Get set for a rainbow of colour as Harlow Carr unveils its first Tulip Trail this month

Slender, stylish and effortlessly elegant, tulips are one of the flowers that hold a special place in our affections, not least for the brilliant show of colour they put on in our gardens at this time of year. Picked, they are prone to wilting if not kept well-watered, but need little arranging. They seem to do this all on their own, draping themselves languidly over the edge of a vase.

They have history too. The tulip originated centuries ago in Persia and Turkey, where it played a significant role in the art and culture of the time. As Europeans began taking to tulips, the flower’s popularity spread quickly, particularly in the Netherlands where a phenomenon dubbed “tulip mania” set in at one point during the 17th century. Tulips became so highly-prized that prices were sent soaring and markets crashing.

To celebrate this most colourful of spring’s ‘big four’ bulbs – crocus, daffodils and hyacinths being the other three – RHS Garden Harlow Carr, in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, is opening a Tulip Trail to celebrate the colour, shape and scent offered by more than 100 varieties of tulip and over 25,000 bulbs. Visitors can get inspiration for their own gardens with a range of stunning displays and planting schemes – from traditional beds and borders to quirky containers including handbags, wellies and wheelbarrows. A must-see is the tulip-filled boat floating on the Queen Mother’s Lake.

“We’re transforming the garden into a living tulip catalogue, allowing visitors to get up close to a huge variety of tulips, some small and wild species, others big, showy specimens,” says curator Paul Cook, who has been building up the garden’s spring bulb collection, with a particular focus on tulips. “We’ll be displaying the blooms in unusual containers designed to inspire visitors and encourage them to replicate what they see at home. You don’t need a lot of space to put on a spectacular display – a window box or a pair of wellies filled with a tasteful choice of bulbs can add instant colour, doesn’t cost a lot and is easy to plant and maintain.”

Paul, 53, has been curator at Harlow Carr since September 2013 and is responsible for managing and developing the garden’s plant collections and leading a team of 30 horticulturists, RHS trainees and volunteers, who have all been working hard to make sure the Tulip Trail is a triumph. Visitors can pick up a trail leaflet to guide them to the highlights and to see Paul’s top 10 tulip recommendations, which are:

1. Ballerina: Burnt orange lily-flowered tulip with dainty, fluted tangerine petals and a honey scent. This is a good choice for domestic gardens and clay soils. Ballerina has survived three winters in the ground in Harlow Carr’s scented garden - pretty good going for a tulip!

2. Daydream: This Darwin hybrid is a tall tulip, growing up to 55cm high, with bold, yellow blooms fading to apricot. As well as its impressive height, it is robust and extremely weatherproof. We planted 3,000 Daydream bulbs in one of our displays last year and they withstood the spring showers and blustery weather to flower for a solid two to three weeks before the petals finally fell.

3. Don Quichotte: A classic triumph tulip with strong dark pink blooms; looks stunning with the inky black of Paul Scherer in a container display.

4. Prinses Irene: Single early tulip, a small, delicate, cup shaped soft-orange, with an unusual purple flame decoration on the tepals of the petals. Teamed with Hermitage, a darker orange, and Prinses Margriet, a bright yellow tulip all sharing the same purple tepal decorations – simply gorgeous!

5. Purissima: One of the earliest of the tulips, this fosteriana tulip is pure white, small in comparison (40cm) to the others mentioned, but for a succession, is a great choice to kick-start a display.

6. White Triumphator: Clean, crisp white lily-flowered tulip; tall and elegant with fluted petals. We planted this in the old winter garden where it looked amazing with all the evergreens in spring. It survived two seasons in the ground before the winter wet got it.

7. Black Parrot: A dark purple, almost black, heavily ruched tulip with feathery tips to the petals, this is a real show-stopper. Not as weather-proof as some of the other choices, but worth growing for the spectacle alone. This one does better in containers than it does in the ground.

8. West Point: A zingy citrus yellow lily-flowered fluted tulip. Stately and very upright, it generated a chorus of ‘oohs and aahs’ from visitors last year when we planted it en mass in the front of house containers, together with tulip spring green.

9. Couleur Cardinal: One of the shorter, single early flowerers, with blood red petals with a bluey tinge to the centre. It is small in stature, but rich in colour.

10. Exotic Emperor: This white-green late-flowering tulip boasts an unusual colour combination that helps it stand out from the crowd.

Harlow Carr’s Plant Centre will be stocked with a good range of potted tulips in May, so visitors can take a little piece of Harlow Carr home with them, or they can pre-order bulbs and plant them in autumn for a striking display next spring.

RHS Garden Harlow Carr is one of four public gardens run by the Royal Horticultural Society. It is located on the western edge of Harrogate, on Crag Lane, HG3 1QB. W: