Tiptoe Through The Tulips
By Marian Connor
Well spring has sprung and I find myself with a yearning for Tulips. I want to fill the house with them. I know along with tulips and crocuses, there is an abundance of daffodils around at the moment which at first glance seem much jollier than tulips with their happy yellow faces turned towards the sun. They appear not to take themselves seriously but I have to admit a preference for the haughty demeanour of the tulip. They handle themselves so well as they begin to stoop in a gradual state of disarray, they loll a little as if briefly nodding off to sleep whilst still upright, even then they manage to look a little nonchalant, effortless, rather than undone. It’s then I have a Robert Mapplethorpe moment and see them as shapes with a lot of style.
“A tulip doesn’t strive to impress anyone. It doesn’t struggle to be different than a rose. It doesn’t have to. It is different. And there’s room in the garden for every flower. You didn’t have to struggle to make your face different than anyone else’s on earth. It just is.”
It struck me that I don’t actually know anything about these flowers, so I took a brief tiptoe through the tulips, and I share.
For centuries tulips have been heralding spring. I am unsure of when they were first cultivated but they are mentioned in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, therefore they first must have been growing in 12th century Persia, they were also said to be growing in Turkey at this time. In fact due to its shape the tulip is thought to derive its name from the Turkish word for turban.
There is written documentation about the flowers from the late 16th century and by the 17th century they had been introduced to Western Europe and the Netherlands by a Viennese biologist Carolus Clusius, who became director of the Botanical Gardens in Leiden.
Tulips can be grown over several years from seeds or several months from bulbs from which John Tradescant, gardener to Charles I cultivated 50 different varieties.
The tulip became a symbol of wealth and prosperity. The 17th century saw a Dutch obsession with them. If you couldn’t grow tulips then adorn every surface with an image of them. The ‘tulip fever’ of the Netherlands thankfully was short lived, 1636-1637 when a bulb could cost as much as a house. Hard to imagine when they can now be picked up alongside the milk and vegetables at any supermarket near you. The Dutch still dominate the tulip market by exporting 1.2 billion bulbs annually.
Tulips are a member of the Lily family which also includes onions, garlic and asparagus. The flowers are documented as being made into poultices for the treatment of insect bites, bee stings, burns and rashes. I have no idea how effective this is, not having tried it myself.
During World War II the Dutch supplemented a meagre food supply by eating the bulbs. Today you will find recommendations for their petals to be included in salads, said to taste like sweet lettuce. Although this should be done cautiously as some people can have allergic reactions to tulips.
To finish I leave you with one of my favourite Robert Mapplethorpe flower photographs and a rendition of Tiptoe Through The Tulips by a most unusual vocalist Tiny Tim. Enjoy.
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Image Tile/Header – Tulips by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1987
YouTube – Tiptoe Through The Tulips by Tiny Tim duration: 00:01:13
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