The bright and beautiful tulip is a stalwart of spring, returning year on year to herald in the warmer weather. The species’ simple beauty and widespread variety have made it a common feature of gardens around the world, and each year attractions celebrate the tulip with festivals, many featuring planting on a huge scale, sometimes in the tens of thousands.
The South East of England plays host to many tulip festivals, with flowers of all colours on display over just a few fleeting weeks of splendour. As breeding and development programmes have improved, so have the extravagance of these events.
What is ‘Tulipmania’?
We may have a love of tulips today, but was once so revered that it contributed to the burst of an economy. Tulips, which are native to mountainous regions of the Middle East, first began to be traded in Europe in the middle of the 16th Century. The plant was a hit, and by the 17th Century had become so popular in The Netherlands that tulips became one of country’s most valuable commodities.
‘Broken’ tulips, which are flowers affected by a virus and develop a flame-like pattern on the petals, became so valuable that legend has it, people traded entire estates on the basis of a single bulb. In the winter of 1636-1637, the world experienced its first recorded ‘speculative bubble’, as tulip sales reached such a fever pitch that huge fortunes were changing hands in an instant.
Tulipmania lasted just a few short months, as the value plummeted to reality, destroying huge fortunes within hours. While the flower may have wrought havoc on the Dutch, it has managed to hold on to popularity regardless, with the Netherlands exporting more than 2 billion bulbs each year, more than anywhere else in the world.
Your fortunes may not be made and lost on the basis of a bulb, but ‘Tulipmania’ prevails here in the South East, with gardens across Kent and Sussex celebrating with festivals of their own.
Where to experience Tulipmania in Kent and Sussex:
Pashley Manor gardens, Ticehurst, 24th April – 8th May
Straddling the border of Kent and East Sussex, Pashley Manor has the most famous tulip festival of all, and this year boasts 40,420 new top grade bulbs, in 112 varieties, making 2018 their biggest tulip festival yet.Ã¯Â¿Â½
Visitors can wander from elegant displays of white lily flowered and palest cream classic tulips, to the open space of sweeping herbaceous borders covered in a riot of reds and oranges. This festival is a feast for the senses, and an annual fixture not to be missed.
Hever Castle, Edenbridge, 18th – 27th April
Our quick summary of tulipmania is just a drop in the ocean compared to the deep historical story of the tulip. This spring, Hever Castle near Edenbridge, Kent, is hosting its second Tulip festival, and visitors to the castle can learn the more about the story of the tulip with displays and information in the historic property about the Elizabethan horticultural boom. Visitors can discover artefacts and paintings in the castle relating to the gardening craze, and bring it all to life with tours of the garden, either self-guided or with Hever’s Head Gardener Neil Miller, and see more than 20,000 of the bulbs in all their myriad colours.
Great Comp’s ‘Spring Fling’, Sevenoaks, 15th April
Great Comp near Sevenoaks, Kent, has a reputation for being one of the UK’s finest spring gardens, with spectacular displays of a huge variety of spring plants; not just tulips. Among Great Comp’s most famous sights are the 52 species of magnolia, which bloom alongside the tulips for just a few short weeks in the spring.
The garden is open daily throughout spring and summer, and on 15 April not only can you see the garden’s beautiful tulips, but make the most of the season with the ‘Spring Fling’, a plant fair hosting some of the finest independent nurseries the region has to offer.