The mania that had Holland in its clutches four hundred years ago, sending the price for a single tulip bulb higher than $2,000, seems totally reasonable to me. Look at one in bloom, and tell me you disagree.
Many varieties that men feverishly mortgaged houses to buy in the 1630s are extinct—which may be for the best, because who can say what sort of a frenzy it would send us into to behold with the naked eye the delicate licks of deep pink flame on the petals of 'Semper Augustus,' or the purplish veins that crazed the petals of 'Viceroy'? I know I wouldn't trust myself. Others, like 'Zomerschoon,' are still grown. You can buy that particular survivor, dating from 1620 and still exhibiting the telltale "broken" pattern so prized by the Dutch masters, for $25 apiece from Old House Gardens. Limit: three bulbs.
Above: Some tulips owe two-tone coloring to genetics (rather than to a Tulip Breaking Virus spread by aphids). For regular-old, non-viral, dark purple tulips accented with cream, consider the Mysterious Passion Blend; it's $18.99 for 18 bulbs and ships in the fall, from Dutch Bulbs. Image by Tony Basilio, via Flickr.
Above: "Tulips come from parts of the world with almost no moisture in the summer; the eastern United States can seem swamp-like, from a tulip's perspective," says Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens. "After the leaves yellow, dig them up and store them in a hanging mesh bag. Then they will keep multiplying." Image via Little Flower School.
Above: In England, the Tulip Society continues to create and exhibit broken tulips, such as the feathered 'Columbine' (Above). Broken tulips must be kept away from other bulbs. "They're restricted in the Netherlands, because if you have large bulb fields next to each other, it's virtually impossible to isolate the virus. You get a lot of broken tulips in the mix," says Kunst.
Above: Tulipa 'Rem's Favorite' is not a broken tulip; it dates only to 2000, and its striations are the result of a cross between 'Hans Anrud' and T. 'Bestraald.' 'Rem's Favorite' ships in the fall from Brent and Becky's Bulbs. Image by Phillip James, via Flickr.
Above: Two broken varieties, 'Adonis' (Top) and 'Black and White,' ship seasonally from Old House Gardens, the only seller in the United States to import the old flame and feather varieties from Hortus Bulborum, the Netherlands' sole producer. "Twenty years ago, Hortus kept these rare jewels close to the chest," Kunst says. "Little by little, they're sharing them."