Extraordinary fact: In Amsterdam in 1838 the asking price for a single
tulip bulb, the "Semper Augustus," was 13,000 florins. Anna
Pavord explains in her elegant tome The Tulip
that at the time
this amount was "more than the cost of the most expensive house on
the canals at the center of Amsterdam." Europe during this period
was at the height of what was known as "Tulipmania," and as
Pavord describes in her enthralling history of the flower, tulips have
long woven a spell of lust and avarice on mankind. Beginning with references
to the tulip in 13th-century Persian poetry and progressing all the way
to the modern-day tulip fanciers of the Wakefield Tulip Society, Pavord's
book is exhaustively comprehensive in its collection of stories behind
this most desired flower.
In Pavord's assured prose these stories are
fabulous and the history fascinating at times, astonishing. One
of the interesting (and, in some cases, literally maddening) aspects of
the flower is that tulips can "break" a process causing
the flower to bloom for several years in a single color, and then suddenly
reappear one year with a completely different design, replete with "flamed"
or "feathered" patterns on its petals. Men who made their fortunes
speculating on the flower were driven insane by this inconsistency: the
tulip's "sublime, reckless, irrepressible, wayward, unpredictable,
strange, subtle" character. Pavord argues that the tulip is the queen
of all flowers, having inspired greed, desire, anguish, and, yes, madness
for centuries. As she shares her obsession with her readers, we can't
help but be convinced. Georgie, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
is not a gardening book. It is the story of a flower that has made men mad. Greed, desire, anguish, devotion have all played their part in the development of the tulip from a wild flower of the Asian steppes to the world-wide phenomenon it is today. The U.S. alone imports three billion tulip bulbs each year, Germany and France even more.
Why did the tulip dominate so many lives through so many centuries in so many countries? The author, a self-confessed tulipomaniac, has spent six years looking for answers. No other flower has ever carried so much cultural baggage; it charts political upheavals, illuminates social behavior, mirrors economic booms and busts, plots the ebb and flow of religious persecution.
The tulip made great fortunes for people but was responsible for equally spectacular bankruptcies. Millions of aficionados now gaze in awe at the brilliant flower pieces painted in the early seventeenth century by masters such as Ambrosius Bosschaert. But at the time they were painted, these works or art were considered as cheap substitutes for the real flowers. Even Jan van Huysum, the grand master of Dutch flower painting, could rarely command more than 5,000 guilders for a painting. But at auction in Alkmaar, Holland in 1637, a single bulb of the red-and-white tulip "Admiral Liefkens" changed hands for 4,400 guilders.
Roaming through Asia, India, Russia and the Ottoman Empire, the author tells how the tulip arrived from Turkey and took the whole of Western Europe by storm. In the petals of the exquisite English florists' tulips, still exhibited in competition by members of the Wakefield Tulip Society in Yorkshire, runs the blood of flowers first grown by John Evelyn in the middle of the seventeenth century.
Sumptuously illustrated from a wide range of sources, the book also features descriptions of eighty wild-species tulips and several hundred garden varieties. This beautifully produced and irresistible volume will become a bible, a unique source book, a universal gift book and a joy to all who possess it.
"Ms. Pavord offers swift little bios on eccentric or heartbreaking tulips fanciers. And her chapter on species tulips is timely... [a] fascinating book." Mac Griswold, The Wall Street Journal
"[A] verbally and visually ravishing book." House & Garden
"A disarming, captivating history of the tulipa byzantine story rich in subtexts.... This floral portrait is alive with wonder; even the concluding catalogue raisonn of species is a work of passion." Kirkus Reviews
"Beware: this seductive book could start Tulipomania all over again." Harpers & Queen
"This is no dry, botanical tome, though its botany is gracefully woven into the tale. The Tulip reads more like an adventure story." Anne Raver, The New York Times
"...[W]ritten by a modern high priestess of the cult [and] destined to achieve Biblical status....Although Pavord is a willing victim of tulipomania her book does not evoke the crazed world of fanatics..." London Review of Books
"I cannot praise this book too highly...beautifully designed and illustrated." Mail on Sunday
"Splendidly extravagant history...an astonishing bouquet of economic and cultural lore, grand historic trends and horticultural exotica." Publishers Weekly
"Splendidly extravagant history...an astonishing bouquet of economic and cultural lore, grand historic trends and horticultural exotica." --Publishers Weekly
"Visually stunning" --New Yorker
"Fascinating and sumptuous...an epic drama, a true tale that spans continents and centuries, shows humankind at its worst and its best, with heroes and villains galore." --Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"A wondrous account... remarkable." --Seattle Weekly
"Verbally and visually ravishing book." --House & Garden
"The Tulip reads more like an adventure story, written against a backdrop of a 16th-and 17th-century Europe..."--Desert Sun
The New York Times
bestseller and international publishing sensation-now available in paperback.
Greed, desire, anguish, and devotion have all played their part in the development of the tulip from a wild flower of the Asian steppes to the worldwide phenomenon it is today. No other flower has ever carried so much cultural baggage: it charts political upheavals, illuminates social behavior, mirrors economic booms and busts, and plots the ebb and flow of religious persecution.
Sumptuously illustrated from a wide range of sources, this beautifully produced and irresistible volume has become a bible, a unique source book, a universal gift book, and a joy to all who possess it. Now available in paperback, it's as irresistible as its subject.
About the Author
is the gardening correspondent for the Independent
, and the author of The Flowering Years
and Gardening Companion
. She lives in Dorset, England.