Tulips are my favorite flowers. Sadly—in Southern California anyhow—they are in bloom only during the months of March and April. Wouldn’t you know it: That’s just when I am most occupied doing overtime work on taxes. When I got an e-mail from Descanso Gardens saying the tulips were in bloom, I wasted no time getting out there with my camera. Even though Martine has not been feeling good lately, the flowers and the warm weather made her feel a little better. As for me, it was a major lift for my spirits.
There was a time in the Seventeenth Century that tulips were big business in the Netherlands. Introduced to Europe late in the previous century from Turkey, tulips spread like wildflower (sorry about the pun). British journalist Charles Mackay wrote a book in 1841 called Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, in which there was a chapter about Dutch tulip mania, or tulpomanie. At its height around 1637, a single bulb for the tulip called “The Viceroy” (see below) cost between 3,000 and 4,200 guilders—this while the average skilled tradesman made around 300 guilders for an entire year.
If you are interested in reading more, you can still find the Mackay book around, and you may be even more interested in reading Alexandre Dumas Père’s The Black Tulip, which dramatizes the whole tulip mania period in Holland. When the City of Haarlem offers 100,000 guilders to anyone who can produce a black tulip, all hell breaks loose.