Tulips at Dunsborough Park Garden

I think everyone will agree that this has not really been the best year for tulips.   I have read blogs and spoken to gardeners who have all expressed disappointment in their displays this year.  The weather appears to be to blame, a hot few weeks in March followed by a plummet in temperatures and frosty nights turned the poor tulip into turmoil.   There are many that are stunted and gardens who are open to view their displays are having to hold back some tulips for later in the month, so some are still in bloom for visitors.

Tulip "Shirley" Long slender ivory flowers with feathered edges in soft purple

Yesterday, Saturday 21 April, I went with Charlotte, from The Galloping Gardener, to visit The Festival of Tulips at Dunsborough Park, in Ripley, Surrey.   Dunsborough Park is a privately owned house and the garden is open for only a few of days during the year for the NGS and Tulip Festival.

We were both disappointed to be told “No Photography”, we really did want to take photos of the garden and especially the tulips, after all that was one the main reasons we were there.  It was clear, once we were in the garden, people were merrily snapping away.    We introduced ourselves to the owner and were granted permission, which happily made clandestine photography unnecessary.

We were given a map of the tulip bed layout,  but not a map of the garden and had a little difficulty in finding the Dutch Garden, probably because we branched off to the left rather than going straight on.

Our path took us towards the stream and the water garden.   I loved the wrought iron bench and thought what wonderful tranquil moments could be had sitting and contemplating life.

As we wandered around we met up with the happy, smiling, Ukrainian gardener, Olag, and talked to him about the gardens.    He told us that every year he plants over 10,000 bulbs and when the season is over they are all pulled up again.   That is apart from the meadow area where the bulbs are left to naturalize, apparently they last usually for about 3 years before having to be replaced.   He pointed us in the direction of the meadow and as we walked over the bridge I was not expecting such a lovely sight.   A bank of Spring flowers, including beautiful tulips scattered around.

I have not seen tulips in a setting like this before.  Normally, they are planted in colour blocks, neat and tidy, all in a row like soldiers.  Even in our own gardens at home, we tend to plant them in flower beds or in pots.  To see them growing in the grass in a haphazard manner had a totally different and, for me, a more pleasing effect.

The only drawback, if there is one, was there is no way of telling what variety the tulips were.  There is an abundance of glorious oranges and just at the edge of the garden was a very pretty lilac tipped with a pale pink variety.  I liked that one very much so will now  trawl bulb catalogues to find something similar for Spring 2013 in my garden.

We found the the Dutch Garden behind an old Victorian wall.    Here, armed with our planting plans we wandered around the garden noting which tulips we liked, loved, disliked – as you do when looking at plants in any garden.   All the tulips were at different stages, some were over, some still in bud and, of course, ones in full bloom.  Most were planted within Box hedging and grape hyacinths used as a frame.

I took a close up of the bed above, which you can see below, and if you are interested, the tulips closest are called “Pink Impression”,  the next row (not out yet) is “Rosalie” and the pink tulips tipped with white at the far end are “Peach Blossom”.

Through the Ginko hedge there were more tulip beds, this time not enclosed within any Box, but still bordered with grape hyacinths.  It was here that the swing between the heat and the frost damage to the tulips was more evident,  some were considerably shorter than the ones we had just viewed.  I did wonder perhaps if there were some dwarf varieties rather than suffering from stunted growth.

Working from the planting plan, I think I am right in distinguishing the scarlet red double tulip as “Abba” and the ones in the foreground are “Jackpot”.

I am always on the look out for quirky planting and then I saw running along side the Edwardian greenhouses, tulips planted in painted metal containers, looking very rustic.  After the meadow planting, this was my favourite way of seeing the tulips.  Apart from the container in the middle,  none of the others were flowering, so I can only imagine what they looked like in full bloom.

 The next dates the Gardens are open for an NGS Open Day are 19th May, 16th June and 15th September, and if you do visit you must not miss the tearoom!

The Palm House had been turned over to a tearoom and as far as I am concerned no garden visit is complete without a cup of tea and a slice of home made cake, so a visit was a must.   There was a scrumptious array of cakes, pastries and the most devilish looking meringues, all of which were made by the people that work at Dunsborough Park including the owner.  I had a slice of her Victoria Sponge which just melted in my mouth, indeed, even Charlotte who claimed not to be a cake eater, helped herself to some of my cake.

Finally, the two tulips that really took my eye were “Shirley”  – photograph at the top of this post – ideal for a cut flower and photographed below  is “Monsella”, a Double Early, ideal for pots and borders.

The tulips will be over for the NGS dates but there is a lot to see in the Dunsborough Park Garden and it is well worth a visit, but ask first if you can use your camera and don’t miss out on the cake!


  1. The leaves came up, but no flowers. I thought it was because my husband messed with them last year. He didn’t like them in the front yard. He thought they were too big. So, I finally removed them altogether. Better luck next year. I’ll plant smaller ones. Could it have been because of the weather in Columbus, Ohio?


  2. I really like the tulips growing in a meadow and might have a go myself. At the moment I put the tulips which have been in pots into the borders but I love the effect of them in the grass. The photos of Monsella are stunning! Well they are all stunning but Monsella is extraordinary!


  3. What a great day out! I find it really hard to place tulips in my garden and would much prefer to grow them in pots though those pots look more like the size of an old bin! I would be devastated if I wasn’t allowed to take photos on a garden visit though I’m not allowed now to take photographs at some of the big UK horticultural trade shows. Did they give you a reason why they have that noticed displayed?


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