The northern part of Washington State, between the Cascades and Puget Sound, is famous for flower fields. Every spring, thousands trek to see the daffodils and tulips stretching for acres under the watchful presence of Mt. Baker. Making that journey has long been on my bucket list, so I was delighted to have a chance to spend part of an afternoon tiptoeing through the tulips recently with Regency author Donna Hatch.
Tulips, however, would have been no strangers to the ladies and gentlemen of the nineteenth century. Imported from the Ottoman Empire to Holland in the sixteenth century, the flower was an immediate hit. In fact, a frenzy for the bulbs, called Tulip Mania, is credited with creating the first economic bubble. Tulips became so popular that the bulbs were used as a kind of currency, and those who planted tulips frequently found their gardens raided. (Tulip pirates, anyone?) According to an 1841 book by Charles Mackay about that time, as many as 12 acres of land was traded for one Semper Augustus bulb (the red and white flower at the left).
Although the tulip was not imported to the United States until the mid-1800s, by the early 1800s, tulips could be found in every English garden of any note and were appearing in paintings, as motifs on ceramics and architecture, and even in ladies costumes. In the language of flowers, a tulip means fame. Certainly the term became slang for a gentleman who had an overly refined taste in clothing.
But the English tulip flowers quickly distinguished themselves from their Dutch counterparts. Flames or feathers of color striped the blossoms. In later years, these patterns were attributed to Tulip Breaking Virus, but at the time such blooms were highly prized as rarities. English Florists’ Tulips, as they were called, were grown to specific standards, and fanciers vied for raising the perfect plants. Tulip societies popped up in many major towns, and there was even a Royal National Tulip Society. Sadly, only the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society remains.
But you can come my way and tiptoe through the tulips instead.
And you can make sure to come back next week, when Marissa will unveil something even better than a striped tulip: a new book. Squee!