Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Monday, October 04, 2004


So, at my front door, I have a pot of tulips in flower, Tulipa x ‘Queen of the night’. Nearly every year I can’t help myself, I buy a bag of tulips – I know they are only as good as annuals here – but there they are, in the pot at the front door? Tulips as with the rose (why do we consider tulips as a plural, where as the rose is considered singular?) have a long and very considered heritage. I am not the first to have thought of the tulip as almost irresistible, it is amongst the oldest of cultivated flowers. Tulipa is a genus of some 100 species, bulbs from Europe, west and central Asia, and North Africa. The name Tulipa, is from Turkish, the word for turban, which if we think about it, the flowers do resemble. The bulb we grow in our gardens or are familiar with in municipal settings, are thought to have been introduced to Europe during the 16th century by Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire to Suleiman the Magnificent. He first sighted it in Adrianople, on his way to Constantiople in 1554. The tulip was introduced to Europe in 1572 and reported as seen growing in Ausberg in 1559! During the early 18th century, the tulip gained as much notoriety in Turkey, as it later did in Holland at the height of ‘tulip mania’ in 1634-7. The tulip is even now to be seen growing in vast fields and still of great importance to the economy of Holland. The colour most prised was that which was as close to black as possible, ‘Queen of the Night’ is one of these attempts. I like her because of the fact that in attempting to accomplish black, very interesting shades of purple to red also come through. My painting simply can’t catch the beauty of the real thing.

On a more practical note, these bulbs will have to be tossed at the end of the season, as it is too warm here for the bulbs to maintain their strength, the bulbs will split and no longer flower. Despite all this, I still will have them in a pot at the front door, purchased every year at not too much cost, given the pleasure I get from them.

Now from fantasia to food, my French beans are hoving into rows and my sugar snaps are falling over themselves in an effort to produce wee peas. The corn as already ten centimetres tall and the first crop of beetroot nearly all down the palate! Spring is a time of such rapid growth; it is almost impossible to keep up. I am in dread of summer in my new garden, with such full on sun, a deep rich soil and limited water, certain peril for thirsty vegetables. Hopefully I can cope with careful mulching and interplanting to keep exposed soil to a minimum and keep as much moisture in as possible. Good luck in what seems to be already a dry season!


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