produces single flowers early in the season. It has interesting foliage with an ivory-white edge to each leaf. This makes it a good choice for containers where the whole plant can be admired. For more glorious pink, try ‘Kansas Proud’.

‘Grand Perfection’
Sean Pritchard

Perhaps my all-time favourite, ‘Grand Perfection’ is a classic rhubarb-and custard coloured tulip, and it’s as enchanting to me now as it was when I first started to grow it many years ago. This tulip is reminiscent of those sumptuous flowers depicted in paintings by 17th-century Dutch Masters – with ruby-red flames engulfing custard-coloured petals. Inside, I like to display the flowers in large groups spilling out of old urns and bowls, just as those Dutch artists painted them. ‘Grand Perfection’ is another Triumph tulip that stands regally on strong stems.

‘Amazing Parrot’
Sean Pritchard

I have a love–hate relationship with Parrot tulips. There are some that I adore and others that I dislike. Perhaps I haven’t given enough of them a chance in the garden; I only ever grow one or two varieties each year. One that I have found myself returning to is ‘Amazing Parrot’. It’s a very late tulip and flowers in my garden as alliums and foxgloves are starting to appear at the start of summer, making it an incredibly valuable splash of colour after all the other tulips have gone over. The flowers are a sort of frenzied mix of pink, orange and yellow, and, in keeping with the Parrot group, the petals are curiously ruffled at the edges. The eccentricity of its shape makes it a perfect companion for the bearded iris in flower at the same time.

Outside In: A year of growing and displaying by Sean A. Pritchard is published by Mitchell Beazley.

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