Tulips are a widely loved all over the world as a harbinger of spring. They are a daily purchase in our flower selection throughout the season which is from November to June. Although tulips were originally grown in the royal gardens of the Ottoman Empire, they derive their name from the Persian word which means turban covered head. This is a picturesque description of their distinctive shaped head. The flowers were much admired in Europe where they became an instant success in the middle of the seventeenth century which culminated in “tulipmania!” At this time bulbs changed hands for preposterous sums of money. One attraction was the fact that during crossbreeding they would break from an earlier form and the new plant would have unique new markings and colours. We now know that this was in fact a viral infection but at the time it sent the collectors into a frenzy of speculation. For several years the market boomed and inflated but inevitably a crash came in 1637 and many lives were ruined by bankruptcy and insolvency.
There are an enormous variety of tulips that are available and they are generally classified by the period when they bloom such as early or late flowering tulips. Simplified, you can get standard tulips, double tulips, ballet tulips with pointed petals, peony flowering, serrated edged and parrot tulips. The last three have very ruffled petals and parrot tulips usually have the most amazing markings. Most of these tulips are around or under 50 cm in height. This makes them great for bouquets and table centres. Tulips are not too easy to wire as the petals often shatter and they are too fragile to take too many knocks to make them useful as a buttonhole.
The most stylish and elegant tulips are the French tulips or the Californian tulips, which are 60 to 85cm in length. These can be made to look very glamorous with blossom or branches for a special event. These long stemmed tulips can be lovely in a casual over-arm bouquet as well. My favourites are Menton, which is peach, and Menton extra, and the pale yellow ‘Maureen.’ The short tulips mix well with other spring flowers such as Ranunculus, Lilac, Guelda roses, Hyacinths, Anemones. My own personal favourite are the fringe edged varieties. I also adore ‘Cuban Night’ which is serrated and the colour of aubergine.
Tulips of all types are available in a Kaleidoscope of colours white, cream, peach, lemon, yellow, orange, red, burgundy, purple, pink to black. There are many striped and the two tone varieties list is endless. I like the pale pink single ‘Candy Pink,’ and the double ‘Angelique’. Favourite oranges include the doubles, ‘Princess Irene’, yellow, Monte Carlo and the yellow and red striped ‘Monsella.’ Multicoloured red ‘Rococo’ and white and green ‘Supergreen’ have been favourite parrot varieties for a while but my current top parrot is ‘Liberetto’ which is a mixture of peach, pink, cream with a touch of green. It reminds me of a selection of Gelato in Italy!
Universally loved, tulips are a very meritocratic flower. They look as good in a jug on your kitchen table as they do in a Dutch masters painting. Four hundred years of enthusiastic fans have produced an unimaginable assortment of tulips. As cut flowers they could be available every week of the year. New techniques in growing bulbs hydroponically in water have meant that bulbs can be forced every 12 to 14 weeks by being temperature controlled and fed calcium nitrate. The impetus for growing flowers in this way came from the Dutch government trying to force growers to look to more environmentally friendly way of growing flowers. The name comes from the Latin Hydro for water and Ponics for labour. It seems very high tech but we all know how you can grow a hyacinth in water and really you can easily adapt that process. In fact it isn’t even new, thousands of years ago when they created the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or The Floating Garden of China they knew the benefits of gardening with water. Hydroponic tulips grow 20 to 50% faster than soil grown tulips. The yield is often higher because there is more oxygen to nurture the bulb and as the bulbs are fed directly, they don’t have to search the soil for the nutrients they need. The plant does not have to expend too much energy looking for nutrients as it is receiving them direct which in the long run means they are healthier, stronger and maybe happier and certainly more disease resistant. Added to the benefits to the environment from re-using resources and fewer pesticides, hydroponics will be a solution for growing many plants in the future. It also means the availability is better and they are still a very inexpensive and affordable flower.
I love to use tulips en masse rather than in a mixed arrangement as tulips continue to grow in water and will take off growing higher than the other flowers. Their natural inclination to continue growing in water when arranged on their own makes them challenging but also I like the interaction of your work with the natural flow of nature. If you are planning a DIY wedding and you want to use tulips, you are best to use them on their own en masse rather than mix them. Or if you are using tulips in a mixed bunch, cut them a little lower than the rest of the flowers and keep them as cool and out of the light as you can before displaying. This way the tulips won’t take off higher than the rest of the flowers into the light and sun!
Tulips have had long associations with meanings and symbols. In Turkish culture they are a symbol of earth on paradise. In the Dutch culture they are a reminder of the frailty of life. According to the Victorian’s language of love each colour tulip had a different meeting with red being a declaration of love. ‘Purple Prince’ would symbolise royalty and ‘White Dream’ would ask for forgiveness. I would send the pink serrated edge ‘Queensland’ tulips to a friend to show I care!