Tulips – One of the most spectacular seasonal displays of the year

If you have ever wondered how tulips have become the spring sensation they are today, George Plumptre our CEO has the answers.

Cover of the Tulip by Anna PavordYou might well be intrigued to know why Anna Pavord’s famous 1999 book The Tulip has a subtitle that says ‘this is the story of a flower that has made men mad.’ The short answer is that tulips became a highly sought-after commodity in a way that no other flower ever has done, at the same time their extraordinary luxurious range of colours and textures has offered seemingly limitless powers to plant breeders.

When they first appeared in Europe from Turkey at the end of the 16th century they literally took the continent by storm – in particular Holland, at the time Europe’s most prosperous nation and ever since instantly linked to the tulip. Tulip mania in the 1630s was nothing short of a commodity sensation and single bulbs were changing hands for more than one year’s wages of a prosperous craftsman. The value of tulips rose dizzily and then, you guessed it, collapsed! But their importance has been captured in many great Dutch paintings of the time.

The short-term economic collapse in no way dented their popularity and they have become the essential colourful feature that enlivens our gardens from Spring into Summer. Now there are thousands of different varieties – which all originate from just 75 different tulips that grow in the wild in a band stretching from southern Europe deep into central Asia. Now there is a tulip for virtually every eventuality and their popularity is staggering – the USA imports some three billion bulbs a year.

Tulips in VaseWe love their palette of strong colours and how well suited they are to being shown off in monochrome blocks and rows like gleaming Guardsmen. But they are endlessly adaptable: perfect in pots, urns or any other type of planter; scattered naturally through a meadow; or incorporated into a mixed border design. They’re easy to grow, plant a bulb in November and it will flower the following April-May.

So whether you want blocks of bold primary colours; chaste whites; stripes; singles or doubles; lacy or plain; bell-shaped, cup-shaped or star-shaped; there’s something for you. And you will find them in all their glory in scores of our gardens in the coming weeks, putting on one of the most spectacular seasonal displays of the year.

View a selection of some of our tulip garden openings here

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