Of course, the Netherlands, as one of the world’s largest sources of bulbs, is famous for its tulips. It was here that one of the first economic bubble collapses happened back in the 1630’s, the tulip mania (or tulpenmanie as the Dutch say it) bubble. It was a Golden Age for the Dutch, who since gaining freedom from Spain, had delved into commerce with a vengeance with the Dutch East India Company established in 1602. Shortly thereafter, Tulips were imported from the Ottoman Empire, which had its own love affair with tulips sixty years later, even though they had tulips in production since at least 1500. (The International Tulip Festival is held in Istanbul in April.) The Dutch went wild for tulips. Their favorites were those with flame shaped colors on a background of white or yellow. In 1624 a single tulip bulb sold for 3,000 guilders, more than most craftsmen earned in a year. By either 1636 or early 1637, the market crashed; no one wanted the bulbs at those exorbitant prices any longer. Luckily the already established Amsterdam Stock Exchange had not traded in tulips. At least they were financially prudent; and now we know those favorite tulip types were the result of a viral infection in the bulbs.
As a gardener, I must admit I don’t grow many tulips. If your soil is heavy, they have a tendency to ‘run-on,’ meaning the flowers appear smaller each year and grow on shorter stems. The bulbs only last two to four years, after that, small, offshoot bulbs take over, and those have not been treated to encourage bulb growth. Experts often recommend tulips be replaced yearly, or at the very least every two years. This does have a plus side. If you know you are going to replace your tulips in the fall, you can dig them out of the ground as soon as they finish blooming so you don’t have to wait for the foliage to die—not an attraction in the early summer garden.
Another reason I don’t like tulips is other critters like them, too. Rodents love to eat the bulbs during the winter. This spring I had bulbs just about to bloom, and the next day I noticed deer had eaten them down to the ground. Okay, so the flowers will bloom bigger next year; big deal this year.
I will plant tulips again this fall. The soil temperature has to drop below sixty degrees before tulips can be planted, which here means late September or early October. Tulips grow best in sandy, well-drained soil, which I have in abundance, and is probably why the few tulips I plant last as many years as they do. This fall however, I may just plant them in containers and enjoy my own little tulpenmanie.
For more information on growing tulips Roozengaarde.
Some information was taken from this article in Bloomberg Businessweek (information on the bulb bubble) by Mike Dash.