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Ark of Bulbs

The world’s most important bulb garden, the Hortus Bulborum in Limmen, North Holland, was founded in 1928 by a visionary elementary school principal. Today it’s still a tiny, shoe-string operation but it’s preserving some 4000 varieties of heirloom flower bulbs, most of which have gone “commercially extinct.” To wander through its amazing diversity in bloomtime is an unforgettable experience.

To learn more about the Hortus, visit

The Hortus depends on the support of bulb-lovers world-wide. We’re helping with historical research, publicity, and annual donations. You can, too, by growing their amazing bulbs and helping us spread the word about them!

A Primer on Broken Tulips

Richly patterned with flames and feathers of contrasting colors, “broken” or “rectified” tulips were the most prized tulips from the 1600s well into the 1800s. During Tulipomania in the 1630s, broken tulips such as ‘Zomerschoon’ and ‘Viceroy’, and the long-lost ‘Semper Augustus’ sold for literally thousands of dollars. Please don’t confuse these true broken tulips with the so-called Rembrandt tulips sold today by mainstream sources, all of which are 20th-century wanna-bes. Grow both and you’ll see there is no comparison!

Broken tulips in a detail from
Still Life with Fruit and Flowers,
Ambrosius Bosschaert, c. 1620

Much as great wines and cheeses are shaped by micro-organisms, the exquisite patterning of broken tulips is caused by a benign virus that causes the colors to break or separate — without harming the bulb, despite what you may read elsewhere. (There’s a lot of misinformation out there about these rare relics.) The virus is spread by aphids and other sucking insects, so plant these tulips away from other tulips and especially lilies.

There are three color groups:

Bijbloemens (like ‘Insulinde’ and ‘The Lizard’) are purple on white.

Roses (like ‘Mabel’ and ‘Silver Standard’) are red and pink on white.

Bizarres (like ‘Absalon’ and Royal Sovereign) are brown or red on yellow.

Every broken tulip can come in three different forms, too:

breeder, which is the original solid color,

feather, which is lightly marked with the darker color, and

flame, which is more richly marked.

Broken tulips from England are known as English florist tulips, “florist” originally meaning a flower enthusiast. The Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society has been breeding and showing broken tulips in annual competitions since 1836. For a glimpse of their 2006 Show, visit

Ordering Broken Tulips from Us

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