The Tulip’s Rich History

Can you imagine selling your house, your car or your recreational cabin for a rare type of tulip? No? Neither can I. However, in around 1634, people in Holland did just that.

Tulipmania had hit Europe, first in France between 1610 and 1620, then in Holland in 1634.

Tulips came quite late to the Western World and were introduced to the Imperial Gardens of Vienna by the Austrian Ambassador to Turkey, who brought them from Adrianople.

The bulbs were highly prized by the Ottoman Empire and there were many named varieties at that time.

Tulip bulbs did not draw a lot of interest in Europe at first; it wasn’t until the head gardener of the Imperial Gardens left Vienna to become a professor of botany in Holland and brought a stock of bulbs.

The varieties of tulips that caught the buzz and excitement were the “bizarre” or “broken” varieties with its feathered, multi-coloured, garishly streaked blooms.

Possessions of all types were sold to buy a rare type of bulb – it could cost the price of a farm, a coach and horses or a house.

When not enough bulbs were there to go around, Tulipmania became a paper speculation. Promissory notes were sold from one investor to another until in 1647, the Dutch Government decreed that all Tulip Notes had to be honoured with actual bulbs and so the market crashed; a 17th Century version of a market melt-down.

Tulips, of course, have come down in price, but a good quality, top-of-the-line, triple A grade can still set you back a couple of dollars.

Bulbs are usually priced by size and colour and the largest sized bulbs seem to grow the best, consequently my advice has been to buy the biggest bulbs that your pocketbook will feel comfortable with.

Success with bulbs in the Yukon has been sporadic. I have mine planted along the house facing a southern location and although I do lose one or two bulbs per year, the others are OK and thriving.

In front of the bulbs, I plant annuals in the spring since, by the time the annuals go into the garden, the tulips are usually finished. The bulbs stay in the ground all summer long and are producing side bulbs which will bloom in a few years.

I try to grow the shorter, earlier varieties but have had to hold them back in the spring for the shoots to appear just as the snow melts.

If we get a late cold snap, I cover the little shoots with plastic to keep the seedlings nice and toasty. On occasion, I have covered the three-centimetre shoots with snow from the lawn and let the morning sun melt the snow to provide a bit of moisture.

If you want to try planting tulips, good. The first consideration is that well-drained soil is a must.

As I mentioned, a southern location, preferably against the house, is ideal.

Disregard the depth of planting on the package and plant the bulbs 1½ times the size of the bulbs. Most instructions call for 15 to 20 centimetres, which is too deep in my experience, and is the cause of most people’s failures.

Bone meal is a good additive or, alternatively, egg shells.

If you purchase your bulbs and they come in plastic bags with holes, spread them out and keep them in a cool place until ready for planting. Don’t plant too early — this is kind of tricky.

I plant towards the end of September, but have left it into the first week of October depending on the weather.

A friend planted hers when the ground was already frozen and needed a pick axe to chop little planting holes in the ground; she tried to cover them as best as she could. The next day it snowed, but the bulbs survived to bloom in spring.

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