One of the things that always delights me in the coming springtime are the flower bulbs. I always declare they are my most favourite of plants – minimum effort and maximum enjoyment I like to say. After all, you just pop them into the ground in autumn, promptly forget about them as they lay buried and dormant during the cold winter months and then, suddenly, tiny little green shoots begin popping up here, there and everywhere, giving you a new hope that spring really might just be around the corner.
I like to go bulb hunting in the garden – desperate to spot the first little, delicate white dots from the snowdrops – these aptly named flowers are the ones who are bravest to appear as early as January and are truly a promise of warmer days ahead.
Swift on the heels of the snowdrops, come the crocus – a myriad of little yellow, purple, lilac and white jewels popping up all over the place.
Following on from the crocus comes my particular favourite, the daffodil. From its original, humble yellow flower, daffodils can now be found in a vast array of hues from pure white to the deepest, zestiest yellow; from tiny, miniature tete a tete to strappingly big colossals and everything in-between, these cheerful blooms are much celebrated – being the subject of famous poems and the symbol of cherished charities. To behold a sea of their yellow, nodding loveliness could surely not fail to lift even the most hardened of hearts.
Of course there are many, many flower bulb varieties and these days we’re spoilt for choice: the vivid blue hyacinths with their heady waft of perfume; the delicate little iris with their intricate patterns; the ample alliums with their pom-pom heads, the breath-taking indigo carpets of bluebells – the list goes on and on – and it’s not only spring time that favours bulbs – they can be found in various shapes and sizes all year around – indeed there are many flowers that you may not think of as bulbs – tall, majestic lilies for example; or blousy bright gladioli; or even fragile little anemones.
Whilst we tend to take these bulbs as a natural part of spring, have you ever wondered where these gorgeous little packages of loveliness came from?
Well some originated in northern Europe, such as the wild narcissus, from where comes our beloved daffodils; even snowdrops, a distant cousin of the narcissus, where originally native flowers, as were bluebells.
However, there is one traditional bulb flower that boosts a rather unusual tale – the tulip. Amazingly, when tulips were first brought to Europe from Turkey (where they originated and grew wild) in the mid-1500s, they sparked great interest and the centre of this growing tulip fascination was the Netherlands.
Wealthy investors simply couldn’t get enough of them, and they exchanged hands for what would today be multi-million sums of money – being used as marriage dowries; capital against properties and businesses – many family fortunes were based on what we now call Tulipmania. What’s more, the most desirable tulips were actually the ‘broken’ tulips – this is where streaking patterns of colours emerge, due to a virus in the tulip. These broken tulips were held in the very highest acclaim and attracted astronomical prices!
It’s reckoned that tulips began the first investment bubble, such was the desire for these sumptuous blooms. Naturally, like all bubbles, the tulip obsession finally burst in 1637 and many a fortune was lost in the crash of Tulipmania!
Today, tulips remain synonymous with the Netherlands, where a vast variety, in a whole host of colours, shapes and sizes are grown – even though they might not command the eye-watering sums they once did back in the 1600s, they’re still a source of delight, adorning many a garden in the late spring. Indeed, they remain a very firm favourite spring flower.
So, whilst we won’t be likely to see such avid avarice for spring flowers as happened in the 17th century, nonetheless, the hope, beauty and joy that these spring bulbs bring to us still remains priceless.