It should be no surprise to those who visit Patthana Garden in Co. Wicklow, Ireland, to learn that co-owner TJ Maher's favourite flower is the tulip. The garden is awash with them, starting with pot displays crammed with single-colour groupings close to the house, then swirling through the borders in the Inner Garden and, since 2021, extending to the Torc Garden, with views across to the village church. The result is a masterclass in harmony.

Here are some of TJ's techniques for creating his stunning tulip displays.

How to create lovely tulip displays

Create colour themes

Tulips at Pattana Garden
TJ creates colour-themed mixes for different areas of the garden © Clive Nichols

For different areas, TJ selects colour-themed mixes from some 40 or so cultivars. “I fill boxes with tulips I think will work together colour-wise, using as many as 25 cultivars per box. The fruity pink mix, for example, could have undercurrent hues of mango, lemon, peach and orange, bringing nuanced variation of colour to the display."

Avoid primary colours

Tulips in the Pattana Garden
Key tulips in this border in the Torc Garden include Tulipa 'Orange Emperor', 'Triple A', 'Apricot Impression' and 'Ballerina' © Clive Nichols

TJ avoids primary colours, which he finds too garish, and prefers what he describes as fruity colours, and deep reds, maroons and purples to provide depth of colour.

Avoid mixing white with other colours

Tulips at Pattana Garden
The semi shady Inner Garden is home to white tulips including Tulipa 'Purissima', 'Purissima Design' and 'Ivory Floradale' © Clive Nichols

TJ uses white tulips to lighten shady areas, and plants several white cultivars together. "I find it too stark combined with other colours.”

Discover 34 white flowers to grow.

Here's how to plant a white garden

Use reliably perennial cultivars

/ MartaJonina / Getty Images
Tulipa 'Purissima' © MartaJonina / Getty Images

Increasingly, TJ prefers to use reliably perennial cultivars (such as Tulipa 'Purissima') as recent winters have become wetter, making it more challenging to get into the borders to plant. He often waits until he’s dividing perennials, which creates spaces where he can make the holes for the tulip bulbs.

Plant in groups - but also singly

Tulips at Patthana Garden
© Clive Nichols

TJ plants bulbs 20-30cm deep, in groups of three, five or seven, and also adds single bulbs to keep the whole effect loose and naturalistic.

Leave tulips in the ground

TJ does not pull up his tulips once they have finished flowering - he leaves them in the ground. The following autumn, he plants more, in a similar colour palette, so that any that reappear will mix harmoniously with the new additions.

He also considers flower shapes when planning future displays. “I use a lot of lily-flowered varieties in the same bed. Even if the colour is different, the shape will tie the scheme together.”

Read more advice on planting bulbs in borders.


Tulips in pots at Patthana Garden
One the terrace, TJ grows shorter tulip cultivars, such as Tulipa 'Prinses Irene', which he places at the front, along with small spring-flowering plants such as violas, diascias and violas. © Clive Nichols

Plant one tulip variety per pot

Tulips in pots, TJ feels, offer a lovely chance to play with colour. As the garden opens to the public in late April, TJ prefers to create maximum impact by planting the same variety in each pot, with the bulbs almost touching each other. Occasionally, he combines three cultivars that pick up on each other, colour-wise.

Place the pots strategically

TJ places pots containing taller cultivars at the back and shorter ones (such as Tulipa 'Prinses Irene') at the front.

Mix tulips with bedding plants

TJ mixes the pinks and softer reds with annuals, such as nemesias and diascias. Pots of hotter reds are combined with strong shades of orange and deep blue from violas. In some pots he overplants the tulip bulbs with forget-me-nots or wallflowers (Erysimum).

Try double-flowered cultivars

Pots also offer a chance to grow double-flowered cultivars, which can become top heavy and fall over when grown in the ground, but will dangle happily over the edge of a pot.

Reuse compost from summer pot displays

TJ re-uses the spent compost from his summer pot displays for the new plantings of tulips, as the bulbs have all the nutrients they need, but if the pots are being overplanted, he fills the bottom half with spent compost for the tulips and then adds a fresh mix of peat-free compost and garden soil for the other plants.

Read more advice on planting bulbs in pots.


Annie Gatti is an award-winning garden writer and co-author of the RHS Your Wellbeing Garden