Lady Tulips (and Plant Humanities)

From “Rock Garden Plants for the Mid-South” in A Garden of One’s Own by Elizabeth Lawrence:

T. clusiana, the lady tulip, blooms the first of April and lasts for a long time. It is one of the most permanent things in the garden if it is left undisturbed. The slender buds, striped red and white like peppermint candy, never open until late in the day and not at all on cloudy days, but this does not make them less charming.”

From Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants In Your Garden by Noel Kingsbury:

“Tulips have traditionally featured in Persian and Turkish poetry, often as a token or symbol of love. They frequently appear in the visual arts of these cultures too, such as in miniature paintings and tiles….

“The single flower, on top of its straight stem was seen, in the Ottoman world, to represent the letter alif (for ‘Allah’) and therefore the unity and uniqueness of the monotheistic god….

Beyond decoration, there is little herbal or other use for tulips, apart from being eaten, for example as a famine food by the Dutch in World War II. Today, the tulip has become very much a Dutch symbol — indeed, along with the windmill and wooden clogs, something of a cliché. The country is a major exporter of both bulbs and cut flowers; visiting the tulips fields in the Haarlem area is an important part of the Netherlands’ tourism industry.”

From The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam:

“Each yellow tulip … has a dark brown pupil at the base of the cup, and to look into it is to feel that the flower is returning the gift of attention — strengthening one’s existence that way.”


I had seen these Lady Tulips at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens earlier this year, noticing them late one morning under full sun and having trouble getting decent photos because there was so much light reflecting off the bright yellow flower petals that I threw out all the photos I took. On a subsequent trip, though, I took another crack at a photoshoot, waiting for the sun to dip behind some fast moving clouds to help my exposures.

In the first two shots below, you can see how the unopened buds are deep red with yellow stripes, yet the opened flower displays very little red (except at the base of a few petals) as its highly saturated yellow takes over.

You might gather from the three quotes I opened this post with that I did some tulip research, and found myself in gardening books, history books, and novels for tulip references. Tulips have quite a long and complex environmental and cultural history — extending from tenth century Persia, to Western Europe in the 1600s, to the present day.

I also spent some time with a new resource I recently learned about — an amazing compendium of information about plants and their impact on human societies. The site — Plant Humanities Lab — was recently launched (in March, 2021) and features “plant narratives” on its homepage that provide original research into the cultural significance of plants or plant families through multimedia presentations. If you are interested in interdisciplinary work on plants, history, and culture, please take a look at the site, treat yourself to the story of how boxwoods took over the world, and check back with the site often. There’s an introduction to the project here: Introducing the Plant Humanities Lab; and you can use the search tool on the lab’s homepage to find an enormous amount of information, media, and imagery about plants and their histories.

Like most tulips — so often photographed as fields full of flowers — these Lady Tulips grow very close together, substantial masses of flowers that seem to be competing for the light. They also seemed to compete for the attentions of The Photographer by waving back and forth in the breeze, and I did manage to find a few I could isolate for some decent closeups. I couldn’t help but think that the height variations you see in the photographs below were arranged by the plant on purpose, as if some blooms deferred to other blooms for the good of the whole field. In the last photo below, you may get the sense I had of all the blooms: perfectly formed flowers atop long stems, nearly floating above the grass and leaves filling the region I photographed.

Select any image if you would like to see larger versions in a slideshow; and here’s a link to the full-sized version of the last image (my favorite) where you can get a good look at the range of color and detail.


Thanks for reading and taking a look!

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When an Iris is a Butterfly (Flower)

From “Natural and Informal Backgrounds” in Irises: Their Culture and Cultivation by Gwendolyn Anley:

“Given the ideal setting, no more lovely picture can be achieved than when what I might describe as a limitless background is utilised. I recall, and will not easily forget, such a picture. A low hedge, no more than 18 inches high, denoted, but did not emphasise, the confines of the garden. Beyond lay the open country, gently rolling pasture land intersected by hedges, the straight lines of which were interrupted here and there by the soft billowing masses of elm trees. In the far distance blue hills melted into a soft haze….

“In the foreground the irises set the colour scheme for the deep blue and purple shadows cast by the trees and the misty blues and greys of the hills beyond…. It is obvious that in a setting such as this there could not fail to be a certain dramatic beauty brought about by the clever utilisation of the stereoscopic effect of the irises silhouetted against the scenic ‘backcloth.’ Moreover, whichever way one turned, in the absence of a solid back ground the irises could be seen with light shining through and around them and this seemed to add an ethereal beauty to even the deep-toned flowers.”


The tiny irises in the galleries below are a variety called iris japonica — also known as the butterfly flower. This was the first time I’d seen them at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens — possibly because there were scattered throughout shaded areas of the garden, nearly hidden among large swatches of English Ivy, and so small in size that they were easy to overlook. The third image below seems to demonstrate how they got their “butterfly flower” nickname, with the two pair of petals on each side suggestive of the shape of a butterfly’s wings.



Here are before-and-after versions of the photos showing how I transformed them in Lightroom. You can see from the before images how much the irises are embedded in the ivy, their flowers and buds snaking just above the ivy leaves and the iris leaves nearly flat on the ground.

For these photos, I enhanced detail and color, then reduced shadows and highlights to eliminate the filtered — but very bright — sunlight that made its way through the trees, a flower having appeared near every spot where the sun came through. I then used radial filters — as I often do — to leave only a tasteful amount of the messy background and emphasize the flowers themselves. While I often blacken the entire background surrounding a subject during post-processing, I used this approach instead to preserve the fine detail in the flowers’ filaments and keep the scalloped edges of the petals fully intact.

Select any image if you would like to compare the before and after versions in a slideshow.


Thanks for taking a look!

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A Double-Dozen Daffodils

From 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells:

“The daffodil, for many, is spring itself….

Describing the daffodils she and her brother William saw on a walk, Dorothy Wordsworth said, ‘Some rested their heads on these stones as on a pillow.’ This is good to remember when looking at daffodils after a storm: they are simply resting their heads. Dorothy noted that the daffodils ‘tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, they looked so gay and glancing.’ One can’t help wondering if William read her diary before writing his famous poem and wandering lonely as a cloud.”

From “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” in Selected Poetry of William Wordsworth, edited by Mark Van Doren:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.


Today we have more flowers, and fewer words … Thanks for taking a look!








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