#92 Tulips




Photo by EKS


A member of the lily family, Liliaceae, the genus Tulipa has been cultivated for over 3000 years (Hogan 1436). With their brightly colored, single, cup-shaped blossom atop a sturdy but graceful stem rising out of a pair or two of grayish, blue-green leaves, tulips are among the most easily recognizable of flowers. As Michael Pollan puts it, “massed in the spring landscape like so many blobs of pigment on a stick,” they look like a child’s drawing of a flower (61).[1] Usually composed of six simple petals, three on the inside and three sometimes slightly narrower ones encircling them on the outside (Fisher 15), they come in a wild variety of colors as, according to Celia Fisher’s recent history of the Tulip, they “love to naturalize, hybridize, and even change their chromosome count” (11). Originating in the Tien Shan Mountains which stretch along borders of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and in the Caucus Mountains between the Black and Caspian Seas (Fisher 19, 27), species tulips are usually red or yellow in color with a “basal blotch” of a contrasting shade of yellow or back (Pollan 80; Fisher 17) and a simple interior reproductive display of six anthers and a single plump pistil.


Photo by EKS

The tulip is also known as a flower that “breaks” when viruses or other accidents cause the anthocyanin pigments producing red, blue and purple colors suddenly to retreat in fanciful patterns revealing the underlying white or yellow color of the flower (Pollan 89) -- a tulip is called “feathered” when the color remains on the outside edges or “flamed” when the color licks up the center of the petal (Sitwell 79).


Image is from Sitwell (facing p. 74)

Although there is a bronze age, black pottery jar with silhouettes of white tulips pictured in Sir Arthur Evans’ Palace of Minos (Hollingsworth 115, 117), tulips don’t appear in Western gardens or art until they were imported from the Ottoman Empire in the mid-sixteenth-century.  In his book on Old Fashioned Flowers (1939), Sacheverell Sitwell notes that Hakluyt (one of Woolf’s favorite Elizabethan writers) records their arrival in England from Turkey in 1554 in his treatise Remembrance of Things to Be Endeavoured at Constantinople, published in 1581  (Sitwell 73; Fisher 80). As many tulip historians note, the name “tulip” is derived from the Turkish word for turban, referring to the similarities between the shape of the flowers and the headwraps which were frequently red (Ward 354; Heilmeyer 82). Sitwell has the most visually poetic description: “So many green silk dresses worn by descendants of the Prophets are the stem or stalk of the flower, while it can be seen without any further emphasis, that the head of the Tulip is the turban” (75).


By the early 1600s, tulips were appearing in Germany and elsewhere as European growers became enthusiastic about propagating the flower with “exquisitely marked petals” (Fisher 87). Three basic categories were established according to the colors of their breaks: bybloemen designated purple breaks on white (Fisher 87); rosen featured red breaks on white (Fisher 88); and bizarden were the most vivid with reddish breaks on yellow (90). While Turkish breeders delighted in elongated flowers with out-curving pointed petals often compared to spears or daggers – Pollan describes the ideal Ottoman tulips as having “absurdly long petals drawn to a point fine as a needle” (80)—European fanciers preferred a more rounded, overall shape of the flower, with cupped, inward-curving, rounded petals (Sitwell 75; Pollan 81; Fisher 115).


The early mid-seventeenth-century saw the apex and the nadir of the Dutch tulip industry, as from 1634-7, a vast speculative financial market boomed and then crashed, beginning in 1635 when, as Pollan puts it, “trade in actual bulbs gave way to the trade in promissory notes” (101). Because of the high prices demanded for rare and exotic breaks -- everyone cites Semper Augustus, a rosen with vivid red feathering, as the most expensive bulb ever sold (Fisher 92; Sitwell 77) -- tulips became signifiers of wealth (Fisher 105).




Decorative beds of tulips were associated with royalty (the only ones who had money enough to display them in quantity); Louis XIV, for example, planted them at Versailles (Fisher 142). And tulips became a frequent subject of Dutch still-lives, so that those who could not pay for the actual bulbs were able at least to purchase an image of them.[2] Eventually, as the crash in tulip futures became a morality tale (Pollan 93), tulips became “the main symbol of vanitas” in these paintings (Heilmeyer 82).


Although Dutch tulip breeding set off another era of tulip frenzy in Turkey from 1703-39 (Pollan 83), by the eighteenth century in Europe tulips had largely lost their floral prominence, according to Fisher, due to  “their pre-eminence in horticultural collections . . . being rivaled by so many new exotics which had arrived as European trade and colonization grew to reach across all points of the globe” (148). The tulip gradually became a more middle-class, even municipal flower.  Sitwell dates the height of British tulip appreciation to the mid-nineteenth-century, 1832-70 (81), when there was a fashion for middle-class floral societies “devoted to breeding and showing tulips,” although according to Fisher, the popularity of football clubs in the 1870’s resulted in a “marked decline” in these floral competitions (158, 167).[3]


As many tulip historians note, the tulip’s rather late introduction – Pollan calls it “the youngest of our canonical flowers” (80)—means that it failed to accumulate the usual mythological and religious associations (Heilmeyer 82). Although there was some attempt to associate the “lilies of the field” in Matthew 6 with tulips (Folkard 288), it lacked “the traditional symbolism that had accrued to roses, irises, and lilies” (Fisher 106). Hollingsworth remarks that after the tulip was introduced into England, the flower remained “foreign in the sense that it had no place outside of gardens.  It was too new and strange to have any significance in folklore” (122), a lack exacerbated by the fact, noted by Pollan, that “the tulip is one of the most extravagantly useless” of flowers, not being a source of perfume, food, medicine, or other home remedies (87). Even poets seem largely to have ignored it; Heilmeyer suggests that because it was “often regarded as arrogant and vain, still and cool.  .  . poets never took the flower to their hearts” (82). Herrick’s 1648 Hesperides contains, among many other carpe dieum invocations, a lament for the passing of young women’s virginity, “To a Bed of Tulips”(qtd by Ward 355). And it also appears in the Spring section of James Thompson’s 1728 The Seasons (Ward 256).  But its status as a cultivated rather than wild flower seems to have eliminated it as a source of inspiration for the British Romantic poets.[4]


            Bereft of these usual connotative associations, the significance of tulips developed to some degree out of the manner and fashion of their planting.  Especially in England, tulips became associated with a kind of military uniformity.  As early as 1651, in his poem “Upon Appelton House, Marvell commends the gardens “laid. . . out in sport/ In the just Figure of a Fort” (st. 36), describes the way tulips are arranged by color as if “Regiment in order” (st. 39), and compares their red and yellow stripes to the uniforms worn by the Swiss Guards (st. 42). Sixty years later, in 1710, Addison and Steele wrote an entry for the Tatler which mocked the military and royal names given to tulips, as if they were so many kings and generals (see Fisher 135-6).  Sitwell’s account of the heyday of the English tulips emphasizes this rage for order: “In the days of its splendor extraordinary attention was paid, as though to the military precision of the Tulip.  An account of a flower show is like the description of a full dress parade” (81). Noting how the fashion for striped or variegated tulips began to wane in the Victorian era, especially among naturalistic gardeners but also among breeders for municipal displays, Sitwell states,  “The marshaling of flowers into stiff rows and phalanxes, the martial dispositions of the flower marquee were their criterion of excellence.  Their flowers were bred, it is true, for the parade ground” (87).


            This tendency to prefer more uniform tulips for large displays was given added impetus when, in 1928, the advent of the electron microscope allowed scientist Dorothy Cayley to publish a paper definitively identifying the source of “breaking” in tulips with a virus, later discovered to be spread by the peach potato aphid Myzus persicae (Pollan 89; Fisher 109).  Once growers realized that prize, “broken” tulips had been, in Pollan’s words, “selected for a trait that would sicken and eventually kill them” (90), they began systematically to remove all infected bulbs from their fields; no matter how beautiful the results of disease, as Fisher notes, a “virus is anathema to commercial growers; a diseased tulip in the bulb fields is always eliminated, and it is illegal knowingly to advertise and sell diseased stock” (170).  And so we arrive at the modern tradition of monochromatic simplicity, only the so-called Rembrandt tulips of today preserving a shadow of their previous exuberant variety (Pollan 90).[5]



With thirty-six appearances, tulips are the ninth most frequently referenced flower in Virginia Woolf.  Initially they are social commodities: bought as gifts to mark special events or to put on display. Just pages into her first diary, begun in 1897 as she was turning 15, she mentions buying “three shillings worth of tulips” at a fruiterer’s in Kensington High Street in early January (PA 9, n. 28).[6] Two months later, on March 19, 1897, more tulips are bought; she records walking down to Aldous, a local florist shop in South Kensington, “to buy some Italian tulips” (PA 56).[7] A few weeks later she reveals that she and Vanessa were given bouquets of red tulips for her half-sister Stella’s wedding (PA 68). As is suggested by these childhood references, many of Woolf’s tulips are red, often paired with other flowers that are yellow.


Tulips do not surface again in Woolf’s writing until they begin to show up in her professional work twenty years later.  First are a couple of rather slighting references to literary tulips in eighteenth-century prose.  In her review of Spingarn’s Creative Criticism in the TLS of June 1917, she praises the American professor’s “summary of the history of literary criticism,” referring to Dr. Johnson’s advice in Rasselas, Chapter 10, that the poet should be a generalist and not number “the streaks of the tulip” as an example of arbitrary critical injunctions (E2 122, 123). And in her 1919 essay on Addison (later revised for inclusion in The Common Reader), she includes the fact that “Men gave a thousand pounds for a handful of tulip roots” among a list of practices that made Addison’s era an “age rich in follies” (E4 112). The eighteenth-century is interestingly redolent in another 1919 reference to tulips, in the novel Night and Day, where the “faint yellow and crimson of a jarful of tulips which stood among the letters and pipes and cigarettes upon the mantelpiece” is reflected in the “spotted depths” of an “oval Venetian mirror” in William Rodney’s rooms located in “a small court of high eighteenth-century houses” near Grey’s Inn whose red-brick fronts “would not have surprised Dr. Johnson, if he had come out of his grave for a turn in the moonlight” (72).  Here tulips, once more red and yellow, are accessories in a life of comfortable privilege. 


In the late teens and early 1920s as Woolf established herself as a city dweller, there is, however, a new focus on municipal tulips, their rigid structures and formal placement in geometrical beds sometimes serving as an emblem of social control.  The first hint of tulips in their urban environment may be their appearance in “Kew Gardens,” also published in 1919.  While I agree completely with Panthea Reid Broughton and other scholars who believe that “Kew Gardens” and other contemporaneous short stories were experiments in “explicitly testing out the art theories of Roger Fry” (37), and that the flowers in the oval-shaped flower bed at the beginning of the story are elements in imaginative design rather than accurately observed specimens, I cannot help but think their description bears more resemblance to tulips than to many other flowers:


From the oval-shaped flower-bed there rose perhaps a hundred stalks spreading into heart-shaped or tongue-shaped leaves half way up and unfurling at the tip red or blue or yellow petals marked with spots of colour raised upon the surface; and from the red, blue or yellow gloom of the throat emerged a straight bar, rough with gold dust and slightly clubbed at the end. The petals were voluminous enough to be stirred by the summer breeze, and when they moved, the red, blue and yellow lights passed one over the other, staining an inch of the brown earth beneath with a spot of the most intricate colour. (CSF 90)


Tulip leaves often appear half-way up the stalk, the flowers are typically red and yellow, and the central pistil is topped by a stigma, divided into three parts like a club in a deck of cards, often bright yellow when dusted with pollen. Of course there are discrepancies: it is lilies rather than tulips that typically feature raised dots of color; tulip leaves, while definitely tongued shaped, are not heart-shaped; and tulips are almost never blue, unless you are willing to call purple blue.[8] I would hazard the blue is added as a nod to color theory, much discussed and debated among Woolf’s friends who were painters. The triad of primary colors appears no less than six times in “Kew Gardens” and a total of eleven times in the volume of short stories Monday or Tuesday.[9]


Historically, I have some precedent for this suggested identification of the flowers at Kew as tulips.  According to Raymond Desmond’s definitive history of Kew, when Nesfield designed the geometrical parterres in front of the Palm House, the beds were each assigned “one kind of plant for the sake of colour” (178).  Although those parterres were later simplified, Camille Pissarro’s 1892 Painting “The Formal Beds by the Palm House,” clearly shows beds full of tulips (see illustration in Fisher, 178).



An Edwardian photograph of oval-shaped beds in front of the Palm House taken sometime between 1899 and 1908 shows the tulips even more clearly (the comparison with present-day Kew shows how faithfully the layout of the beds has been preserved):


While it is true that both these images come from times before Woolf’s story was written, it is also true that during the years that Woolf was writing “Kew Gardens” (approximately 1917 to its publication in 1919) the actual flower beds in front of the Palm House had been dug up and planted with onions to help the war effort, so Woolf would have been relying on memories while composing her story (Desmond 178).[10]


At any rate, tulips definitely DO appear in profusion in Woolf’s next fictional production, Jacob’s Room, which boasts five, the only novel that mentions them more than once. Here they seem to alternate between being signs of order and suggestions of escape. We first see them in Scarborough, where they exemplify municipal bedding schemes: “It was observed how well the Corporation had laid out the flower-beds. Sometimes a straw hat was blown away. Tulips burnt in the sun” (15).  In London red tulips appear along with yellow daffodils, in a florist’s window observed by a bright yet shabby young woman who hesitates but is not able to buy them (119).  Wild Italian tulips come into the story when Jacob travels: “The train ran out into a steep green meadow, and Jacob saw striped tulips growing and heard a bird singing, in Italy” (142).  London is the site for the last two patches of tulips.  The first, a description of the arrival of dawn, is full of the energy earlier aligned with tulips – the wind that blows the straw hat away and the blaze of color in Scarbourgh, the brightness and desire for escape of the young woman in London:  “But colour returns; runs up the stalks of the grass; blows out into tulips and crocuses; solidly stripes the tree trunks; and fills the gauze of the air and the grasses and pools” (172).  The last patch of tulips, however, returns to the military precision of the metropolis. Still longing for Jacob, Clara walks her dog Troy in Hyde Park with her mother’s friend, Mr. Bowley: “They had reached the site of the old Exhibition. They looked at the tulips. Stiff and curled, the little rods of waxy smoothness rose from the earth, nourished yet contained, suffused with scarlet and coral pink.  Each had its shadow; each grew trimly in the diamond-shaped wedge as the gardener had planted it” (176). The context now informing the tulips is that of lapsed empires: the Crystal Palace is long gone, the little dog on a leash merely an ironic subversion of the glory epitomized in the nearby statue of the Greek hero, Achilles. The flowers themselves reflect Clara’s entrapment in unrequited desire. Suffused with red and pink rather than yellow, curled in on themselves, rigid, trapped inside their decorative perimeters, they are emblems of repression. 


            After this efflorescence in Jacob’s Room, tulips only appear occasionally in Woolf’s published work in the twenties, mostly in passing as characteristic of London and/or springtime.  In Mrs. Dalloway, Peter remembers walking through Hyde Park with Clarissa, how she took pleasure in everything: “now it was a bed of tulips, now a child in a perambulator, now some absurd little drama she made up on the spur of the moment” (76). Tulips also appear in London in Orlando, although in a context typical of the fanciful and careless anachronism of the novel. Sailing back up the Thames at the beginning of the eighteenth century as a woman, Orlando contrasts the freedom of her Elizabethan past as a man when she had “lain with loose women among treasure sacks in the holds of pirate ships on summer nights when the tulips were abloom and the bees buzzing off Wapping Old Stairs” (120).  First of all, tulips do not bloom in the summer; second, since tulips were only introduced into England in 1558, they were not likely to have been commonly grown in London during the Elizabethan era. Nevertheless, she clearly associates them with London. Tulips also appear briefly in the Oxbridge gardens of Fernham in A Room of One’s Own, when Woolf playfully inverts the seasons, imagining an October day transformed into the promise of new growth, blooming with “ lilacs hanging over garden walls, crocuses, tulips and other flowers of spring” (16), a reiteration of the spring infusion of color in Jacob’s Room. 


As Woolf begins to travel more in the later twenties and thirties, tulips increasingly appear in foreign locations, and the emphasis shifts from commercial to wild flowers. In the mid-1920s, she mentions tulips in Cassis in the South of France three times. Back in London after a visit in early April in 1925, she reminisces about a long walk into the rocky hills where “The ragged red tulips were out in the fields; all the fields were little angular shelves cut out of the hill, & ruled & ribbed with vines; & all red, & rosy & purple here & there with the spray of some fruit tree in bud” (D3 8). In April of 1927, she wrote Vita Sackville-West about a visit to the manor house of two vintners, Colonel Teel and Miss Campbell; after sitting out in the garden listening to the frogs, “the Colonel made us come in and drink several different kinds of wine in his great empty room, and we were given bunches of wild tulips, Vita, and why don’t we all live like that, Vita?—and never go back to Bloomsbury any more?” (L3 359). After her sister rented a house in 1927, trips to Cassis became more frequent. In February of 1928, preparing for an upcoming motor-car visit, Woolf declares, “no more Februarys and March’s in London for me. It is detestable beyond words this year; and one might be sitting among tulips [in Cassis] in the sun with lizards licking ones boots and Miss Campbell talking to the frogs” (L3 458).


Throughout these and following years, tulips were sighted and cited even further afield. The yellow ones growing in a Persian garden in a letter to Vita in February were imaginary: “Todays the day when I should be trotting out to buy you your loaf, and watching for your white legs. . . coming down the basement steps. Instead you’re on the heights of Persia, riding an Arab mare I daresay to some deserted garden and picking yellow tulips”  (L3 332-3).  On a trip to Greece with Roger Fry and his sister in in April of 1932, the tulips turn black, although they are paired with red anemones; Woolf wrote to Ethyl Smyth that “Its blazing white in Athens, with donkeys sagging on either side with black tulips and red anemones” (L5 51).  Flush’s independence in Italy in the 1933 canine biography is marked by a landscape full of  flowers:  “The wistarias and the laburnum were flowering over walls; the Judas trees were burning bright in the gardens; the wild tulips were sprinkled in the fields” (118). 


A visit to Holland in 1935, of course sparked several mentions of tulips.  Anticipating the holiday in April, she wrote her nephew Quentin, “I think to wander on a flat field among tulips would be very soothing after these incessant politics” (L5 383). On the way to Rome via Nazi-preoccupied Germany and Austria in their motor-car with Leonard, they passed through the Netherlands, and Woolf wrote a letter to her sister Vanessa praising “the beauty of the architecture; and the awnings, which are all colours, and the canals, and the tulips, and flowering trees, weeping their reflections into the water” (L5 389) and suggesting that Vanessa “ought to paint the tulip fields and the hyacinth fields all laid out flat with about 20 miles of water in and out,” admiring the geometrical display of tulips grouped by color (L5 390).[11] The next day she wrote to Ethel Smyth, also praising the Dutch landscape, but this time interestingly comparing it to a the ahistorical vision of an Elizabethan England planted with tulip fields she had pictured in Orlando: “figure to yourself Shakespeare’s England still lived in, with Canals and whole banks of red tulips, yellow laburnum, showering down: but very crowded, too many people, too little country, now and again a long low shore with a windmill” (L5 391). 


One of a series of short rather misanthropic sketches or “Portraits” written in 1937, “The Frenchwoman in the Train,” returns to the wild tulips near the Mediterranean in Provence, (coupled with her memory of the frogs at Cassis) but with an unpleasant disdain that seems allied to her increasing worry over the situation in Europe: “even when her mouth dribbles, when her wild pig eyes glitter one hears the croak of the frog in the wild tulip field; the hush of the Mediterranean lipping the sand; and the language of Molière” (CSF 243).


During this period, tulips also continue to be markers of spring in London.  In December of 1931, not knowing that he was seriously ill and thinking instead that he was going off on an exotic trip, Woolf wrote Lytton Strachey: “Clive tells me you are off to Malaya for months and the chances are we shan’t meet till Gordon Sqre. is full of tulips and [Arthur] Waley is playing tennis with Alix in white flannels” (L4 412). The next year, in her essay “Oxford Street Tide,” tulips are again metropolitan harbingers of spring, this time grouped with not only yellow but also purple flowers: “The first spring day brings out barrows frilled with tulips, violets, daffodils in brilliant layers” (E5 284).  Later, in her 1936 presentation to the Memoir Club, “Am I a Snob?” regret for missing the tulips is woven in with her memories of Sibyl Colefax. In another chronologically confused reference, she recalls not going to Argyll House, Sibyl’s home in Chelsea, to see the May in flower or to come “and see the tulips in flower for the last time” (MOB 216).  Tulips, of course bloom long before the hawthorn.  I think a trace of this regret for missed opportunities lingers in the white tulips which appear the next year in the list of flowers arranged for the funeral of Rose Pargiter in the 1880 section of The Years: “There were lilies with broad bars of gold in them; others with spotted throats sticky with honey; white tulips, white lilac—flowers of all kinds, some with petals as thick as velvet, others transparent, paper-thin; but all white, and clubbed together” (79).  Here the pairing of tulips with lilies and white lilac, both flowers associated by Woolf with mourning, signals a kind of etiolation of the colorful energy previous associated with tulips, an interesting reversal of the red tulips Woolf carried as a child at Stella’s wedding. 


            Woolf’s last recorded reference to tulips occurs in her posthumously published novel, Between the Acts, where they appear in a rather old-fashioned context.  Puzzling over his sister Lucy’s belief in a “prayable being,” Bart Swithin supposes that her notion of God was  “more of a force or a radiance, controlling the thrush and the worm; the tulip and the hound; and himself, too, an old man with swollen veins” (18).  This inclusion of the tulip in a kind of circle of life with birds and worms and dogs certifies its centrality and returns the flower to some of its earlier color-infused vivacity.


            CODA:  In Woolf’s 1940 biography of Roger Fry, a passing mention of one of Fry’s paintings of tulips, originally shown in an exhibition at the Alpine Club in January of 1912, reminds us that tulips were a fairly common subject of still-life paintings by many of Woolf’s friends (RF 175).  The only painting of tulips I can find by Roger Fry is dated 1920-22, but the bright yellow of the flowers reaffirms the sunny brilliance of Woolf’s early references to the flowers.



Also painted in 1912, Dora Carrington’s “Tulips in a Staffordshire Jug” features what looks like red and yellow striped tulips (pictured in Fisher 194).




Vanessa and Duncan’s paintings emphasize red and yellow tulips as well, although white and purple blossoms sometimes appear. In 1911, Duncan painted the wonderfully vibrant “Parrot Tulips”  (notice how floppy the stems are).


Another still-life featuring red and yellow tulips which looks early to me because of the obvious influence of Cezanne is undated on-line:

Vanessa also painted tulips with some frequency.  This undated collection of flowers including jonquils, a prominent arum lily, and purple tulips also features red tulips with yellow basal blotches.


Created in 1932, “Wild Tulips” might have been painted at Cassis and thus may show us the appearance of the local flowers to which Woolf referred in her letters:



As arrangements of picked or bought flowers, all of these paintings emphasize the burning, energetic colors of tulips rather than their confinement in the military precision of organized gardens, providing a visual confirmation of one important aspect of Woolf’s association with the flowers and demonstrating their repeated presence as accessories to a comfortable life.


[1] There is a delightful chapter on the tulip in Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire, the playful thesis of which is that tulips have manipulated us as much as we have manipulated them.


[2] Fisher notes that the individual blossoms painted in still-lives were assembled studies of the plants done elsewhere because, as Breughel wrote to a patron “such flowers are too valuable to have in the home” (104). Fisher devotes an entire chapter to the history of tulips in paintings; see pp. 103-23.


[3] Founded in 1836, the Wakefield tulip society is still in existence, and members continue the long-time custom of arranging their flower displays in rows of beer bottles. See https://www.tulipsociety.co.uk/about-the-tulip-society Accessed June 27, 2022.


[4] I did find one passing reference to tulips among a list of other flowers in the eighty-third poem of Tennyson’s In Memorium. See https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45347/in-memoriam-a-h-h-obiit-mdcccxxxiii-83  Accessed 7/7/22.


[5] In an on-line article, Maureen Gilmer discusses the history of increasingly popular  “Parrot” tulips which are also fantastically shaped and wildly streaked. They had existed in the nineteenth-century, but were largely “scorned” by gardeners because their weak, twisted stems meant the flowers were unable to stand upright.   A stiffer-stemmed variety named “Fantasy” was discovered in 1910, which led to increased interest.  But the wild plethora we see for sale now in bulb catalogues is more frequently the result of radiation experiments in the mid-twentieth century.  See https://www.desertsun.com/story/life/home-garden/maureen-gilmer/2019/04/27/twisted-mutated-history-beautiful-tulip/3489404002/  Accessed July 3, 2022.


[6] Thanks to Shilo Rae for spotting this reference. A Passionate Apprentice is not available for digital searching except through amazon.com and I had forgotten to double-check my count.


[7] My best guess as to which species of tulip Woolf was buying is provided by a long and very learned article in the June 2022 issue of Nature magazine by A. Stefanaki, T. Walter, & and T. van Andel, tracing the history of Tulipa sylvestris, the wild or woodland tulip, which is said to have originated around Bologna.  These long-stemmed flowers tend to be yellow and have more pointed and separated petals than the cupped and rounded varieties characteristic of English tulips in the nineteenth century.  See  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-13378-9 for the article, and this site for nice pictures: https://www.fluwel.com/tulip-sylvestris.html. Both accessed July 3, 2022.


[8] Vanessa’s drawings for the 1924 edition of “Kew Gardens” show flowers that do not look at all like tulips; the flowers on the first page, as Diane Gillespie suggests, are not particularly “representational” and tend to provide “simplified suggestions of images Woolf introduces” (Sister’s Arts 125). (https://alportcollection.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/sister-acts/#jp-carousel-366). 

The single flower that the “ponderous women” later returns to contemplate most closely resembles a zinnia (https://alportcollection.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/sister-acts/woolf-kew-gardens-p14-29-11-12-2/).  However, there are clearly tulips in the background of Bell’s painting “A Conversation” which she herself suggested in 1918 “might almost but not quite do as an illustration” for the story (LVB 214)


All images accessed 7/5/22.


[9] For a fuller discussion of Woolf’s use of color theory, see my unpublished paper “It Was Yellow and Pink: The Transition to Post-Impressionist Color in the Early Work of Woolf and O'Keeffe,” available on-line at my academia.edu site: https://www.academia.edu/519216/It_Was_Yellow_and_Pink_The_Transition_to_Post_Impressionist_Color_in_the_Early_Work_of_Woolf_and_OKeeffe_2005_  Accessed 7/5/22. 


[10] See the website “Kew Gardens in the First World War” for an account of how the gardens adapted including two photos of the parterres being dug and fully planted with onion sets:

https://www.kew.org/read-and-watch/kew-gardens-first-world-war Accessed 7/4/2022.


[11] Fisher remarks, “Visits to Dutch tulips fields were a tourist attraction from Edwardian times; the patchwork strips of brilliant color appealing to eyes adjusted to the aesthetics of bedding displays” (189).

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About 98 Flowers

Welcome to the Virginia Woolf Herbarium.  For many years I have been researching and writing about Virginia Woolf and parks, gardens, and fl...