The Best Tulips in the Universe

Actually, in my mind the best tulips in the universe are whatever tulips I have blooming at that particular moment. One of the advantages of growing tulips in containers is you can try different varieties every year. But I will say that this seemed to be a particularly good year for tulips – maybe because of the cool spring.

Container tulips on the front steps.
Container tulips on the front steps.

For anyone interested in finding some new tulip varieties to try, here is a rundown of the varieties I had in containers this year – I would recommend any of them.

Because I am in a pedantic mood, I want to mention that for horticultural purposes tulips are divided into groups or divisions. Depending on who you ask, there are 13, 14, or 15 divisions. These groups do help clarify the characteristics of the thousands of varieties out there. I know this only because of a class I took at CBG this spring.

'Couleur Cardinal' with 'Flair'
‘Couleur Cardinal’ with ‘Flair’

Species tulips make up one group, and I grow them in my beds and borders. Most of the varieties I use for containers do not perennialize well. I do have some hybrids in the beds and borders, mostly Darwin hybrids, which perennialize fairly well. Kaufmanianna and Fosteriana (also called Emperor) tulips are also relatively long-lived.


Single Early Tulips. These tulips are generally compact and bloom mid-April.

'Sunny Prince'
‘Sunny Prince’
  • ‘Couleur Cardinal’. This is considered one of the best tulips for containers. The flowers are a deep scarlet flushed with plum purple – definitely commands attention. This is a tulip with a venerable lineage, going back to 1845, according to garden writer Anna Pavord.
  • ‘Flair’.  Yellow dramatically feathered with red. Though sometimes it seems to be more red feathered with yellow.
  • ‘Sunny Prince’. This is a pale yellow tulip that contrasts well with its more dramatic companions. The foliage has a subtle variegation.
Tulip 'West Point' with 'Kingsblood' in the background.
Tulip ‘West Point’ with ‘Kingsblood’ in the background.

Single Late Tulips. These are much taller tulips that bloom in May.

  • ‘Kingsblood’. Dark red and about 24″ tall.
  • ‘World Expression’. One of the most dramatic tulips, with red flames on gleaming ivory.
Tulip 'World Expression'
Tulip ‘World Expression’

Other Tulip Groups.

  • ‘Rainbow Warrior’ (Darwin hybrid group). This tulip is a deeper yellow than ‘Sunny Prince’, and has a faint scarlet stripe down the center of the tepals. The Darwin hybrids are descended from bulbs considered not garden-worthy because they had only a single color. Grows about 2′ tall and blooms in May.
  • ‘West Point’ (Lily flowering group). An elegant slim-waisted tulip of bright, clear yellow and pointed tepals. It is supposed to be fragrant, but I have never noticed a scent. Grows to about 20″ and blooms in May.
Tulip 'West Point'
Tulip ‘West Point’

As to the Darwin hybrids I have growing in the beds and borders, I’m sorry to say I have lost track of the varieties.

What are your favorite tulips?

54 Comments on “The Best Tulips in the Universe”

  1. That last one has really caught my eye. I think, like you, my favourite tulip is the one flowering at that moment… early spring the first one is “Early Harvest”, then the different species tulips especially Lilac Wonder and Tulipa humilis ‘Albocaerulea’… There are so many pretty ones though!

  2. I am taken with your T. ‘Couleur Cardinal’, but like you my favourite is the one that flowers well and last a long time so Negrita would be one and Ballerina another. Tulips don’t flower according to the time periods given in catalogues for me mostly all flowering at once with some ‘earlies’ flowering after the ‘later’ ones.

  3. I´m not sure we call them the same names. I like Sunny Prince, but has never seen them in Denmark. We have some dark ones called Negrita, Purple Prince, and I have a white lilyflowered one. I also like the parrot tulips. They are all withered down now. I buy new ones each autumn.

  4. Gosh, hard to choose a favourite, I grew a really blousy Monte Carlo deep yellow Tulip this year, which was lovely, of yours I really like the subtle yellow tone of ‘Sunny Prince’ and love the groups of pots by your front door.

  5. Couleur cardinal is gorgeous as is Princes Irene. I can’ t resist the black ones like Queen of the Night and Black Hero. And fringed ones like Curly Sue. Oh, one could go on and on. It is a lottery fantasy to fill the garden with tulips.

  6. beautiful and i am quite envious. All the tulips that i put in pots to over winter didn’t show their face. I think now it is because they were near a window in my shed and probably froze and defrosted often. The bulbs were mush when i dug for them. What’s your secret?

    • This year I buried the containers, that is the safest thing. And plant the tulips deep in the container. Last year I kept them in my unheated garage, which worked but I don’t think it would have succeeded this past winter. Good drainage is also important.

      • Hmmm, now this project seems like much more work. Esp when I had pretty containers… i guess you have to use plastic pots that you can then plunk into something nicer. Interesting! yes, this winter was too cold for a lot of things!

  7. Your tulips are a magnificent display of colour and style! What zone are you in? I probably wouldn’t be able to put mine in containers Zone 4. Unless I buried the pots in the ground maybe then placed them on the deck when the ground thawed.

  8. I like all tulips and have West Point too. Our weather took a turn towards HOT and poof, all the tulips I showed days ago are gone. I like having them in pots, but have not done this in years. Maybe this fall… I had one just like World Expression, but it had a different name. It was very short lived in the garden. Maybe it became squirrel dinner.

  9. Your tulips are beauties but I buy whatever’s on sale, stuff them in pots, and then feel happy come spring just to have color. But one of mine must have been misplaced into the bulk bag I bought because it was an incredible double creamy white with amazing fragrance. I really want more!

  10. WOW! Your tulips are amazing Jason! I am bookmarking this post for future reference as you have some outstanding varieties there!!! And I need to put them in pots as I really like the idea of having so many to move around freely when color is all I am craving in early spring! Fantastic! And a lovely weekend to you! Nicole

  11. I’m like you, Jason–my favorite tulips are whatever is blooming at the moment. My favorites, though, have to be ‘Akebono’ and ‘Angelique.’ I do love your ‘Coleur Cardinal’ and the ‘World Expression,’ which looks similar to one I have called ‘Sorbet.’ I need to know your tips on growing tulips in containers–I experimented with this for the first time this year with just one pot, and they didn’t come up. Of course, it didn’t help that the day I moved them out to the patio, we had a downpour, and I think they all drowned:)

    • ‘Sorbet’ does look nice – makes me think of raspberry swirl ice cream. In terms of containers, what has worked best for me is to plant the bulbs deep in the containers, then bury the containers. Otherwise if you put them in an unheated garage, say, they are likely to need some kind of insulation. Good drainage is important too. Water well when you first plant them, that might be enough until spring, but keep an eye on them.

  12. Very educational! thank you for this.

    I’m determined to get a few tulips into my flower rotation here. We had a much lengthier cold season this past Jan-Feb, and although it never went too far into the 30s, we had an entire month where night time temps were in the 40s. In case this happens again, I may throw a few tulip bulbs into my beds this fall, and keep my fingers crossed. Otherwise, I will try some of your non-perennializing varieties in containers.
    Again, thanks for the inspiration, and variety names!

  13. Hi Jason, I had tulips in a few pots one year, but they were hit hard by a harsh winter and didn’t do terribly well. I haven’t really tried since. There are a few areas in the garden that have sandy, well draining soil and get baked by the sun – these would be an ideal place to try tulips in the ground since they’ll be better able to survive my lack of timely care. Your tulips in pots on the way to the front door are simply stunning.

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