Saturday 06 June 2020

Inburgering with DutchNews.nl: Key facts about tulips

So while we are all largely confined to base, what better time to brush up your knowledge of all things Dutch? DutchNews.nl is pleased to present its very own ‘inburgering’ course in, well, however many lessons it takes.

Lesson 7: Tulips are in bloom everywhere – even though trips to the bulb fields have been banned this year. Nevertheless, you can still nip out to get yourself a bunch to brighten up your day. Here are some facts and figures about the Netherlands’ iconic flower – which actually originated around the Mediterranean.

1 Dealing with cut tulips
Dutch grandmothers have many wise tips to make the most of cut tulips. For a start, they say you should leave the flowers wrapped up in paper and put them into a vase of water (at room temperature) overnight. This will keep them fresh for longer.

To stop the blooms drooping, push a pin through the stem just under the bloom. This is supposed to stop them growing – which many cut tulips do. A good bunch of tulips will last for well over a week, but beware of those bargain bunches of 50 tulips for €5… they may well be past their prime.

2 Tulip varieties
All new tulip varieties have to be registered with the grandly named Koninklijke Algemeene Vereeniging voor Bloembollencultuur (KAVB). It has over 8,000 different kinds on its list. Among the most popular sorts are the Strong Gold, the Leen van Mark, the Debutante and the Viking.

Photo: DutchNews.nl

3 The black tulip
A book by Alexandre Dumas about a competition to grow the elusive black flower.  No one has yet succeeded but some have come close. On the market today are the Black Parrot, the Queen of the Night and the Ayaan Hirsi Ali, named after the Somali refugee turned Dutch MP and anti-Islam campaigner who now lives in the US. Operation Black Tulip was also the name given to the process of deporting German nationals who lived in the Netherlands after World War II.

4 A major industry
The amount of land dedicated to growing bulbs in the Netherlands has soared by almost 75% in the last 35 years. Most bulbs are grown in the sandy soils of Zuid-Holland but Drenthe, Flevoland and Overijssel are doing their best to catch up. The tulip is still the most popular bulb by far: almost half of the bulb fields bring forth tulips. The Netherlands exports some two million bulbs a year and has almost 400 growers.

5 What you see is not what you get
Few of the riotous blooms you see in the Netherlands in spring are going to end up in a vase on your sideboard. They are being grown for the bulbs. Once the flowers are in full bloom, the heads are stripped off and discarded. The bulbs themselves are harvested by big machines later in the year. Then they are washed and the dried roots and bulblets are removed by hand, a process known as bollen pellen. The bulbs are then graded according to size. Big bulbs are sold and smaller ones kept to plant next year. It takes two to three years for a bulblet to become big enough to sell.

Tourists photographing tulip fields. Photo: DutchNews.nl

Most of the cut tulips which you buy in shops have been grown in greenhouses. They are first planted in sand boxes and stored in a refrigerated room. Then they are moved into greenhouses to speed up the blooming process. This means growers can ensure a supply of tulips over several months.

6 An emergency foodstuff
During the last bitter winter of World War II when people in the Netherlands were starving, tulip bulbs became a source of sustenance. The war had stopped trade and there were plenty of bulbs to be had. The papers published recipes for potato, cabbage and tulip bulb stew. The bulbs, minus their green flower bud, took about as long to cook as potatoes and their taste is not dissimilar (apparently).

7 A stock exchange boom
In the 17th century, Haarlem became the centre of tulpomania, or tulip madness. Bulbs like the Semper Augustus could fetch prices of 10,000 guilders, which was what you would have to fork out for a house on one of the canals. The speculative bubble burst and instead of bulb-shaped gold ingots, tulips became tulips once more.

8 A tribute
When French artist Claude Monet visited the Netherlands in 1886 he loved the tulip fields around The Hague so much he painted them five times. He sold all five paintings to Theo van Gogh, Vincent’s art dealer brother. Vincent van Gogh, as we know, preferred sunflowers. He did have a reddish-brown tulip named after him in 2016 by the Keukenhof when his work was that year’s theme.

Other famous folk who have had tulips named after them include Mickey Mouse, Rambo, Armani, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd and Abba.

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