Stuff of legend

A vase of tulips on the kitchen table to cheer me up. Tulips are the stuff of legend – tulip mania a close second to Hansje Brinker.

Just finished reading ‘Gilding the Lily’ by Amy Stewart, who’s travelled the globe informing herself about the cut flower industry. Who, inevitably, ended up in Aalsmeer, where the world’s flowers meet and get dispersed from. A quote:  “I woke up at 5 am and stared at the ceiling of my Amsterdam hotel room. Outside, the canal boats, which were rented to rowdy, hard-drinking college students, had just gone quiet. This was a city of late risers. I got dressed and walked gingerly through the lobby, not wanting to wake the innkeeper who slept on the ground floor, and stepped into the dark, empty streets. The coffee shops I passed on my way to the bus stop were not due to open for a few more hours, and as much as I craved a cup of coffee I appreciated their position on not starting the day before dawn. But the fact is that if you want to go see someone in the flower trade, this is the hour at which you must rise. … I was on my way to Aalsmeer to see the famous Dutch flower auction. It’s known around the world as a remarkably high-tech, high-speed way to sell flowers ….”. [page 219]

Great book! It had me thinking about the ecological footprint of flowers. Also about the abundance of flowers for sale – for a pittance, really – in the Netherlands.  And for the first time ever, I asked my florist where the tulips I had just bought came from. As Amy Stewart had predicted, the girl behind the counter had no idea.

I’ll be reading Tulpengoud next, a book about passion, dreams and illusions in the tulip world. And plan a visit to the Hortus Bulborum in Limmen, where volunteers manage a unique collection of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. And am working out what I want from  tulips – not easy at all, they are to a unique degree a trope among flowers. And I know only one artist that has done anything meaningful with tulips: Margriet Smulders.

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