Constance Spry, who’s style I was trained in, once said –
‘Some tulips last so long you could almost dust them off, others you can’t trust overnight’. Never a truer word was spoken.
I may have been 13 when I first read this and it still makes me laugh…
The mighty tulip, has its roots deeply planted in Turkey and was discovered some 1000 years ago on the banks of the Bosphorus, where they were cultivated and as highly prized as jewels.
The word tulip is the same as turban (tbh: it does resemble one to me), and was once considered a good charm against all evil.
Thanks to the trade routes, and the Dutch East Indies Company the tulip made its way to Holland where it became their national flower, and for some was associated with good luck and fortune. However, this darling flower almost collapsed the economic wealth of the Dutch. In 1636 fortunes were made and lost in the European bulb trade renowned as ‘tulipomania’. Several decades later the hysteria hit England and the government was forced to pass law limiting the price of a bulb to four hundred English pounds.
Later on, in a cruel irony, many in the Netherlands were forced to eat tulip bulbs during on/off famine in WWII. On the other end of the spectrum, tulip bulbs have been rumored to hold aphrodisiac tendencies.
The Tulips also provided a visual feast for early Flemish painters. How wonderful, because if it wasn’t for those Dutch masters, we wouldn’t have the historical pictorial references of the first and earliest grown tulips. Of the hundreds of varieties produced, the stripped ones were the most preferred until, the parrot tulip made their appearance. To this we must thank a little green peach aphid, who bit into a bulb, gave it a virus, and from that moment, history was made and the birth of my most favourite tulip – the Parrot with its lovely floppy feathery petals.
Highly prized by many a gardener down through countless generations, it’s also closely associated with gossip and tales of infamous personalities long since passed. One that comes to mind is Victoria (Vita) Sackville-West, whose life was extremely interesting, and so are her words on the tulip - ‘I like all the fantastic Parrot tulips, wild in their colourings, floppy in their growth, not stiff as the Darwins, a tulip to pick for the house rather than regarded as a flower of the garden.’
If you are interested in Vita’s garden planning & tips, she has her own twitter page @VitaVirginiaBot. It’s the project of former head gardener and greenhouse manager/propagator of the Morris Arboretum at the University of Pennsylvania. Their motivation to tweet on her behalf is both out of admiration for her work as a ‘plantswoman and innovator, at least fifty years ahead of her time’; plus, their enjoyment of the character revealed in the columns.
In the language of flowers, the tulip represents eloquence, eternal separation, fame, extravagance, oratory and spring.
If you have a loved one celebrating a birthday on the 7th of June, do give them red tulips which is for ardent love. A variegated tulip is the birthday flower for 8th June and means – ‘you are beautiful in my eyes’. The yellow tulip signifies hopeless love, and in the Christian tradition, is an emblem of Christ, symbolic of the golden chalice.
I have just two more things to add on this mighty, magic and historic flower. First: those that can be trusted will continue to grow in water. Secondly: Very few flowers have black stamens, but Tulips, do and is symbolic of a lover with a burning heart.