I am recovering from a fever. Tulip Fever. Seduced by their charms and captivated by their colors, petals, fringes, and the brief burst of beauty heralding the arrival of spring, I despair from the longing to possess these flowers in my garden.
May is Tulip Festival time in Holland, MI, and I was there with my sister and my husband, Rich, to immerse ourselves in the blooms. Tulips are grown throughout the town; in the parks, on the waterfront, on Windmill Island, and at Veldheer Tulip Farm.
The first tulips were delicate wild plants found centuries ago in central Asia.
Today we have the Giant Orange Sunset (6” cups) variety. In the ensuing years, tulip lovers dedicated their lives to breeding, hybridizing, and trialing new varieties to bring us the beauty we see today. Tulips have a fan following worldwide, and tulips may be the world’s favorite flower.
Holland MI, was settled by Dutch immigrants in the mid-1800’s. The boggy lakeside land seemed very familiar to the settlers and the community has since maintained its Dutch connections, especially with tulips. We wandered through mass displays of spring splendor, each one spectacular for the variety of colors and shapes. A tall grandfather, walking with his tiny grandson through Windmill Gardens tulip display was prompting him to name the colors of the tulips. Red, orange, and yellow are quickly identified, but the fun ended with the striped, ruffled, variegated, and blushing varieties.
And why not, as even I struggled to name the colors. I can name the purple with white stripes, the blushing ivory with a pink stripe, apricots, gold, and spring green splotches on white petals; these are in my color vocabulary but far beyond the little boy.
Some varieties are so vivid they glow, imitating flames. Some are translucent in the morning light and would surely glow in the moonlight. There are varieties named for ice cream, whipped cream, and Princess Irene. The bewitching colors stop me mid-step, jaw dropped and drooling as I stare at these wonders. A bed of pinkish, fuchsia glowing blooms was indescribable until a fellow admirer pronounced them as cerise.
I quickly googled the word and found a swatch of color matching what I struggled to describe. I learned a new color word.
There is a vocabulary for tulips to help me name my favorites. Rembrandt refers to the distinctly streaked varieties reminiscent of those painted by the Dutch masters.
Parrot tulips are fringed, twisted, and multi-colored, resembling bird wings.
Lily varieties have the crisp tips on their petals opening wide rather than the curved cups of so many types. Double varieties of tulips come in many colors, and for the first time, I saw a variety of Peony Tulips with ruffles of petals, quite like the peonies blooming later in spring.
It can take ten years to create a new variety of tulip, and in the hundreds of years of tulipmania, thanks to others with tulip fever we are now dazzled with fringes, streaks, blends, and edges in multiple colors. There is now a variety with multiple blooms on one stem!
I must travel to see tulips since my Arizona garden will never have four months of cold soil temperatures needed to grow them. Traveling only cures me temporarily of this tulip fever. I walked through the tulip display gardens struggling to pick my favorites: perhaps I’m lucky I can’t grow them. I don’t have to choose! But in the fall, when the bulb catalogs arrive, I could send some to my sister! And I will make travel plans to see more tulips. It is always worth the trip and the lingering fever.