The mass planting of tulips and wallflowers set off the tearooms perfectly

Tulips are the new currency it would seem! So, Frances McDonald explained to us this morning when we visited her in her garden, The Bay, just north of Ferns in Co. Wexford. Over the past weeks I had seen mention of Frances and Iain’s Tulip Extravaganza at the garden but only yesterday spotted that Frances was bringing a group around the garden this morning so I jumped at the opportunity immediately – it is always so much more interesting to walk a garden with the gardener and gain the many insights which would otherwise go unnoticed.

An informal planting in the garden


There was a group of about 15 – enough and not too many – so that everybody was within earshot and able to participate with ease. Frances welcomed us and explained the background to this Tulip Extravaganza and the use of tulips as currency – very in line with the days of tulipmania in Holland! Frances has done some work for Mr. Middleton Garden Shop – a supplier of bulbs, plants etc – and asked to be paid in tulips rather than in cash. It appears that Mr. Middleton paid very generously as several thousand tulips were delivered to The Bay.

A welcoming doorway with tulips in pots
Simple, elegant and effective!

I imagine that delight was soon tempered with fatigue as Iain and Frances set about planting all these bulbs. The quickly found that introducing tulips in large numbers to a very densely planted garden was a huge challenge. Obviously, they didn’t wish to do damage to the existing plants in the garden but also wished to plant in sufficient density to produce a good effect.

The vegetable beds put to a colourful seasonal use with dense plantings of tulips

Some of Iain’s vegetable beds, immediately inside the front gate, were commandeered for tulip planting, as were the beds which surround the patio of the teahouse, and these gave an impressive greeting on entering the gardens. Tulips need great numbers and density of planting for best effect and there was perfect opportunity to plant in this style here. The effect is dramatic, colourful, and produced the best display in the garden.

A display in pots on the patio to the rear of the house

Frances confirmed that the traditional practice of planting tulips in pots or window boxes for early summer display is certainly a most effective method though she added the proviso that while one might plan to use two or three packets of bulbs per pot she found it better to use five! “Plant them cheek by jowl” was her advice and the pots on display showed the wisdom of such practice.

Reflections in the formal pool

In all Frances and Iain have planted over 100 different tulip varieties and the display will continue for quite some time to come with early varieties in flower at present while later ones have yet to come.

Mark it in your diary: Open Day: 2pm – 5pm

Sat 16 and Sun 17 April

Sat 23 and Sun 24 April

Sat 30 April and Sun 1 and Mon 2 May

Sat 14 and Sun 15 May

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Paddy Tobin

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