The revenge of the tulips

Once upon a time, roses were the Italians’ most beloved flowers, the failsafe choice for every occasion. A birthday, an anniversary, for something that couldn’t be said with words. But things have changed over time, and tulips now claim first floral place in Italian hearts. Their turban-shaped corollae, which the Ottomans regarded as an image of opulence, are now a symbol of love, of the wedding bouquet and, if mixed with other tulips of varying colours, a symbol of health and recovery. Yes, tulips truly are making a comeback, and Italians are choosing them time and again. Now you can see them at fairs, exhibitions and botanical parks, where you can go not only to admire but even to pick a bunch of your own fresh, zero-mile tulips.

We’re witnessing a real tulip boom, one that has been turbocharged in the last couple of years by the “pick-up garden”. The idea is very simple: you pay the price of an entrance ticket, which includes a maximum number of flowers that you’re allowed to pick, plus their arrangement in a bouquet or a flower basket. Naturally, this is a phenomenon almost tailor-made for social media, and thousands of Instagrammers flock to the events, snapping left, right and centre as they seize on the tulips that grab their attention. They then head home with their new bunches of flowers, nicely arranged and packaged by the dedicated staff, their memory cards bursting with photos and videos calculated to rake in the likes.
This “tulip mania” shows no sign of waning in 2022, thanks to the efforts and creativity of an ever-greater number of plant nurseries across Italy, parks that bring joy to the eyes and to the soul. From Milan to Sardinia, these colourful corners have sprung up everywhere.

But where did this springtime phenomenon start? In the Netherlands, of course, the tulip’s true homeland. It’s no coincidence that the biggest tulip festival in the world takes place in Amsterdam, and no surprise that National Tulip Day holds a special place in many Dutch hearts. People come to pick – free of charge – the tulips arranged in a pop-up garden in Dam Square, central Amsterdam; and this year, on the 15th January, Covid had receded enough to let National Tulip Day go ahead. The stars of the show, for obvious reasons, had been grown in greenhouses. Botanical purists and traditionalists might chafe at the blasphemy, but the show must go on, in Amsterdam as elsewhere.
Pick-up gardens are beautiful, vibrant and really smell of spring; we might also note that they benefit the environment. It’s interesting to know that tulip fields attract insect pollinators, crucial agents in the fight against the climate crisis. Tulips are more than mere decoration, then: they help us to actively support the ecosystem.