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If I asked you to associate a place name with tulips, you'd probably sing in chorus 'Tulips from Amsterdam'. Nowadays this association is justified, the tulips have indeed become a symbol for the Netherlands. In Keukenhof, the largest bulb flower park in the world (32 hectares), which was founded in 1949, 4.5 million tulips in 100 varieties bloom every year. Yet, the tulip is not an endemic plant of the Netherlands. The uncultivated form grows in vast parts of Africa, Asia and Europe. It was during the Ottoman Empire that tulips were cultivated for commercial reasons for the first time. The Turkish word for the flower is lale (laa-la, stress on the first syllable) which is derived from the Persian lâleh, it hasn't reached Central Europe together with the plant. The English tulip, the German Tulpe, the Italian tulipano, the Swedish tulpan, the Finnish tulppaanin, the Polish tulip and all other similar forms have come from the Persian word dulband meaning turban. It has moved into the Turkish language as tülbend. The Flemish Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq used this word for the flower for the first time in 1554. He was an Envoy at the court of Suleiman the Magnificent in Constantinople, in that year he sent tulip seeds to the Emperor's court in Vienna. From there they came to Augsburg, a city in the south of Germany, five years later. It spread like wildfire that a most beautiful flower could be seen in the garden of the Patrician Johann Heinrich Herwart. Everybody and their grandmother came to see the miracle, the tulip was an instant hit. We know about this because the Swiss botanist Konrad Gesner was in Augsburg at that time. He described the tulip in one of his books, "It has a single, splendid red blossom, it's big and looks like a red lily. It has eight petals, four outer and four inner ones. It has a lovely, delicate perfume which, however, soon evaporates." This year an exhibition in the Botanical Garden in Augsburg (running until 11th April 2010) celebrates this first tulip north of the Alps. When Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq returned to his Dutch homeland in 1560 (3404 km by coach!), he had tulip bulbs in his luggage. But there was also the Botanist Professor Carolus Clusius who took tulips from Vienna to the city of Leyden in the Netherlands where he created a botanical garden in 1593. His plants were so expensive that one night some gardeners stole the most beautiful ones with the result that soon tulips could be found in the whole country. And the country went mad. At the beginning of the 17th century, the period called the Golden Age, many Dutchmen hoped to get rich by speculating with tulip bulbs. Enormous amounts of money were earned - and lost. Contract prices for bulbs reached extraordinarily high levels and then suddenly collapsed. The bulb of the specimen 'Admiral van Enkhuijsen' was sold for 5400 guilders which was fifteen times the annual income of a builder in Amsterdam. From then on the term tulip mania is used metaphorically to refer to any large economic bubble (when asset prices deviate from intrinsic values). The original tulip mania doesn't exist any more, now we can buy bulbs for little money and enjoy the once exotic flower in our gardens. Bulbs are planted in autumn about 15 cm deep and with a distance of 15 to 20 cm in well-drained soil. If you put the bulbs too low, they may be cold in winter, too deep and later the stem may be too short once the flower has come out. You should watch out that the tip of the bulb is at the top when planting. This isn't just a silly bit of advice, I'll never forget a neighbour who planted onions the wrong way round. They did find the way to the light in the end, but it took a long time and they were all crooked. Tulips are adaptable to many different climates, so you won't have problems with them in your garden. Most tulips bloom well for only one or two years. Therefore, you will probably want to dig up the bulbs and put in new ones after two years. However, some types of tulips do well for several more years (they're called perennial). Which type to choose? This can be a hard job if you don't have favourites, there are now over 3,000 registered types! I'm conservative tulip-wise, for me it's the simple bright yellow or red variety only, no exotic hues, no stripes, no frills. If you want to put tulips in a vase, keep in mind that they go on growing if you fill the vase full of water and then the stems start bending. If you prefer your tulips upright, fill in only a little water which you change daily. Never put tulips together with daffodils, they don't like each other.
As we head into the Spring months it is good to realise that we have the beauty of the spring bulbs to look forward to. Many of the supermarkets and florists have potted bulbs on sale already which are fairly inexpensive. Tulips have to be a favourite with many, there are so many varieties which offer a wonderfully attractive display of colour. Last year I planted some dwarf tulips in pots and although I had a good colourful show I have chosen to revert back to filling my tubs with the normal bulbs which provide stems at around 15 inches high. A few days ago I was walking around Lidl`s discount store and came across large bunches of healthy looking single tulips which were marked at £2.92 a bunch, considering these had been grown abroad and had been picked bunched and wrapped before importing they were such a bargain. Tulips grace any vase, they create an elegant display. If the blooms are kept in a reasonably cool room you will get at least four or five day of flowering before the bloom starts to wilt and the stem starts to bend over. Tulips are seen as the most popular Spring flower and many brides choose to use them in their wedding bouquets. The tulip has fifteen different categories, each category has many different types of flower. There is such a vast range of colours on offer, from the more subtle paler colours to the noisy and vibrant hues. I enjoy to see pots of colour arrive start to bloom in Spring, my first choice would be to pot up some `fringed tulips`. Such a pretty bloom that tends to flower towards the latter part of Spring. If you want to buy Fringed tulip bulbs you may well have to turn to the Internet to source them, many Garden centres will only stock two or three varieties. When the summer bedding plants have well and truly bit the dust then it is time to empty out the tubs and start to plan for the next showing. It can be satisfying and exciting to fill tubs with mixed tulip bulbs and wait for the outcome. You will need to use a good quality multi-purpose compost or bulb fibre if you prefer. Go off the the local garden centre and pick your bulbs, don't be tempted to stint, tulip pots look their best when they have been well filled. Before you fill your pots with compost put them into a sheltered position, maybe beside a wall or a fence or by the side of the garden shed. Always choose pots that have plenty of drain holes, or make a few more in the bottom of the pot yourself. Add some pieces of broken pot to the bottom of the tub and then add the compost until you have about six inches to spare from the top, place the bulbs on the top of the compost. I make sure the bulbs don't touch each other but I do put a lot of bulbs into each pot to create a good display. When you have arranged the bulbs then cover them with compost and then let nature take over, only giving them a drop of water as the start to shoot to encourage good long stem growth, tulips bulbs are prone to dry out and this will thwart thier attempt to grow. Tulip bulbs can be planted as late as Christmas and still give you a good show for the Spring. I always think that when they start to bloom they stand proudly in their pots and announce that Spring has come. Any bulbs that I take out of the tubs automatically get planted into the garden afterwards where they seem to flourish and provide another display the following year, though I will admit the blooms always seem weaker in the second and subsequent years. I am sure that we all associate tulips with the Netherlands when in fact they hail from Western and Central Europe and Turkey. When your tulips have finished blooming, either in the pots or in the garden just wait until the leaves have died off before you attempt to tidy them up, it encourages better growth the next time around. Always remember the slug is a major enemy to the tulip, so keep an eye out for those nibbling nuisances!
There are a great many wonderful plants and flowers on our earth and my favorite of them all is the Tulip, it may not be the most exotic or exciting of plants but I think it is one of true, simple beauty, one that is a dream to grow and a marvel to display. I've loved Tulips since I was a girl and my mother grew them in our garden, at first they seemed so plain, single flowers, bright in colour but unfussy but as the years passed and different varieties were introduced to our garden I realized how diverse and wonderful they really were, my love for the flowers finally reached it's peak when I selected white Tulips for my wedding bouquet and was presented with the most stunning arrangement of flowers I had ever seen. My love for the flowers has remained constant and it is with great excitement that I await each spring and the display I will see in my gardens and those of the gardens surrounding me. Despite their association with Holland, the Tulip, both the flower and its name, originated in the Persian Empire and is actually not a Dutch flower as is commonly believed, it is only the third biggest selling flower in Holland however the Keukenhof gardens in Holland features a stunning display of 7 million flowers and is a popular attraction for Tulip lovers worldwide ( http://us.holland.com/e/7636/Dutch%20Delight%20The%20Keukenhof%20Gardens.php) Called the "Laleh" in Persian it is a flower indigenous to Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey as well as other parts of central Asia, they were brought to Europe in the 16th century. Originating from mountainous areas with temperate climates Tulips need a period of cool dormancy, they fare best in climates with cool springs and early summers, but are also regularly grown as spring bloomers, appearing annually. In the middle ages a period dubbed "Tulip Mania" saw the bulbs changing hands for as much as an incredible £4 million a bulb and it was during Victorian times that the red Tulip became known as a flower that would declare your love and became a perfect Valentines flower as a result of this. The bulbs are typically planted in autumn, normally from 4 to 8 inches deep, in well drained soil, it is usually recommended that they are planted up to a depth of 3 times their size and usually about 5 to 6 inches apart, of course try not to plant them too deep, my father did this one year to be presented the following spring by tubs full of Tulip heads and no stalks or leaves, we took great delight in teasing him over his "dwarf Tulips" The plants are well suited for pots and containers as well as in garden borders but are particularly vulnerable to attacks by slugs and snails and so it is best to apply some form of slug repellent after planting, repeating the process regularly until the flowers have reached a decent height. A tulip bulb will produce a single stem flower, a vibrant green stem flanked by 2 long leaves topped by a simple but brightly coloured flower made up of a handful of petals. Tulips come in every colour except true black and blue, there are many varieties some with frilled edges, some whose petals curve outwardly, some are single colour flowers while others have several colours, combinations of reds and yellows or pinks and whites creating stunning contrast on the petals. When buying Tulip bulbs it is important to buy bulbs that have no grey or brown marks on them, this is a possible sign of disease which will not only effect the bulb but could spread to any other Tulips you plant. The bulbs are available in autumn and winter ready for planting and will vary in price depending on the style and where you purchase them, I like to buy my bulbs from the garden centre, they allow you to fill a bag with many different bulbs which allows me to pick and choose the colours I want, ensuring I have a bright and vivid display in my garden. The plants need to be protected from harsh frosts and strong winds and are better planted near a wall or hedge to provide protection to the delicate flowers from such harsh weather. You can leave the bulbs dormant in their tub or border over the winter, however you can lift them every season, digging them up and storing them in the garage or similar location, or cover them with sacking or straw for added protection over the cold winter months, I must admit to leaving my bulbs in the earth over the winter but they are well protected being in a border along the edge of the house with a fence and hedge running up the side protecting them from winds and frost, this has resulted in my Tulips, Daffodils and Crocus flowering earlier this year which does bring a lovely spray of colour and life during these greyer days but leaves me wondering if they'll make it through the spring. Tulips do need to be watered during their flowering period, however it is important to ensure that they are not over watered leaving the roots water logged, too much "feeding" can result in leggy plants with less than impressive flowers, however lack of watering can leave the flower heads shriveled and cause the plants to die off quickly. Due to the time of year many Tulips grow it is possible to leave them to rely on rain water for much of their needs although in warmer, dry springs they'll need a little human assistance. When the flower has past it's best you should remove the flower heads and let the rest of the plant die back, this allows all the nutrients to return to the bulb ready for flowering the following season, you will be able to tell when the stalk is ready to be removed as a simple tug on it will separate it from it's bulb, leaving the bulb in the earth and the stalk in your hand, any resistance means the plant is not ready to be removed. It is important not to compost the dead foliage and petals as tulips can leave behind a disease called Tulip Fire, a form of fungal disease which can rot bulbs and flowers. Tulips are an ideal flower to pick from your garden and display in a vase, they survive for about a week in water and will curve towards the light, so are perfectly placed in a sunny spot on a window ledge. If you are buying bouquets of Tulips it's advised to buy them when the flowers are in bud with a little colour showing rather than buying bouquets with open flowers, this will simply ensure that you get a better vase life out of them. Bouquets of Tulips are relatively cheap and can be picked up for a few pounds from florists, supermarkets, garage forecourts..........if I'm not displaying my own I like to get them from my local green grocer who always has a lovely range of different colours available for £1.95 a bunch. The Tulip is the perfect plant for new and experienced gardeners alike, they will survive and flower every year with the smallest level of care and will produce stunning displays each time they grow. They are beautiful flowers to display in the home with gentle fragrances but amazing impact of colour, there is nothing as nice as walking into a room on a sunny spring morning to be greeted by a vase of Tulips, as they reach to soak up the heat of the sun you get the feeling they are a happy flower and they will lift your mood even on a grey windy day. Whatever occasion passes I always hope my other half will mark it with a bunch of Tulips, I have no desire for fancy Orchids or expensive Roses, I'm happy and content with a simple bunch of Tulips and delighted that he knows me well enough to buy me my favourite flower, usually in my favourite colour, now there's romance for you. My love affair with Tulips is sure to continue as the years pass and I hope my children have the same appreciation for these delightful plants as I do.