Category Archives: Tulips

At the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society Show

Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society Show (1920-30). All photographs courtesy Wakefield Museums and Castles

Duke of Sutherland, Cottage Maid, Montressor, Talisman, Gleam – these evocative names all belong to tulips displayed at the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society show in the 1920s.  Recorded in this collection of lantern slides, now preserved by the Wakefield Museum and Castles archive, the photographs capture the special atmosphere of the tulip show, held annually in May.  Light streams in through the windows of the show hall illuminating the rows of tulip blooms, carefully arranged in conical vases or beer bottles, as they await the scrutiny of the judges.

Topped with a flat disc to support the single flowers, a close up photograph shows two purpose-made ceramic vases used to display the tulips.   (Some examples of these vessels are held in the Wakefield Museums and Castles collection).  A poster advertises the 93rd show to be held over four days at the Brunswick Hotel and a certificate announces the secretary of the society, Mr Irving Hewitt as the winner of the 1923 competition with a feathered tulip variety, Talisman.

As well as the day of the show, the photographs record members tending their impressive tulip beds.  Mr Needham, president of the society appears justly proud of the array of blooms in his seedling bed where the soil has been raised up a few inches, presumably to give his plants good drainage.  As well as growing named varieties of tulip, members would also grow new plants from seed, partly to save money as bulbs were expensive, but also in the hope of raising a new and spectacular flower.

Founded in 1836 the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society is the only tulip society still in existence in the UK, cultivating English Florists’ Tulips for competition.  Today a florist is generally understood to be a seller of cut flowers, but in earlier centuries the term was applied to collectors of certain flowering plants, such as the auricula, polyanthus, carnation, pink, ranunculus, hyacinth, and tulip who grew them for exhibition.

According to the WNETS website, the English Florists’ Tulip ‘must conform to strict standards, particularly in having a shape like half a hollow ball, and having a base colour cleanly white or yellow, on top of which the darker colour is overlaid’.  Some of these tulips can be traced back to the early 19th century (or even earlier in the case of Habit de Noce from the 1790s) and include ‘feathered’ and ‘flamed’ varieties where the base colour of the flower is ‘broken’ by a pattern of stripes. This ‘broken’ effect is usually caused by a virus, transmitted by greenfly, which weakens and eventually kills the plant.

While prized as a florists’ flower in the 17th century Anna Pavord, author of The Tulip (1999), a history of the plant, explains how in 18th century England the tulip declined in popularity as gardening tastes changed and because of political tensions with France.

‘The tulip in England was generally considered a French rather than a Dutch flower.  As a result, it suffered in the rejection of all things French that followed the outbreak of the Seven Years War in the middle of the eighteenth century.’ 

Pavord records that interest in tulips was revived by a new kind of florist in the early 19th century, drawn from both the emerging middle class, and working men.  Across the north of England, she notes florists based in Castleton, Leeds and Manchester who started to develop new tulip varieties grown from seed, and a railwayman Tom Storer who ‘lacking any garden, grew his tulips along Derbyshire’s railway embankments.’  Pavord says that amongst the trades practised by the Wakefield Tulip Society members, shoemakers were prevalent.

Wakefield Tulip Society Show, the single bloom section

C W Needham, president of the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society, standing in his seedling bed.

Tulip bed

The Mayor of Wakefield presenting a trophy at the Wakefield Tulip Society Show

A certificate awarded to the premier bloom at the Wakefield Tulip Society, 1923. The winning variety is Talisman, a feathered variety.

A programme for the Wakefield Tulip Society Show of 1929.

Vases used for displaying tulips at the Wakefield Tulip Society Show.

A display of tulips for the Wakefield Tulip Society Show. The varieties are Duke of Sutherland, Gleam and George Hayward.

Tulip varieties

Tulip varieties

Girl in a tulip field

Mrs H and Winnie

The new breed of florist and the florists’ societies described by Pavord enjoyed widespread popularity in the early 19th century, encouraged by various books and periodical magazines published around this time.  Containing cultivation tips, and illustrated with coloured engravings, they also carried details of plant and bulb suppliers.  The Florist’s Directory by James Maddock published in 1792 includes ‘a fine variegated tulip’ showing the newly fashionable cup-shaped tulip flower.

A similar shaped bloom appears in the chapter describing the tulip in A Concise and Practical Treatise on the Growth and Culture of the Carnation, Pink, Auricula, Polyanthus, Ranunculus, Tulip, Hyacinth, Rose and other Flowers (1822) alongside examples of single tulip petals, showing feather and flame patterns.  At the end of his Treatise the author Thomas Hogg, who was based in Paddington, London includes a model set of regulations for florists’ societies recommending that newly formed groups should adopt them.  Rules that legislate against cheating and disputing judges’ decisions give us an indication of the intensely competitive atmosphere at these flower shows.

A fine, variegated tulip from The Florist’s Directory, James Maddock (1792)

Tulips from A Concise and Practical Treatise on the Growth and Culture of the Carnation, Pink, Auricula, Polyanthus, Ranunculus, Tulip, Hyacinth, Rose and other Flowers 1822 Thomas Hogg (Wellcome Library)

Some rules and regulations from the Chelsea and Islington Societies of Florists from A Concise and Practical Treatise on the Growth and Culture of the Carnation, etc (1822). The author, Thomas Hogg, recommends these rules be used as a model by those forming new societies.

Tulip from The Florist Cultivator, Thomas Willats (1836)

Hayward’s Magnificent tulip from the periodical magazine The Florist (1848)

Florists’ societies have a special place in the cultural history of horticulture in England and today WNETS continues to keep these traditions alive, as well as preserving unusual and unique tulip varieties in cultivation for future generations to enjoy.

This year, despite all the difficulties and restrictions resulting from Covid-19, the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society’s 186th Annual Show will take place on Sunday 23rd May at Wrenthorpe Village Hall.  Although not open to the public, the results of the show will be published after the judging has taken place on the society’s Facebook page.  Their website is full of information about the history of the society – and photographs of their English Florists’ Tulips showing their spectacular colours.

Links to WNETS and various other sources / inspiration below.  Thanks to Wakefield Museum and Castles for their generosity in providing the images from the 1920s.

Close up of tulip head. This variety is recorded as ‘Gleam’.

Tulip head close up. ‘Mrs Rose Colyer’, a feathered variety.

Slide showing petals and head of a tulip. The tulip head is ‘Annie Mac’ a breeder tulip – the petals show detail of feathered and flamed patterns.

Tulips in a terracotta pot.

Further Reading:

WNETS website here

Images of the colourful English Florists’ Tulips grown by WNETS here

Wakefield Museums and Castles photographic archive here

The Tulip by Anna Pavord (1999) Bloomsbury

A Concise and Practical Treatise on the Growth and Culture of the Carnation, Pink, Auricula, Polyanthus, Ranunculus, Tulip, Hyacinth, Rose and other Flowers (1822) by Thomas Hogg here

Robert Sayer’s Drawing Books

From The Artist’s Vade Mecum being the Whole Art of Drawing

Taken from a mid-eighteenth century drawing manual, these choice flowers arranged in baskets include roses, tulips, carnations, anemones, clematis and morning glory.  But plants are just a small part of The Artist’s Vade Mecum being the Whole Art of Drawing published by Robert Sayer in 1762.  Aimed at the amateur artist, Sayer explains techniques for drawing everything from the human figure, antiquities and landscapes to natural forms including birds, animals, and shells.

Sayer’s introduction reminds us that our appetite to record and preserve images of the world is not a new one.  Before photography, which we take for granted today (and more accessible than ever before via our mobile phones), the most convenient way to make images of people and places was to draw them, and this was a highly desirable skill to possess:

‘Drawing of Landscapes, Buildings, &c for a Gentleman, is the most entertaining and useful in the whole Art: To be able on the Spot (as is before observed) to take the Sketch of a fine Building, or beautiful Prospect of any curious Production of Art, or uncommon Appearance in Nature, or whatever else may present itself to view on our Journies or Travels, in our own or foreign Countries, maybe thus brought home and preserved for our future Use, either in Business or Conversation: and is the best Method of bringing to Mind again those Beauties that have once charmed us.’

For the beginner Sayer advises drawing items from the natural world first, arguing these are easier to draw than the human figure (which makes up the majority of his manual):

‘The drawing (of) Flowers, Fruits, Birds, Beast, and the like, might be the Subject of some of your first Attempts, not only as it is a more pleasing Employment, but as it is an easier Task than the Drawing of Faces, Hands, Feet and other Parts of the human Body, which require not only more Care, but greater Exactness and more Judgement.’

Vignettes shown as examples of composition for students to follow reveal some gardens, rural scenes and people using the outdoors as recreational space.  There are a variety of ruins framed by trees, a fountain and a group seated on furniture which looks as though it would normally belong in a dining room.

Robert Sayer (1725 – 1794) was a successful seller of prints, maps and charts, based in Fleet Street, London.  He collaborated with artists (including Zoffany), arranging for engravings to be made of their paintings and publishing prints of these.

Sayer’s Wikipedia biography makes no mention of the educational books he published, for both adults and children.  However, we can see from his 1775 stock catalogue this was a significant element of his business.  It lists ‘Two Hundred and Twenty-four‘ books about drawing and painting (more than twenty of these concern plants), alongside dozens of titles about writing – from alphabets and handwriting to instructions on drafting invoices and other correspondence.  There are also publications about architecture and furniture.

Another of Sayer’s books, The Florist: containing sixty plates of the most beautiful flowers regularly disposed in their succession of blowing (1760) was re-discovered in the library of the Missouri Botanical Garden in 2017.  They believe it’s an early example of a colouring book – see a link to an article about this below.

Illustrations in The Florist reveal the continuing popularity of double flowers, such as hollyhocks, anemones and even almond blossom, and for the striped or flamed tulips prized in the seventeenth century.  There are more unexpected plants too, like mezereon (Daphne mezereum) a scarce UK native shrub, hellebores and persicaria.  The book is arranged following months of the year so that the artisit, or gardener, can enjoy a succession of blooms.  The invaluable cultural insights into mid eighteenth century English taste contained in these books make them fascinating reading – links to digitised versions below.

from The Florist: containing sixty plates of the most beautiful flowers

Further reading:

The Whole Art of Drawing (1762)

The Florist (1760)

Robert Sayer

Missouri Botanic Garden – library discovery

Sayer and Bennett’s Enlarged Catalogue 1775

Parkinson’s Tulips

Autumn is the time to plant tulips, so it seems strangely apt that John Parkinson (1567 – 1650) should describe a yellow tulip grown in the early 17th century as having the colour of a dead leaf;

     A sullen or smoakie yellow, like a dead leaf that is fallen, and therefore called, Fuille mort

He describes other yellow tulips just as evocatively,

     A faire gold yellow

     A Strawe colour       

     A Brimstone colour pale yellowish greene 

     A pale cloth of gold colour

     A Custard colour a pale yellow shadowed over with a browne ..

Written in English, Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (1629) (or, Park-in-Sun’s Terrestrial Paradise) by apothecary and botanist John Parkinson describes how English gardens were cultivated in the early 17th century. Divided into three sections Parkinson discusses the flower garden, kitchen garden and fruit garden with instructions how to ‘order’ or set these out, as well as giving advice about improving the soil, garden tools and the cultivation of plants.  Most of the illustrations were original woodcuts by the German artist Christopher Switzer. Parkinson was apothecary to James I and royal botanist to Charles I.  His garden was in Long Acre, London, close to Trafalgar Square.

In the book Parkinson lists well over one hundred varieties of tulip then available, including the striped, feathered and flamed tulips that were so popular in 17th century.  Amongst them Parkinson lists white tulips with purple edges, a white speckled with a reddish purple which ‘holds its marks constant’, a ‘Crimson Fooles Coate, a dark crimson, and pale white empaled together’, a tulip of a ‘deepe Orenge colour’, ‘a red with small yellow edges’, and a Fooles Cappe, that is, with lists or stripes of yellow running through the middle of every leafe of the red..’

1. The early white and red Tulipa, &c. being of one colour 2. The early purple Tulipa with white edges or the Prince. 3. The early stript Tulipa 4. The early red Tulipa with yellow edges, or the Duke.

Parkinson could not have understood the process by which a viral infection causes the pigment in tulip petals to ‘break’, and produce the striped effect.  But he makes a remarkable observation connecting the spectacular patterns shown by these tulips with disease.  Parkinson notices a ‘weaknesse‘ or loss of vigour in some plants whose flowers start off as a solid colour, but over several seasons develop the characteristic white streaks, believing this to be caused by a ‘decay of the roote’.

He also links this beauty with transience, identifying the point when the diseased tulip will die, as the moment when the bloom is most beautiful:

       .. this extraordinary beauty in the flower, is but as the brightnesse of a light, upon the very extinguishing thereof, and doth plainly declare, that it can do its master no more service, and therefore with this jollity doth bid him good night.

1. The red Bolonia Tulipa 2. The yellow Bolonia Tulipa 3. The red or yellow dwarfe Tulipa 4. The leafe of the Tulipa of Caffa striped throughout the whole leaf 5. the leafe of the Tulipa of Caffa striped at the edges only 6. the Persian Tulipa 7. the Tulipa of Candie 8. The Tulipa of Armenia

1. The Fooles Coate red and yellow 2. The white Holeas without a bottome 3. The cloth of silver, or other spotted Tulipa 4. The white Fooles Coate 5. a white Holeas, &c. with a purple bottome 6. a red and yellow flamed Tulipa 7. a white striped and spotted Tulipa 8. another variable Tulipa

1. A Tulipa of three colours 2. the Tulipa of Caffa purple, with white stripes 3. A pure Claret wine colour variable 4. Mr Wilmers Gilloflower Tulipa 5. A Crimson with white flames 6. A kind of Zwitser called Goliath 7. A Tulipa called Zwitser 8. Another white Flambant or Fooles Coate 9. The Vermillion flamed 10. The feathered Tulipa red and yellow

The section describing mid-season yellow flowering tulips also contains some intriguing green tulips, one of which is called the Parret.

     Unto these may be added the greene Tulipa, which is also of divers sorts.  One having a great flower of a deep greene colour, seldom opening it self, but abiding alwaies as it were halfe shut up and closed .. Another of a yellowish or palish greene, paned with yellow, and is called, The Parret &c. with white edges. A third of a more yellowish greene, with red or purplish edges ..

Interestingly Parkinson’s parrot tulip does not seem to have the ruffled petals we associate with these flowers today, but it is parti-coloured, meaning that it consists of two or more different colours. This term is still commonly used to describe the plumage of parrots.

The first green tulip mentioned in Parkinson’s list sounds rather like a modern variety Tulipa ‘Evergreen’ which stays green throughout the flowering period.  Others sound like the Viridiflora tulips with the characteristic green bands on the petals.  Many of the modern parrot tulips still show some green colouration in their petals.

The parrots shown below (some of them green) are illustrated by John Jonston (1603 – 1675) and come from a natural history of birds published in 1657.  Psittacus minor looks very much like the ring-necked parakeet, originally from India and now resident in some parts of the UK.

Various parrot and parakeet species from Historiae Naturalis de Avibus 1657

Various parrot species from Historiae Naturalis de Avibus 1657

Leaf (Populus spp), straw, feather from ring-necked parakeet

Link to Parkinson’s text at the Biodiversity Heritage Library:

Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris (John Parkinson)

Link to Historiae naturalis de Avibus libri 6. cum aeneis figuris Johannes Jonstonus, medicinae doctor, concinnavit 1657 (published in Amsterdam)

http://Historiae Naturalis de Avibus

Ring-necked parakeet

RSPB