This is the first in what I hope is a continuing series of Garden Tours: virtual tours of the gardens I visit, both public and private. If you know of a garden you think I should visit, let me know in the comments below.
Tulips often evoke images of the dikes and windmills of Holland; generally not the semi-arid Utah desert or the rugged Turkish or Persian steppe. Yet every year in mid- to late-April, these three places – Utah, Turkey, and Holland – become intertwined in the annual tradition of Tulip Festival.
As the story goes, when a European ambassador made a trip to the royal court in Constantinople in 1554 he was captivated by the flower and sent a shipment of bulbs home. Through possible theft and intrigue the tulip made it’s way to Holland where it’s rarity gave rise to Tulipomania; everyone wanted tulips and the more rare the color patterns, the more desirable the bulb. A “tulip-bubble” developed, with frenzied speculation and sales but which burst in 1637. Though Tulipomania was over, the Dutch continued breeding, and trading, tulip bulbs – a profitable business that continues today.
Dutch bulbs can be found now throughout the world. Individuals and botanical gardens alike can order a variety of colors, bloom times, and petal types to brighten up their spring landscapes. And today, some of those tulip lines developed in Holland in 1600 and 1700s – along with hundreds of thousands of more modern varieties – can be seen at Tulip Festival at the Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah.
Each fall for the past 13 years, staff at Ashton Gardens, a 55-acre botanical garden in north-central Utah, have planted thousands and thousands of tulip bulbs to be revealed in breathtaking displays the following spring. Each of the 15 themed gardens within Ashton Gardens have unique displays. Perhaps one of the most unique of these displays is found in the “Tulip Riot” in the Fragrance Garden. In addition to highlighting each of the different species found throughout the gardens there is a small section of historic varieties. The Hortus Bulborum of the Netherlands has curated and conserved vintage tulip varieties for nearly 90 years and have shared some of their historic varieties with Ashton Gardens for their display.
Throughout the themed gardens, both permanent and temporary statues or art installations, like the caterpillar in the pollinator garden or the umbrellas near the Italian garden, add a bit of whimsy to the already beautiful setting.
My favorite area of the gardens is the Secret Garden; hidden behind a brick wall, with arched wooden doors that are accessed via a vine-covered tunnel, it really is my childhood vision of a secret garden brought to life. Within the walls are fountains and arches, blossoming trees, and (of course) hundreds of tulips.
From Turkey, to Holland, to Utah, the tulip has had some remarkable travels.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of the tulip, I highly recommend Botany of Desire (either the book or the documentary) by Michael Pollen. The tulip is discussed in Chapter 2.