It Was All About Tulips

HOLLAND – When you mention Holland, one word often pops up – tulips.{{more}} Enjoyed by gardeners and deer alike, tulips come in an infinite variety of colors and shapes.

On a recent trip to the Netherlands I enjoyed an upfront and personal visit with this popular bulb and learned a few interesting facts.

In the 12th century the wild tulip was discovered in Asia. Beloved by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who wore them in his turban, the name “tulip” was derived from the Latin word “dulband” or turban.

Merchants brought the bulb to the Netherlands and 400 years later by the 16th century the craze for tulips or “Tulipmania” took hold.

With their colorful petals, tulips were unlike any other flower popular in Europe at the time. To have a tulip growing in your garden was an important status symbol.

It was an era in which tulip prices skyrocketed to incredible heights. By the peak of Tulipmania in 1637, a single bulb was worth about ten times a craftsman’s annual income, or a single Viceroy tulip might be exchanged for four fat oxen or eight fat swine!

Today the Netherlands remains the center of the world’s flower trade enjoying 92 percent share of the world market for flowers.

At the Aalsmeer Flower Auction, the world’s largest commercial flower exchange you can watch the entire process as more than 20 million plants and flowers, valued at more than $5 million go on the auction block.

In just a few tenths of a second, flowers and plants are traded in small and large batches alike. Before the day is out, flowers are flown to destinations around the globe, soon to appear in bridal bouquets, table centerpieces, and many other settings (and no doubt some make their way to Orange!).

Perhaps the most breathtaking array of tulips and spring flowers was in Keukenhof Gardens in Amsterdam.

Open for only eight weeks each spring, the public can visit the gardens and view the most elaborate and inspirational plantings. Millions of tulips, along with narcissi and daffodils, hyacinths, bluebells and many others, blossom perfectly in place and exactly on time. Covering 79 acres Keukenhof Gardens is one of the world’s largest flower gardens.

In Northern Holland a trip to a bulb grower further enhanced my appreciation of this unique flower. Bulbs are grown for size – the larger the better.

As soon as the bulbs flower, the flowers are cut off to return the nutrients from the stem and leaves to the bulb. This is done three times, so ultimately the bulbs produce the largest flowers.

I am so impressed with the process and the beauty of the tulips, I may consider planting tulip bulbs again in spite of those pesky deer who seem to enjoy them as much as I do.

There are a number of local distributors from whom you can order tulip bulbs grown in North Holland. I am happy to share that information if you email me at

Marion Rizzo is president of The Garden Club of Orange.