Flower of the week: avant garde tulip

When you think of the term avant garde, alternative flowers may not jump to the front of the list.

When you think of the term avant garde, alternative flowers may not jump to the front of the list. You may, more naturally, conjure the works of Matisse, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, yes?

Well, at Freddie’s Flowers, we know one thing for sure; flowers can be ahead of their time, too!

If you’re going to apply avant garde to a flower, a tulip may not be the stem that springs to mind. Why is that? Is it because we know a tulip when we see one? They’re as popular in Holland as pancakes and bicycles and they’re not exactly short of fans in this country, too.

Quintessentially Dutch. Image credit

Well, I’m here to shake your preconceptions. I’m going to make a claim for flower of the week on the humble tulip’s behalf. Say hello to the avant-garde tulip and the lengthy history its contemporaries hold.


Alternative flowers in the form of a tulip

I hope you’ll soon agree that the tulip is pretty pioneering in its own flowerful right. But we’ve got a variety so exciting it truly deserves the name and title flower of the week!

These tulips have petals that span out completely, revealing the stamen within. They look more similar to a fully bloomed peony than a regular tulip. They toy with conventions and I reckon they’re probably the most stunning alternative flower I’ve ever come across.

our avant garde tulips are alternative flowers
Our beautiful avant garde peonies, I mean, tulips!

Tulips seem to make a little habit of criss crossing conventions. Have you noticed how tulips will bend towards the light? A little waywardly, at times. I can’t be the only one to have come back to a bunch and realised that the sprightly stems have racked up an inch or so in height, too! That’s pretty alternative for a cut flower. 

Freddie's Flowers bending tulips
Look at them bend!

Now here comes the history bit ….


Over from Ottomans and into Dutch delirium

Did you know that tulip means ‘turban’ in Latin? Intriguing, no? Let’s find out more…

Tulips were sourced from the Pamir and Tien Shan mountain ranges in central Asia. But it was botanists within the Ottoman Empire who thought these alternative flowers wouldn’t look half bad in a garden.

Some stunning wild tulips in the Tien Shan mountains! Image credit

Tulip history starts hotting up when you take the tulip out of the Ottoman empire and into Holland in the late 16th Century.

Carolus Clusius, a French botany pioneer, published a book about his new floral interest, the tulip. What happened next was quite unexpected. People started raiding Clusius’ private garden in Leiden, Holland.

Carolus Clusius, the European tulip enthusiast. Image credit

People went bonkers for these alternative flowers.

Forget diamonds and pearls, tulip mania had begun and boy-oh-boy did it get out of control. Hair pulling, shin kicking, elbow jabbing – it was like the first day of the sales! Only kidding. But the value of tulip bulbs began to rocket so extremely that a handful of bulbs could equate to the value of a prime location Dutch townhouse and could feed a family for half their lifetime.

Fancy living in one of these? That’ll be a couple tulips bulbs, please. Image credit

Cobblers, carpenters, blacksmiths abandoned their jobs to get in on the floral gold rush.


Beauty and the break

It became Clusius’ life mission to decipher the tulip’s ‘break’.

The break is when a tulip, which has flowered multiple times in the same colour, suddenly blooms with petals that have flame-like licks of colour. Beautiful but baffling.

Varying degrees of breaking. Image credit

In the 19th Century it transpired that such changes in colour and feathering petals were the result of a virus, meaning that a breaking tulip was actually diseased. Beautiful, poorly petals.


Clusius and the rest of the Dutch cultivars admired such tulips in blissful ignorance of the diseased reality.

The most prized variety, the Semper Augustus tulip. Image credit

So much so that the Semper Augustus, with its stunningly beautiful white and red stripes, like a candy cane, became the most prized tulip bulb out there.


Bye bye beautiful bountiful bulbs

And then, in February 1637, came the break of all breaks. Tulipmania disappeared overnight. The vast expense of even the cheapest bulbs became so extreme that demand plummeted. All that remained were debts and disarray.

This moment in history is considered to be the first example of economic collapse. That makes a tulip quite the avant garde flower, if you ask me. Cheery times, eh?


Hello heavenly bunch

With such gorgeous avant garde tulips on the way, we thought we’d bring you some really rather beautiful accompaniments.

Aster, part of the daisy family, reflect the tulip with their white petals and yellow centres. The roses have silky bountiful petals that’ll put all other roses to shame. And why not add some long-lasting, lovely white alstroemeria to bring the bunch together in perfect harmony?

Need a little help arranging? I’ll happily show you how to work these alternative flowers. I hope you love this arrangement as much as I do!

Don’t go waiting around for tulips to become the price of a small house! Give us a go for £24 a pop!

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