True Dutch Delight

Posted On March 1, 2023

Tulips maintain their allure by offering blooms in nearly every color and pattern imaginable

Story and photos by CHRISTINE HALL

The tulip is a flower that has captured the hearts of people around the world for centuries. It is a symbol of hope, renewal, beauty and love, and its popularity shows no signs of fading. But how did this humble bloom become so adored, and why are they still highly sought after today?

The tulip's beguiling journey to fame began in the Ottoman Empire, where it was first cultivated for its medicinal properties. However, it wasn't until the flower was introduced to the Netherlands in the 16th century that it truly began to thrive. At the time, the Dutch were captivated by the tulip's exotic appearance and vibrant colors, and they quickly became a symbol of wealth and status.

The demand for tulips in the Netherlands reached fever pitch during the "Tulip Mania" of the 17th century. The price of a single bulb soared to extreme heights and obsession amongst trading circles ensued. The market became saturated with bloomless bulbs selling for more than the price of a house and merchants gambling fortunes.

While the trading frenzy eventually fell, the tulip's popularity remained resolute, spreading to cultivation in the United States by the early 1800s. Today, these spring-flowering bulbs provide the first glimpses of color in our landscapes and a nod to warmer days ahead. They don the shelves of floral departments at grocery stores, are used with artisanship by designer florists and are gifted to loved ones to express utmost gratitude, humility, love and sympathy.

Cut Flower Tips and Tricks

Extending vase life: For optimal water absorption and upright habit, cut the bottom white part of the stems at a 45-degree angle and wrap in stiff, nonabsorbent paper up to the necks. Place in deep, tepid water for several hours.

Perking up: For particularly limp blooms, make a small incision or prick in the stem of the tulip just beneath the part where the petals attach. This will release air trapped in the neck of the flower, perking it back up.

Stem arrangement: For arching, dancing stems leave a small amount of room temperature water in the vase. For a straighter look, fill the container full of water for the stems to absorb more water and stiffen.

In the Home Garden

Tulips are highly desired today for their stately beauty and versatility in the home garden. A member of the lily family, the tulip is related to onions, garlic and asparagus and is the only cut flower that can continue to grow in the vase. But it's not just their warm familiarity and rich history that makes them so desirable. They are also easy to grow and care for, making them a favorite of home gardeners and professional horticulturists alike.

In the Sandhills, tulips and other bulbs like crocuses and daffodils are planted before mid-December, allowing them to establish roots before the colder winter weather sets in. In the spring, the tulips emerge from the ground, ushering in the sensations of early spring days. In our region, gardeners often have no choice but to treat tulips as annuals, unlike crocuses and daffodils which come back each year. This is because of our hot, humid summers and wet winters.

Once the bulbs start flowering it can be tempting to remove the fading leaves. Resist this urge and leave them intact, allowing the plant to gather energy from the sun for next year's blooms. You will know the leaves are ready to be pulled when they break free from the soil without resistance.

Some of the most prized varieties of tulips are Parrot tulips, which offer twirled and ruffled petals as well as Darwin tulips, which display goblet-shaped flowers. Rembrandt tulips grow flamed and streaked blooms in exuberant colors. For the home garden, horticulturalists recommend planting the “Lady Jane” species, which are found to come back each year and slowly spread.