Friday, December 1, 2006

Garden work! - Tuinwerk!

Are you wondering what we did on the first day of December???
Well, apart from writing this blog post ( long one that it is), we helped "mom" finish planting the rest of her tulip bulbs before the weather gets nasty.
Nothing like waiting until the last moment!

© Judith Nijholt-Strong, 2006
Finn, the 'big helper', making sure the bulbs get planted in the right spots.

As most everyone knows, tulips, along with wooden shoes and windmills, are the symbols (perhaps icons?) that are most associated with The Netherlands. For the most part, the wooden shoes and mills have become quaint reminders of the past cherished mostly because they help the tourist trade, but the tulip retains considerable importance as a product for Dutch export and remains a "living" symbol of the country. The Netherlands exports 2/3rds of the world’s fresh cut flowers, plants and bulbs – most of these going to the U.S.A. and the U.K.

However, tulips are not native to the Netherlands! The tulip is actually the national flower of Turkey and Iran - these countries are two of the garden variety tulips' native lands. The European name “tulip”comes from the Turkish word for turban, “tülbent”.

For the most part, the tulip bulbs now existing & cultivated in Holland are descendants from bulbs imported from Turkey - of course, the modern Dutch bulb growers are constantly cultivating/inventing new strains of tulips. In the 16th century, the Netherlands, Belgium and the nothern part of France were joined as the 17 Provinces, or Low Countries (Netherlands). These seventeen provinces belonged to the Spanish empire of Philip II and were governed by the Duke of Parma. The ‘discovery’ of the tulip is generally ascribed to the Flemishman, Augier Ghislain de Busbecq, who was the Austrian ambassador in Turkey – it was at this time, in 1554, when he saw the tulip at Adrianople. After his retirement as ambassador, he documented seeing this tulip in his book "The four epistles of A.G. Busbequius, concerning his embassy into Turkey "(London, 1676; Dutch ed. 1662). The tulips from Turkey were not wild plants, but mostly garden plants - already having been cultivated for a long time. Originally the wild tulips came from Central Asia, which was partly under Turkish rule at that time.

The Netherlandish botanist, Carolus Clusius, (1526-1609 born in Arras, now a part of present day France), was employed as the Austrian court botanist in Vienna from 1574 till 1588. In his book of 1583, Clusius mentions the introduction of tulips by Busbecq and of obtaining seedlings from Brussels. Clusius had the tulip varieties grown and distributed them among fellow botanists in Europe - therefore, he is known as being primarily responsible for the introduction of the tulip as a cultivated garden plant in Europe. In 1593, he was appointed an honorary professorship in botany at the Universtiy of Leiden and was also director of the "hortus botanicus" in Leiden, Netherlands.

It was about 1565 that tulips were first grown in the Low Countries. At this time, Clusius was living in the Southern Netherlands at Mechelen/Mechlin (now a part of present day Belgium), where he saw some tulips at the garden of Jean de Brancion. An illustration of the plant appears in a book published in Antwerp in 1568: "Florum et coronarium odoratumque nonnularum herbarium historia by Rembert Dodonaeus". Clusius first published reports about some tulip varieties in 1576 appear in the appendix on oriental or Thracian garden plants of his book "Rariorum aliquot stirpium per Hispanias observatarum historia" (Antwerp, by Plantin).

In 1612, it was a Dutchman, Emanuel Sweerts, who was one of the first to offer tulip bulbs for sale in the annual markets of Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and later in Amsterdam. Tulip flower samples of the bulbs for auction were displayed in illustrated books. These books (many watercolors later bound in book form) were in fact manuscript catalogs of tulips up for auction - much like todays garden/seed catalogs. Prospective clients, such as country estate owners, could decide what to buy from the watercolors that were often the work of well-known artists of the age.

Of the 43 tulip books known to exist in the world during the seventeenth century, 34 of them were produced in the Netherlands in first half of the century – only a few of these books still survive. The most famous are two books by painter Jacob Marrel. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has one of the books - Jacob Marrel at the Rijksmuseum- and the other is in a private collection in the United States. Another famous tulip book is that of Judith Leijster(also spelled as Leyster, she was a pupil of Frans Hals) – the book, along with others, is in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, Netherlands (click on 'collection' and then on 'search' look for Leyster to see a page from her tulip book).

If you would like to read more about the history of the tulip, or the phenomenon of “Tulip mania” in 17th century Netherlands (a time when the costs & stock specultations for tulip bulbs resulted in a stock market crash of sorts, playing a large part in the fall of the Dutch Golden Age), see these sites for more information:

l Tulipmania: Wikipedia in english on Tulipmania

l Article from Business Week Online (April, 2000) : "When the Tulip Bubble Burst", by Mark Frankel, a review of the book "TULIPOMANIA The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower by Mike Dash

l Origin of the Tulip: Wikipedia in english - Tulip

Or, if you like a good read about the life/culture in 17th century Netherlands (with a chapter about the tulip craze) from a real book, our “mom” recommends:

l "The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age" by Simon Schama. "Embarrassment of Riches" at Amazon (this book is also availbale in dutch translation from Broese bookstore in Utrecht).

Click the image for a larger view and you will see that Brueghel has depicted the bulb traders as 'silly monkeys'. ;o)

So why, you may ask, is all this sooooo important to a couple of Dutch cats and our American “mother”? Are we 'silly monkeys' too? (

Well, last Spring our humans visited the Hortus Bulborum in Limmen, NL where they ordered a special set of heirloom tulip bulbs. These bulbs are the descendants of bulbs dating as far back as the late 16th century. In this collection of 50 tulip bulbs, is the oldest known and still cultivated tulip – the Duc van Tol, Red/Yellow from c.1595. We helped "mom" plant just 5 of these small wonders! We truly hope they flourish in “our” garden.

© Judith Nijholt-Strong, 2006
Ducs at the Hortus Bulborum - Limmen, Netherlands

As you can see in the photo above, tulips from the 16th century were of a low growing variety ( as was the fashion of the time). The 'Duc van Tol' varieties do not grow much higher than 7 or 8 inches ... but we think they are very pretty.

This is a gouache painting of the 'Duc van Tol, Red and Yellow' that our "mom" did last spring at the Hortus Bulborum.

copyright Judith Nijholt-Strong, 2006
"Delightful Duc", 7"h x 5"w (painting size)
Talens gouache on Fabriano watercolor paper
*orignal, sold*

And so, the heirloom bulbs we helped her plant today are(were/will be ....):
5 ex. ‘Duc van Tol Red and Yellow’ 1595
5 ex. ‘Duc van Tol Orange’ 1700
5 ex. ‘Duc van Tol Violet’ 1700
5 ex. Single Early ‘Gele Prins’ (Yellow Prince) 1780
5 ex. Single Early ‘ Cottage Maid’ 1857
5 ex. Double Early ‘Purper Kroon’ 1785
5 ex. Double Early ‘Rex Rubrorum’ 1830
5 ex. Rembrandt tulip ‘Insulinde’ 1915
5 ex. Rembrandt tulip ‘Mabel’ pre-1915
5 ex. Lilyflowered ‘Elegans’ pre-1895

We can’t wait for Spring!!!!!

Finn & Sacha


Anonymous said...

Dear Kats-in Klompen, It was with great interest that I ready your blog. You are writing about so many of the things I have studied also in my personal art quest. Several years ago I visited Holland and for some reason it felt right at home. I live in Oregon,USA, and we have a similar climate with many trees. We are famous for our flowers too because we get lots of springtime rain. I hope you will visit my web site at and my blog site also. Keep up the good work. Margret

Anonymous said...

so, what's new?! :-P (lol)

Charne said...

Fascinating stuff!

Can't wait for the Sinterklaas report!!!

Finn & Sas said...

Thank you Margret!

Hi René ...

Hey Charne!!! You know we will! check back tomorrow.


Marina Broere said...

Very nice blog, cats! Leuk blog!
I'm a Dutch painter in Milwaukee - married to a flower bulb importer...with one (long haired cat named Sophie)

J. Nijholt-Strong said...

en "hoi" Sophie :o)

Finn & Sacha

sandy said...

Excellent post with so much interesting info on tulips! Bravo!! and thanks. :)



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