Morton Hall (opens in new tab) – especially visited in spring – is a spring garden that wows with color. The early bulbs and synchronised tulip display is exceptional with a brilliance of thousands of blooms. It’s all down to the months of meticulous planning and planting by owner Anne Olivieri. Ever since the heady days of tulip mania in 17th-century Holland, tulips have maintained an allure. ‘They have not lost their power over people,’ explains Anne, whose vibrant and intricate 6,000-strong display draws visitors to the annual Tulip Festival held in the gardens of her Worcestershire home. Almost 15 years ago, with the help of garden designer Charles Chesshire (opens in new tab), Anne began the process of transforming the eight acres of parkland into seven diverse, but connected, seasonal gardens.  Here she shares how this spring garden wows with color…

1. Introduce early bulbs and flowering trees to a spring garden

‘When my husband René and I viewed the property, in spring 2007, the parkland and meadow were awash with naturalised fritillaria and narcissi,’ says Anne.  She introduced snowdrops, scilla and camassias to intensify the display and extend the season. Clouds of Japanese flowering cherries complemented the delicate planting, softening the skyline of majestic estate trees.  South of the curving driveway, secreted by trees, lie two new gardens. A Japanese Stroll Garden, planted with flowering cherries, magnolias and tree peonies, incorporates reflective pools and a teahouse. Beyond lies the Rockery, its immense stone stairway clad with woodland vegetation. Find more flower bed ideas in our dedicated feature.

2. Plant tulips in a spring garden border

In a sunny border, create ample space for tulips to flow in-between existing perennials and herbaceous plants. ‘Tulips are versatile and scalable,’ says Anne, ‘Anyone can grow them, but density is key.’ To do this, set out and repeat bulbs in their planting positions, in loosely grouped drifts of five to six. Intermingle a few bulbs where heights transition, avoid straight lines and isolated groups. Using a trowel, plant 5cm deep, and cover, working from back to front, planting tall to short. Shallow planting eases lifting later. Dust finished planting area with hot chilli powder, two tablespoons per square meter, an effective squirrel deterrent not harmful to birds. Reapply as necessary, until shoots appear. Mulch with wood bark or compost, to improve drainage. Post flowering, lift and compost all tulips. Large, healthy and fresh bulbs produce the best blooms.

3. Design a backdrop of lushness

The geometry of South Garden is softened by lush green borders, sprung with box spheres, and ringed with willow supporting emerging peonies and roses. Tulips flood and fill in the gaps, weaving in and out of the perennial shrubs, right down to the lower fountain terrace. The effect is artistic and the planting plan itself resembles an impressionist painting.  Anne explains the intricate design process. ‘Coordinates of the garden’s permanent plantings are recorded on a map. I overlay this with a matrix involving over 4,000 tulips, using 15 different cultivars. A different symbol denotes its color, height and form.’ Check out our garden edging ideas for more inspiration.

4 Group pots for an easy spring garden display

In the adjoining Kitchen Garden, ahead of the edibles, the perimeter beds and grouped terracotta pots burst with color. They follow the path of the sun; a spectacular fusion of sunrise colours flushes the eastern beds, pitted against a striking bonfire of sunset flames in the west. ‘ The arrangements are simpler than the South Garden’s matrix, 1,500 bulbs with fewer varieties, but colour intensity compensates for reduced density,’ says Anne.

5 Arrange in classical height order

Tulips are systematically arranged in classical height order, ‘short to the front, taller to the back, with subtle mingling of changeover heights creating movement and avoiding awkward, soldier-like rows’.  The spring garden planting is meticulously orchestrated, but in the past the effect has been ‘ruined by substitute or rogue bulbs’. A partnership with Bloms Bulbs resolved such issues and, in 2019, led to the first annual Tulip Festival.  See: Garden jobs for May – what to do, seeds to sow, and flowers to plant Anne plans the gardens while Bloms provide an assortment of ‘weird and wonderful’ tulips for the cutting-garden, and bring armfuls of cut-blooms to display in the Orangery. ‘It’s so important to see tulips in the flesh,’ enthuses Anne, delighted to share her finely-tuned kaleidoscope of glorious color with visitors. Interview by Jacky Hobbs