We have now reached that glorious time of the year when the tulips are at their full magnificence.
This exotic beauty from the far away Pamirs where China, Tibet, Russia and Afghanastan all meet in the Tien Shan Mountains was first brought back to the west by Turkish nomads who peopled the Asian steppes at the beginning of recorded history.
The story has long been told that the tulip first arrived in Antwerp in a shipment of exotic fabrics from Istanbul in the autumn of 1562.
The Flemish merchant, thinking they were onions, planted them in his vegetable garden and was annoyed the following spring when the crop proved not be Turkish onions but a red and yellow flower of unknown provenance.
By fortunate coincidence a visitor to this unnamed merchant, and enthusiastic botanist, Joris Rye procured a few of the bulbs and sent them to the famed Dutch botanist Charles de L’Escluse.
It’s entry into Holland was momentous and soom blossomed into that bizarre obsession that has come to be known as Tulipomania where fortunes were gambled for the possession of the rarest bulbs; the most coveted being the red striped Semper Augustus.
The mania passed but not before the ruination of many gentlemen.
In this country gentlemen are of a more practical nature as revealed by an entry in Col. Landon Carter’s diary of April 20, 1777:
“As the weather was so dry last year as to kill nearly all my bulbous flower roots in my river front garden, I thought of turning that ground to advantage in the way of my cows to be fed in winter, and had it all pricked off in lines about a foot asunder and sown in turneps. It proved an very fine crop. This makes me, an old man, think it an excellent scheme, especially as my Colic will not let me, as I used to do, walk out and injoy the pleasure of flowers. I shall therefore order the ground to be new dunged, and intend to continue this turnep Project.”