Out and About – In the Time of the Tulips – a Photo Essay

by Elizabeth Eby

Walk around the neighborhood, tulips are everywhere!  Some are planted in straight lines and others are in what gardeners call “naturalized” settings.  However they are planted, everyone loves tulips.
Ottoman emperors adored them.  They had elaborate tulip gardens and professional gardeners who began to hybrid their own varieties.  Michael Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire, tells wonderful stories about the sultans’ elaborate tulip themed parties.  At one party, guests and staff wore tulip colored clothing and giant tortoises with tulip colored wax candles on their backs roamed through the garden.     
In the 15th century diplomats attended the parties and carried tulips from Asia to Europe.  The bulbs became increasingly valuable as investments.  Tulip Mania refers to the futures market for tulip bulbs that sprang up in 1634 and crashed dramatically in 1637.  This event is said to be the first recorded futures market.
A ramble through the Park Service Tulip Library on Independence near the Tidal Basin is a great place to research your favorites.  They bloom just after the cherry trees.  Tulips are planted in fall so take a notebook and your camera along if you are planning a garden of your own.  Mail order offers broad selections and better prices than the hardware store or nursery. 
Cut tulips are sold year round.  They are priced by the quality of the petals and the color.  They are cut green for shipping and to prolong the life of the blossom.  You have probably noticed that the color becomes more intense after they are placed in a vase of water. And yes, cut tulips really do continue to grow in water.  This growth is caused by a hormone that also makes them bend toward the sun.  Just cut the stem and change the water if your bouquet becomes unruly.      
As a gardener, I am awed by tulip’s history and admire their perfect posture, precise geometric form, and saturated colors.  They command attention and add a regal touch to any landscape until the bitter end even when the petals curl down and blow away.

Out and About is an occasional photo feature by artist, photographer, gardener, and Capitol Hill resident Elizabeth Eby.  She finds vignettes while out and about on Capitol Hill. 


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2 responses to “Out and About – In the Time of the Tulips – a Photo Essay

  1. Bengal Richter

    Awesome photos and story, Elizabeth! What a sweetheart cat, too.

  2. Carolyn Rondthaler

    Nice job Elizabeth! Love the backstory on tulips!