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by Phyllis McLeod Laslett, Adult Education Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Tulip acuminata

I love tulips in the spring.  I love them in vases and have never wanted to tame their twining, twirling habits as cut flowers.  Their bright, clear colors and elegant shapes are so satisfying.  I love watching .

I love tulips in the spring.  I love them in vases and have never wanted to tame their twining, twirling habits as cut flowers.  Their bright, clear colors and elegant shapes are so satisfying.  I love watching .

I love tulips in the spring.  I love them in vases and have never wanted to tame their twining, twirling habits as cut flowers.  Their bright, clear colors and elegant shapes are so satisfying.  I love watching Lewis Ginter’s spring tulip border emerge each April.

So, who knew that these beloved spring heralds nearly wrecked one of the world’s great economies?  It’s a great story:  when tulips were first imported from Turkey in the 16th and 17th centuries, they fascinated the Dutch, at that time one of the great economic powers of the world:  great painters pictured them, and collectors pursued them feverishly.  One bulb (one!), of the tulip ‘Semper Augustus’ was sold for the equivalent of four grand Amsterdam houses on the main canal.  Speculators bid up the prices on bulbs that weren’t even blooming—an early version of futures.  Ultimately, the bubble burst (sound familiar?) and ‘tulipomania’ nearly brought down the Dutch economy.

So, why?  Tulips as first imported carried a virus that would make their color patterns completely random—and spectacularly beautiful.  Today’s bulbs are immune to the virus and far more predictable.

But you can still see some these original varieties at the unique living museum of the Hortus Bulborum in the Netherlands.  And, on October 6 at 4 pm, Leslie Leijenhorst from the museum will speak on the unique plant preservation work of the Hortus, which preserves and propagates historic spring blooming bulb varieties:  some date to the mid-16th century!   One of the most fascinating things about plants is that they’re always changing, and some simply go out of fashion.  The Hortus preserves not just the historic varieties but types that just aren’t available today.  And, they preserve spring blooming bulbs like narcissus and hyacinths as well as fritillaries and crocus.

Join us! Enjoy light refreshments on the terrace of the Robins Visitors Center, then relive the colorful history of this spring favorite, illustrated with pictures of living heirloom tulips and other heirloom bulbs.  We’ll have catalogs from Brent & Becky’s Bulbs and also the Old House Gardens, which does carry bulbs from the Hortus Bulborum, as well as postcards, notecards, and books from the Hortus Bulborum—not available at Barnes & Noble! Plan your spring garden and plant now for those swaying, bright spring jewels.

Tuesday, October 6, 4 – 5:30 pm

Beauties of the Past, Still Blooming: The Tulip Treasures of the Hortus Bulborum

4 – 4:30 pm light refreshments

4:30 – 5:30 pm lecture

Interested in the history of the tulip?  It includes things like exotic Asian tulip gardens illuminated by candles carried on the backs of turtles.  Really.  Check out this book from the Garden’s library The Tulip, by Anna Pavord: very well written and compelling.

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