History Of Tulips

Though the days are gone when a sum of nearly £500 ($800) was given for a single bulb of the tulip, Semper Augustus, and 12 fat sheep, 1,000 lbs. of cheese and a complete bed, were given in exchange for one bulb of the new tulip, Viceroy, the flower is still held in great esteem, though must be said to take second place to the narcissus during the twentieth century. This is almost entirely due, in these days of enforced austerity in the garden, to the ability of the daffodil to multiply with age whilst the tulip tends to deteriorate, though for a display of Eastern splendour there is no plant to equal the tulip. The tulip did in fact reach our shores from Persia and Turkey by way of Austria, where they were introduced in 156o by Conrad Gesner, from seed carried by Turkish travellers, and as Walter Wright says in his Popular Garden Flowers (1911), they possess a truly Oriental magnificence. It was in Holland that the tulip was first in demand, being introduced by Dr. Clusius, who was appointedHistory Of Tulips Professor of Botany at Leyden University in 1593. The Dutch were not long to assess the cultural possibilities of the plant and to this day, Holland has remained the largest producer of tulips in the world. The need for producing as diverse a quantity of home-grown produce as possible from 1945 onwards, saw the establishment of successful tulip production in the Fen-land soil of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, a vast new industry nursed to maturity by the same Dutch growers who reached England from oppression during the war years.

It is because the tulip came to us from Holland that the sizes of the bulbs are measured in ‘cm’, that is centimetres in circumference round the fattest part of the diameter. The daffodil is British, hence ‘double nosed’ and ’rounds’, measures with the awkwardness to the metrically minded of the acre, the rod, the pole or perch, and the multiple measures of grain. Tulips are precise, and so are almost all bulbs, so beware of ‘top size’, ‘good flowering size’ or ‘bedding’ and buy according to the sizes given here for each purpose. The seller who dodges the accurate term in advertisement or catalogue may be trying to unload cheap and small stuff to the unsuspecting gardener that is never a bargain.

The great value of the tulip lies in its many forms of brilliance, which may be used in a wide selection of bedding displays. Daffodils and hyacinths, though of various colours, all possess much the same habit – not so the tulip.

From the February flowering species, Kaufmanniana, the water-lily tulip, through the complete range of early-flowering singles, the dwarf double-flowering varieties, to the Cottage tulips which are at their loveliest during May and early June and with forced bloom available from early January until April, careful selection will provide a six-months’ display in home and garden.

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