Tiptoe Through the Tulips

Tulip Bed at Descanso Gardens

If you were to ask me what my favorite flowers are, I would unhesitatingly answer, “Tulips!” (In a close second would be California Poppies.) Yesterday, Martine and I braved the springtime crowds at Descanso Gardens to see the springtime flowers. Our first interest were the tulips, which we were the first thing we visited when we got there, and then again the last thing we saw before closing time.

What I love most about tulips are the gorgeous colors. Unfortunately, they last such a short time and are not seen anywhere for most of the year. They originally came from the Middle East in the 11th century AD, and were taken up by the Dutch only around the 1500s.

The world’s first speculative bubble was not in stocks or currency, but in Dutch tulip bulbs. The bubble lasted from 1634 to 1637, and saw numerous fortunes made and lost. In 1850, Alexandre Dumas Père, of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo fame, published a novel called The Black Tulip, which is well worth reading. It contains the following syllogism:

To despise flowers is to offend God
The more beautiful the flower is, the more does one offend God in despising it
The tulip is the most beautiful of all flowers
Therefore, he who despises the tulip offends God beyond measure

Tomorrow: The California Poppy.

Tulip Time

Red Tulip Blossoms Close Up

Today, despite the vaguely threatening weather, Martine and I went to Descanso Gardens to see the tulips, which are at peak bloom right now. They were magnificent! For Martine, it was even better, as we dined twice at her favorite Glendale eateries: Sevan Chicken and Elena’s Greek and Armenian Restaurant.

If I were asked which are my favorite flowers, I would answer tulips and California poppies. Roses are nice too, but I have too many memories of having to pick off and kill Japanese Beetles from my parents’ tree roses in Parma Heights, Ohio. Moreover, roses never look quite so perfect as tulips and poppies do.

This Tulip Reminds Me of a Venus Flytrap with Its “Teeth”

Next after poppies and tulips come camellias. At Descanso Gardens, this has been a bumper crop year for the camellias, which are still at peak bloom throughout the park. We have had a relatively wet and cool winter, and the camellias has responded in great profusion.

Descanso was more crowded today than I can recall from any of our previous visits. The parking lot was full, and hordes of people were positioning themselves in front of the tulips with plastic smiles while others pointed their smart phones at them and clicked away.

Purple and White Tulip Blossoms

I have always hated posed photographs, particularly in front of flowers. Is it because my mother and father always had me positioned in front of flowering plants with an artificial smile? Ever since I have started taking pictures, I have avoided posed pictures, preferring always to shoot candids. One gets more natural facial expressions when they are not expecting a picture. In the end, I got even with my mother. When we were visiting the former Marineland in Palos Verdes, I posed my mother to the right of a sign pointing to the right with a large arrow, with the sign reading “To the Walruses.”

By the way, if you like tulips as much as I do, I highly recommend that you read Alexandre Dumas Père’s novel The Black Tulip about tulipmania in Holland.


That’s Dutch for “Tulip Mania”

That’s Dutch for “Tulip Mania”

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.

Catalog Picture of “The Viceyoy” Tulip

Catalog Picture of “The Viceroy” Tulip

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.