Tulips

Anne here, and today I’m talking about tulips. IMG_9603

It being spring in my corner of the word, last week I went with friends to a tulip festival up in the Dandenong Mountains, on the outskirts of Melbourne. They’re not very high mountains, but they're beautiful, with many wonderful gardens, as well as lots of gorgeous natural bushland, with tall gum trees and graceful tree ferns. They are also, it seems, the perfect place for growing tulips and other bulbs. 

Many of the tulip growers are of Dutch origin. In fact a good friend of mine came out to Australia when he was a small child, along with his tulip growing parents and many older siblings. And what did they do? They started a tulip farm in the Dandenongs. As did many other Dutch migrants. So what is it with the Dutch and tulips?

Tulips originally grew wild in Central Asia, and were first cultivated in Iran (Persia) as early as the 10th century. They became incredibly popular in Turkey in the 16th century, at the time of the Ottoman Empire, when the Sultan demanded cultivation of particular blooms for his pleasure. The name 'tulip' came from the Turkish word for turban. Tulips were treasured, and became a symbol of Ottoman power. You can see tulip images in paintings, ceramics and tiles of the time.

Tulips&WindmillA Dutch botanist called Carolus Clusius increased the popularity of tulips in Europe during the late 16th century. Partly fuelled by the discoveries of new plants in the New World, gardening and cultivation and the collection of plants was becoming a pursuit and a passion for all sorts of people across Europe, from monarchs to university academics. This was a time when botanic gardens first began to be planted.

In 1573 Carolus Clusius planted tulip bulbs at the Vienna Imperial Botanical Gardens and that was the start of his botanical research into tulips. He is considered one of the most eminent botanists of the European Renaissance, and his influence on tulip breeding continues to the present day. He was later appointed as director of the Leiden University (in the Netherlands) botanic garden, the oldest botanical garden of Europe, planting tulips there in late 1593. (You can read more about Carolus Clusius here.) PinkTulips


Tulips had reached the Netherlands, and were about to bloom in popularity! In fact, the Dutch became so passionate about tulips that in 1636 it sparked a phenomenon known as ‘tulip mania.’ During this time, tulip bulbs became incredibly valuable and were traded like stocks on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. At the height of this mania, some rare tulip bulbs were worth more than a house in Amsterdam! People were even stealing tulip bulbs from other people's gardens!

There was an inevitable crash in prices in 1637, when people came to their senses and stopped purchasing the bulbs at such crazy prices, but interest in the tulip remained, and the Dutch to this day retain their position as the leading breeders and growers of tulips. 

Ioann-mark-kuznietsov-eHlVZcSrjfg-unsplashToday, in the Northern Hemisphere, tulips are the second most popular flower to send on Valentine’s Day after roses. (Not in Australia, where they bloom in September.) Photo on the left by ioann-mark-kuznietsov on Unsplash 

At the tulip festival that my friends and I attended, as well as the glory of the flowers — and the farm is set in a gorgeous garden with all kinds of spring flowers in bloom — there were loads of tulip and Dutch-themed displays, from clogs and windmills and girls wearing complete Dutch national costumes, to the selling of delicious Dutch food treats like poffertjes. There’s a recipe here if you want to try them.
But the real treat was the tulips, with their vivid colours and silky petals.

It was a wonderful day out, and we were very lucky with the weather. But now I’m home again, the tulips we bought have dropped their petals, and I’m back in front of my computer, working on my next book. 

What about you — have you been anywhere fun lately? Do you like tulips? Have you ever grown them? What’s your favorite spring flower?

17 thoughts on “Tulips”

  1. My mother was the gardener, not me. She was raised on a farm and she knew how to grow things, so in our back yard there were always fruit trees and vegetables, which she canned and jammed. I didn’t pick up much myself, except never to turn your back on a zucchini as it might overtake you.
    Also there were always flowers; my dad was working at the studios for a while and some of our flowers made into movies, and things from the movies made it into our house when they were done with them. I don’t recall that we had tulips, but there were roses, gladioli, poppies and johnny jump ups (my favorite spring flowers). Flowers still make me happy inside, just to see them. Whenever I’m in the market I have to pass through the floral section and take a look at what they’re doing.

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  2. Many, many years ago, I took a bus tour of Holland. Coming from a farm area I was use to seeing fields of corn, wheat, etc. So it was interesting to look out the bus window and see fields of blue, fields of yellow, red and so on.
    I love all flowers but tulips are not my favorite. Roses hold that place of honor. I’m not a natural gardener and I struggled with growing them for years – they are a lot of work. When they became too much work for me I switched to hibiscus. They are so beautiful and the hummingbirds just love them.

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  3. I love tulips, and have occasionally had luck with them, but only when they are protected. Once I planted 50 Angelique tulips and was looking forward to a spectacular display come Spring. What I got was nothing. I dug up the bed and discovered a maze of tunnels. The moles or voles had enjoyed a lavish feast!
    I gave up on growing tulips, but Clusius and 16th century botanical gardens are intriguing. Wouldn’t that make a great setting for a historical romance?

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  4. The Dandenong Mountains – sounds like the perfect setting for a fantasy novel. What a history tulips have. I would never have guessed. I love all their glorious color but lilacs are my favorite spring bloom.

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  5. Thanks, Janice — LOL on the zucchini overtaking you. A friend just gave me a zucchini seedling as she had several, and didn’t want to be flooded with zucchinis. How interesting that some of your flowers made it into movies, and that your family was so close to the making side of things. I suspect tulips wouldn’t flourish in California. And yes, flowers make me happy, too, and seeing masses of them at the market of fruit shop always makes me smile. And frequently buy some.

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  6. Mary, how wonderful to see the tulip fields in Holland. I’ve never need there at the right time, but at least we have a few tulip fields in the Dandenongs. I think roses are a lot of people’s favorites — it’s not just the look, but the perfume that bumps it up to No. 1 spot, I think. How interesting that the hummingbirds love the hibiscus. I saw my first ever hummingbirds at Mary Jo’s house, flitting around her hanging baskets. I was thrilled.

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  7. Oh, Lillian, how very disappointing that the critters ate your tulip bulbs — I can imagine how devastated you must have felt, especially having planted so many! As for the whole development of botanical gardens, I also find it fascinating. Not sure that I’ll ever put them in a book, though I do have gardens.

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  8. Thanks, Jeanne — lilacs are one of my favorite spring flowers as well. I had a lovely one in my old garden, but alas, it was bulldozed. It used to flower at the same time as my yellow banksia rose, and I used to take bunches of both to friends when I visited. There’s nothing like the fragrance a bunch of lilac gives to a house.

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  9. What a fun visit, Anne!
    My parents were Dutch and now you have me salivating for poffertjes.
    My sister took my mother and I to Keukenhof Tulip Gardens in the Netherlands some years ago; the tulips were definitely a sight to behold.

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  10. There’s an old movie starring Dick Powell called To the Ends of the Earth, about the opium trade run from China after WW2. There’s a scene where Powell and his girlfriend visit a field in Egypt somewhere where they had heard that opium poppies were being grown in alternate rows with rose bushes to shield them from being seen from the air. But when they arrive they find there are no opium poppies, just rose bushes, but the ground has been recently worked. Powell reaches down and pulls up an opium poppy that had been plowed under. That poppy came from our back yard, just under the bathroom window 🙂
    One Christmas my dad brought home boxes of blown glass Christmas globes, which we put on the tree – my mom liked that they were large ones to make the tree look more balanced at the bottom. They had a matte finish and I thought they were a disappointment, so one year I took them in the kitchen and tried to wash them off. I found that the matte finish was just poster paint, sprayed on to prevent glare to the camera. Beneath were these beautiful big blown glass ornaments which we had for years. Lost in a move or still in my brother’s garage perhaps 🙂

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  11. Sounds wonderful, Kareni. And yes, I’ve been plotting to make some poffertjes too — I just need the right kind of baking tray.
    As for what flowers are given on Valentine’s Day in Australia, I’d have to say it’s roses all the way.

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  12. Wow, Janice, what a great story. I’ve had opium poppies pop up in my garden from time to time, I suppose from seeds dropped by birds. The flowers are quite lovely and I liked to use the dried seed heads in arrangements.
    As for those Christmas globes, they sound wonderful. A pity you no longer have them.

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