|Photo by Freeimages.com/interrupt|
by The Daily Telegraph, April 25, 2016
Certain plants inspire devotion, but some become an obsession, and in the early years of the 17th century tulips rose to the pinnacle of desirability. ‘Semper Augustus’, a red and white tulip judged to be the most fantastic of all, was the holy grail. In 1633, at the peak of tulipomania, one ‘Semper Augustus’ was sold for 13,000 Dutch florins, roughly 100 times the average income in Holland .
Those who couldn’t pay the extortionate prices often acquired a painting instead and Jan “Velvet” Brueghel (1568-1625) and Ambrosius Bosschaert (1573-1621) both captured these swooning graceful tulips to great effect. The National Gallery has an exhibition devoted to 17th and 18th-century Dutch flower paintings, until August 29.
Fortunes were made and lost in what Anna Pavord, in her book The Tulip, likens to a lottery. It became so ridiculous that bulbs growing in the ground, never actually seen in flower, were sold by weight alone. This bubble market inevitably crashed, leaving many middlemen bankrupt, but the tulip survived as a favourite flower – one grown by many and not just the super rich.
English Heritage is celebrating the tulip in six of its historic houses. Among its displays of colourful modern tulips, it is showcasing some of the varieties that might have been grown in that particular garden’s heyday. Walmer Castle near Deal in Kent, an artillery fort built for Henry VIII between 1539 and 1540, coincided with the arrival of tulips into Europe via Turkey.
Walmer’s head gardener, Mark Brent, says: “This area was a centre for trade with the low countries and on a clear day you can actually see Flanders from the castle. We want to enhance this historical connection horticulturally and tulips seemed a very good place to start.”
When the Dutch began to acquire tulips in the 16th and early 17th centuries they came from the monastery gardens of Flanders and France, so it is possible that Walmer Castle acquired some of the earliest tulips ever grown in Britain. Walmer has created a timeline, using tulip varieties that date from the 17th century to the present day, to show how tulips have changed in character from a “flamed” or “feathered” flower (i.e. streaked colours), carefully nurtured in a pot, to the mass spring displays we enjoy today.
Sourcing 17th-century tulip varieties posed a problem. Many are no longer available because the intricate feathering that made these tulips so desirable was caused by the broken tulip virus. The flowers varied from year to year, sometimes lavishly marked and sometimes with no feathering at all. The bulbs also tended to lack vigour, so many of the iconic early varieties (shown in the paintings) faded away.
Although disease was suspected at the time, the aphid-born virus responsible was identified only in 1928 when Dorothy Cayley of the John Innes Research Centre isolated it. Armed with this knowledge, Mark Brent will be keeping his old-fashioned varieties well away from his main tulip displays, just in case.
The earliest tulip in Walmer’s timeline is ‘Duc van Tol Red and Yellow’ raised in 1620. This shorter tulip, which reaches six inches or so, flowers in March. “However, you can force them into flower early on; they’re often called the Christmas tulip, so they’re quite an interesting group,” Mark says. “They would have been an essential component of most stylish gardens 300 years ago.”
You will also be able to see ‘Duc van Tol Rose’ (1700), the red ‘Duc van Tol Max Cramoisie’ (1700) and ‘Duc van Tol White’ (1805). Sixteen of the oldest varieties will be displayed in pots in Walmer Castle’s greenhouse and will hopefully reappear year after year. ‘Silver Standard’, named in 1760, is a rose-red on white. It’s often described as a Rembrandt tulip after the Dutch painter who lived through tulipomania, although as far as anyone knows he never painted tulips.
‘Absalon’ is a clear yellow tulip heavily feathered in chocolate and wine-red. Named in 1780, nearly 100 years after ‘Duc van Tol Red and Yellow’, this is taller and flowers in May. Newer varieties, available in greater numbers, will appear in the borders and vegetable garden, with their dates of introduction also clearly shown.
Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire, perched on a ridge high above the Vale of Scarsdale, was founded by one of William the Conqueror’s knights, William Peveril, but fell into disrepair. In 1612, Sir Charles Cavendish began to use it as a retreat and his son William went on to create a “toy keep”, housing tiers of luxurious state rooms. In 1634, when tulipomania was in full swing in Holland, William hosted Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria and staged Love’s Welcome at Bolsover in the Fountain Garden, a masque specially written for the occasion by Ben Jonson.
Daniel Hale, the head gardener at Bolsover Castle and also Brodsworth Hall near Doncaster in Yorkshire, has sourced tulips to match the history of each property. The five historic varieties used at Bolsover include 200 bulbs of ‘Lac van Rijn’, a single, pointed-edged purple margined in clean white named in 1620.
Victorian bedding at Brodsworth HallCredit: Bob Skingle
The later ‘Columbine’, mainly heliotrope-purple with a little white, is from 1820. Sadly only 20 were available, although this is Dan’s personal favourite. ‘Bessie’, a maroon, purple and white from 1847, proved difficult, too. All had to be grown individually in pots in cold frames before being planted in the garden in early spring. One hundred ‘Alba Regalis’, a pure white from 1620, and 200 ‘Duc van Tol Red and Yellow’ complete the display.
Loved by Victorians
By the first half of the 19th century the tulip had become a collector’s flower entered into competitions. In 1849 the National Tulip Society was formed but trouble arose because florists in the north of Britain preferred symmetrical flowers with beautiful flaming, while those in the south tended to breed for flower shape alone.
In 1936 the strife-torn National Society’s assets were handed to the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society, and they continue to display old-fashioned tulips, usually singly in plain brown bottles, at shows such as Harrogate Spring (Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 April) and Harlow Carr (April 30-May 1). Almost none are available to buy.
Absalon, a historical tulip dating from 1780Credit: GAP Photos/Jo Whitworth
Most large Victorian gardens used tulips as colourful spring bedding in large parterres, and several English Heritage gardens celebrate the tradition. Brodsworth Hall, built in 1860, showcases three lily-flowered varieties, all widely available; ‘Ballerina’ is a scented orange, ‘Aladdin’ a scarlet with a yellow edge and ‘Vendee Globe’ is a bright yellow with an orange-red flame.
Wrest Park, an 1830s mansion in the style of a French chateau, is in the midst of a 20-year garden restoration scheme. The new head gardener, Andrew Turvey, has vast spaces to fill so he’s prioritizing spectacle over historical accuracy – he planted 17,000 tulips to flower this spring. The Italian parterre features 4,000 of the classic deep purple ‘Ronaldo’ and 9,000 of a lipstick-pink lily-flowered tulip with a white edge called ‘Claudia’. In the French parterre there are 4,000 bulbs of ‘Sweetheart,’ a lemon-yellow Fosteriana that bleeds into a lighter yellow.
Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, built between 1845 and 1851 for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, has more than 14,000 tulips mostly as bedding on the terraces. The gardeners are using short varieties in this windy, bright seaside garden; one is an 1880 double called ‘Peach Blossom’, a fragrant silver-pink with hints of white and yellow. Toby Beasley, the head gardener, is also mixing classic purples and almost blacks, such as ‘Negrita’, ‘Paul Scherer’ and ‘Passionale’, with brighter pinks and whites that will include ‘Dreamland’, a white with a rose-pink flush.
Tulips in the Audley End House walled gardenCredit: Historic England Photo Library
Audley End, in Essex, is a Jacobean mansion built in 1604. However, much of the garden was laid out in the 19th century, so they’re filling their Victorian parterres with spring bedding, including some historic tulips. Senior gardener Louise Ellis says: “One third of the parterre, laid out between 1832 and 1840, will be devoted to forget-me-nots, violas and wallflowers which we planted in October.
"In November we interplanted with pink and white tulips: we’re using the pink ‘Don Quichotte’ and ‘China Pink’ with a white Darwin named ‘Ivory Floradale’ and the single late, purple-pink ‘Greuze’ to float above the blue forget-me-nots. In the pond garden the lemon egg-shaped tulip ‘Mrs John T. Scheepers’ will mingle among the dark ‘Jan Reus’.
Columbine tulipCredit: Marianne Majerus Garden Images
“The kitchen garden has two beds devoted to tulips,” she continues. “One with a mixture of pink and white with touches of purple and we’ll also use the white and green viridiflora ‘Spring Green’ to soften the planting. The other bed contains much stronger colours, mainly purples, such as ‘Purple Prince’, and reds.” At Audley End the two oldest tulips are ‘Couleur Cardinal’, a red with plum shading raised in 1845, and a red and yellow single early called ‘Keizerskroon’ (‘Emperor’s Crown’) bred in 1750.
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This article was written by Val Bourne from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.