Tulips are one of my very favorite flowers, and always a welcome sight in the garden this time of year. Here on the West Coast we are blessed with fantastic tulip conditions, with a winter that is cold enough to induce the flower to re bloom, and summers that are warm enough to satisfy the bulb’s need to keep its feet dry for a time.
Species, or wild Tulips are native to Turkey and are the understated distant cousins to today’s highly bred descendents. First hybridized during the Ottoman empire, tulips were introduced to Europe by an ambassador who sent bulbs and seeds home to Vienna in the 1500s. It didn’t take long for this dramatically different
flower to capture the imagination of the passionate gardeners of the time, and by the 1590’s it was unbelievably fashionable in the Netherlands to collect these gorgeous plants. You can imagine why the newly wealthy merchant class was entranced by these beauties – no one had ever seen such saturated colour and drama.
During the heat of the “Tulip Mania” that followed, intense cross-breeding created a vast multitude of appearances and colours of the plant, and fortunes were made and lost by selling, investing and speculating on these plants. At the height of the mania, a desirable bulb could sell for many times the wage of a talented artisan.
It was the original economic bubble. However, the lasting effect of this time is a thriving business that to this day is a significant element of The Netherlands’ culture, and of course, an ever growing vast variety of tulips for us to enjoy. Plant them in the Autumn before first frost, and enjoy them in April – or simply pick up a pretty bunch and savour their fleeting beauty in a vase….