Tulips and Michael Pollan, A Compatible Duo

26 April 2012


1. Shirley Triumph Tulip from my Garden, April 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

2. Shirley Triumph Tulip from my Garden, April 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

3. Tulip Mixed Cultivar, Bud, Longwood Gardens, April 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

4. Tulip Mixed Cultivar, Top View, Longwood Gardens, April 2012; Tulip Mixed Cultivar, Bud, Longwood Gardens, April 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

5. Tulip Mixed Cultivar, Side View, Longwood Gardens, April 2012; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2012

Let me know which of my five photographs is your favorite.


For years I shunned the tulip. Its inner and outer beauty never seemed to catch my attention. Sure this Spring flower is in abundance from early to late in the season, but its popularity did not lure me. In fact, the Single Early Tulip monotonously appeared in abundance every March and April. Then one sunny Spring day the sighting of a Queen of the Night (a Darwin hybrid) demonstrated this flower’s appeal. It also spiked my fascination with the tulip’s cultivation for over five hundred years. Now we can plant everything from Single Early to Single Late to Lily-Flowered to Fringed to Parrot to Wild. It’s a plethora of cultivars.

For most of my gardening days (too many moons to reveal) native plants have been my choice. If I had to tally the list of species that I tend, eighty-five per cent are native. I have not won the battle to excavate the invasive English ivy from my property. And a few others are simple kept for their girth. Someday they will be dust in the wind.

My pledge to plant only natives is not sacrosanct. I do have a select grouping of Queen of the Night and Shirley Triumph tulips. Geraniums bring the hummingbirds. And so it goes with a handful of others that fit into the scheme of my aesthetics and improvisational designs.

A few years ago I began reading articles and books by Michael Pollan. By the turn of the millennium Pollan, who teaches journalism at University of California at Berkeley and directs the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism, was becoming a mainstream habit. His ability to bring nature into the popular culture is no small feat. Today his name is synonymous with healthy eating, sustainability and the greater good for the planet. Often I think about inviting him to dine at my  home, just to meet such a successful advocate of nutritional well-being and Mother Nature would be bountiful. So Pollan and a tulip as a duo is easily envisioned. But why a tulip?

His national bestseller, The Botany of Desire (2001), crosses disciplines that merge humans and plant life in a duet of survival. He spins stories that weave the confluence of  science, horticulture, popular culture, economics, social history, and politics. The tulip is one of four subjects that dive into “a plant’s eye view of the world,” which is the book’s subtitle. Pollan turns this flower’s history into a tale (almost) akin to human migration across land and water to today’s place in American art and popular culture.

Pollan uses his four subjects in a suspenseful story of cloak-and-dagger. It’s much to do about the way that humans use nature, and nature manipulates us in a sweet and serious dance. We’re dependent and interdependent upon each other.

The tulip demonstrates how beauty can seduce humans. Here is a slice of Pollan’s commentary about “tulipomania” that began in the seventeenth-century Holland:

“The modern tulip has become such a cheap and ubiquitous commodity that it’s hard for us to recover a sense of the glamour that once surrounded the flower…There was, too, the preciousness of the early tulips, the supply of which could be increased only very slowly through offsets, a quirk of biology that kept supply well behind demand. In France in 1608, a miller exchanged his mill for a bulb of Mère Brune. Around the same time a bridegroom accepted a single tulip as the whole of his dowry…Yet tulipomania in France and England never reached the pitch it would in Holland. How can the mad embrace of these particular people and this particular flower be explained?”

Generations of tulips have spread their beauty, charm and grace across our vast landscape. Spring gardens are made more enticing with their presence in a single grouping or naturalized meadows. Or you can spy one tilting toward the light in a glass vase. Regardless their beauty engages and sustains a euphoria that is barely explainable.

Note: As always I welcome any comment about this post or my blog. For views of my Queen of the Night Tulips, see the post from 09 April 2012 titled “WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge: Journey.” Click here. For additional information about Michael Pollan click here.

This entry was posted in Gardens and Gardening, Human Nature, Photography, Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Tulips and Michael Pollan, A Compatible Duo

  1. Gracie says:

    beautiful tulip photos, Sally.

  2. niki says:

    Lovely…I love tulips.The third one is my favorite!

  3. I’ll put in my vote for picture number 2.

    When it comes to fads and follies, the human species is number 1.

  4. Love the tulip photos – we keep adding more and more to the garden each year as we seem to be liking them more and more. Botany of Desire is a brilliant book – original ideas and beautifully written. You reminding me about it has made we want to seek it out and read it again. Thanks.

    • Yes, tulips seem to grab, take hold and never let go. I’m delighted that I reminded you about Pollan’s book. Did you read his Food Rules? It’s a tiny but significant contribution to eating well. Thanks, Sally

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