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   Mar 22

‘And if I kiss you in the garden, in the moonlight….’ The tulips are coming! April 5, 2011

Author’s note: You will get the most from this article by listening to “Tip Toe Thru’ The Tulips” before you start, or as you read. Search for the subject at any search engine. There are many renditions, both old and new. After all, not only is the tune perky and upbeat but tulips are the embodiment of springtime… and no one can get enough of that!

Spring on the calendar perhaps…

Yes, I know what the calendar says; that we’ve had spring in New England for 2 weeks now. But what do these folks know? I checked my calendar and discovered it was printed in Tennessee. What do they know about the fickle weather hereabouts? So far ours has been a typical “spring”, a mixture of snow, mud, and exasperation for the fact that winter just won’t let go, ornery and tenacious as ever.

The crocuses came, of course, and lovely, too. I noticed a new shade of purple this year, or, more likely, I took the trouble to stop, look and finally see what those industrious croci had laid before me so often before. So determined are they that they would find a way to ascend, even if the snow were rooftop. I love them…. but they don’t mean spring quite yet; what’s more the birds have had their way with them, per usual. They know just where the saffron is to be found… and they leave hardly any.

The daffodils hold sway right now, but they, too, while arriving just after spring has been declared do not necessarily mean spring is actually here. Like the students of the Harvard Law School across the street, the ones wearing short pants and playing frisbee in the mud, daffodils put on a brave show, none braver.

However, like the students with their visible shivers and white, white legs with veins picked out in unnatural blue, to see daffodils against the dirty snow causes one to check the calender again and verify that yes, it is spring, though we still are dubious.

Tulips mean spring, almost.

Now the first shoots of this year’s tulips are up; I have seen them for, what?, 3 days now. They are so small and tender; my heart goes out to them, as yours would, too, if you were here and took the time to see. Do they know how eagerly the world awaits them… and what a brief, brief life they’ll have? Or, like youth everywhere, are they oblivious, focused solely on the all-consuming business of being young, beautiful, exuberant and truly glad to greet every passerby with a joy whose secret is youth’s alone?

Tulips, you see, are not just harbingers of the real spring near at hand; they are a bridge to memory. When we see a tulip blowing proudly in the wind, we remember (and grateful too) springtimes long gone and smile as we recall how blissfully we spent those seasons in tulip time, glad to be alive! Tulips know their work, know how much we need their magic. They therefore stay a little longer with us than the flowers which precede. And as our memories are sweet, we thank them…

Some facts.

The tulip is a perennial, bulbous plant with showy flowers in the genus Tulipa, which comprises 109 species. The genus’s native range extends from as far west as Southern Europe, North Africa, Anatolia, and Iran to the Northwest of China. The tulip’s center of diversity is the Pamir, Hindu Kush, and Tien Shan mountains.

Depending on the species, tulip plants can grow as short as 4 inches (10 cm) or as high as 28 inches (71 cm). The tulip’s large flowers usually bloom on scapes or subscapose stems. Most tulips produce only one flower per stem, but a few species bear multiple flowers on their scapes.

Origin of the name.

Although the Netherlands is the country most associated with tulips, commercial cultivation of the flower began in the Ottoman Empire. The tulip, or lale l(from the Persian) is indigenous to much of the area ruled by the Ottoman Sultans. The word tulip ultimately derives from the Persian “dulband”, meaning turban. Look closely at the shape of the tulip and you can see, if your eye is felicitous, the turbanned faithful answering the call from the minaret to prayer. Squint your eye and behold…

No one actually knows how, even where, the first tulips entered Europe. Some say they were first brought to and planted in Vienna, by 1573. Others opt for Holland. Experts like to quibble, and tulips, who know the facts historians seek, do not disclose them; they, like us, enjoy being the center of unceasing attention. The plain fact is, wherever people saw tulips, they wanted tulips. This lead, not long after tulips became known in Europe, to the mad phenomenon called “Tulip Mania.”

One bulb, valued at 10 times the annual wage of a skilled craftsman.

No event shows man at his most venal, greedy, and stupid than the Tulip Mania of 1637. It is generally regarded as the first recorded speculative bubble, where the rarest bulbs could fetch the price of a house in Amsterdam’s finest district — for an instant. Timing here, as with all economic events, was everything. Privately, tulips admit they enjoyed being the focus of such overwrought enthusiasm; they think it’s just what they deserve… and have memorized long passages about themselves from British journalist Charles Mackay’s book on the matter, “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.” (1841). Historians doubt some of his conclusions, but to the tulips his every word is sacrosanct.

A poem disapproved, a tune embraced.

Unsurprisingly, given their continuing popularity, tulips are frequently the focus of poets, authors, lyricists. They faithfully encode all this and are effusive in their thanks. Admittedly, they don’t like everything said about them. Sylvia Plath’s poem “Tulips” (posthumously published in 1965) at first gave general offense:

“The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me. Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.”

Tulips take their cheering task with grave seriousness. Plath’s reaction to a gift whilst in hospital affronted. Like the rest of the literate world, by the time they knew of the lady’s many afflictions of heart and soul she was dead (1963). The general consensus is that if she’d had more tulips, she would have had less angst. I agree.

Tip toe…

The tulips tell me they adore a peppy little number called “Tip Toe Thru’ The Tulips” and are always ready to sing it as the warm breezes of spring waft. Written in 1926 by Joe Burke, with lyrics by Al Dubin. It brightened the 1929 hit “Gold Diggers of Broadway”. Years later, the calculated oddness of Tiny Tim (born 1932 as Herbert Khaury) brought it again to America’s attention:

“And if I kiss you in the garden, In the moonlight, will you pardon me? Come tiptoe through the tulips with me!?

Tiny Tim died too soon, in 1996. Every tulip remembers him fondly… a man who knew a likely lyric when he heard it and brought smiles to the faces of millions. “Knee deep in flowers he’ll stray…” The flowers will be tulips of course.

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About The Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Become a FREE Associate Member at:  Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books.daffodil and tulips

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