This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol2", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
Tulips have always been a favourite crop with market growers, and consignments in one form or another have been sent to market regularly during the winter and spring season during the past seventy years or so. In the early days the trade was chiefly done in pot plants, from three to five bulbs being grown in a 5-in. (48) pot. The cut-flower trade was practically unknown until after the Indian Mutiny, but during the past twenty or thirty years it has increased enormously. The growers in the north of London (Tottenham and Edmonton) were the first to bring cut flowers of Tulips to Covent Garden, and their example was soon followed by the few others around the metropolis who grew them. In the depth of winter, when the roads were bad and often deep in snow, or heavily frosted, only one or two growers from the neighbourhood of Chelsea and Fulham had the courage to take their flowers to market; and in those days Covent Garden often presented a desolate and deserted appearance - a state of affairs difficult to imagine now.
The varieties grown were almost as few as the growers. The single scarlet Due van Thol then as now held premier place for the earliest blossoms, and it paid to grow, although the bulbs then cost 7s. 6d. and more per 100 wholesale against about half the price at the present day. But the dowers have deteriorated very much in the meantime. Forty and fifty years ago the blooms of scarlet Van Thol Tulips were much larger, being quite as deep as the first finger, whereas now they are only as deep as the first joint. They have thus shrunk from about 3 to 2 in. deep in half a century, and it is possible that the first early scarlet Van Thols are being played out. Still, they are the best at present, and until something better comes along, or the fashion changes, this variety will hold its own for the best early scarlet Tulip for cut flower.
The bulbs are now grown chiefly in large boxes, 4 or 5 in. deep, filled to within a couple of inches of the top with rich gritty soil. The bulbs are pressed into the soil, and almost touch each other. The first boxes are filled as early as October, but the work continues till after Christmas, where many thousands are forced during the season. The boxes are plunged in the soil outside, or covered with about 6 in. of mould or ashes until the time arrives for forcing the bulbs. The first batches are brought into a greenhouse, having a temperature of 70° to 80° F., about the end of November; and, being well rooted at that period, the bulbs grow rapidly with the heat and moisture, so that the first plants are in flower for the Christmas markets, when a good trade in them is anticipated. For many years the bulbs were brought to market in pots, but of late years about two dozen plants in flower are packed into long narrow boxes in coconut fibre and sent to market thus, realizing from 18s. to 24s. per dozen boxes. The cost of forcing Tulips, apart from the price of the bulbs, is about 6s. to 8s. per 1000, so that profits vary according to the first cost of the bulbs, market fluctuations, and the price of fuel in hard winters.
For later work other varieties of Tulip are grown in the same way, but they have larger blooms and longer stems, and find a good sale, although at times the prices are so low as not to pay for the cost of the bulbs. Amongst the best single-flowered Tulips for market work are: Canary Bird and Clirysolora, yellow; Duchess of Parma, orange red, with a yellow border; Keizerslcroon (fig. 251), rich scarlet, edged yellow; La Reine, the very best white for forcing - it comes pinkish and crippled in a low temperature; Rose Gris de Lin, bright rose; Thomas Moore, soft terra cotta; Yellow Prince, rich yellow; Prince of Austria, bright scarlet orange; Rosamundi Huikman, rose and white. These are amongst the most popular early-flowering Tulips that are forced, but the following may also be worth attention: Artus and Belle Alliance, both deep scarlet, but rather dear; Cottage Maid (or La Precieuse), pink, striped with white; Leonardo da Vinci, fine orange; Mon Tresor, fine yellow; Ophir d'Or, large yellow, etc. There are many other fine varieties of early Tulip, but the market grower leaves them to the private gardener.
Amongst the best double Tulips for market work are: Imperator Rubrorum, bright scarlet; Murillo, delicate rose; Grand Vainqueur and Rose Blanche, white; and the old Tournesol, red and yellow, which is one of the oldest double Tulips grown for market. There are many other varieties in catalogues, but the prices are either too high or they fail in some respects from the grower's point of view so that they do not find much favour.
Where open ground and cold frames are available, Tulips have been grown without heat of late years for market. They entail no expenditure for coal or coke, or houseroom, and, following on the forced varieties, they sometimes realize more remunerative prices. The self-coloured Darwin Tulips are the best for this purpose. They should be planted as early as possible in autumn about 6 in. deep and 6 in. apart, in rich and welldrained soil on warm sheltered borders, or in beds about 4½ ft. wide. They flower freely, and the bulbs may be grown for several years in succession if necessary. It is better to take them up after the leaves have withered; but if covered with a layer of old soil or manure, a crop of China Asters or Ten-week Stocks may be taken off the same ground during the summer months. There are many kinds of Darwin and Cottage Garden Tulips, varying in price from 50s. and upwards per 1000; but market growers confine themselves to a few that experience tells them will sell best.
Fig. 251. - Tulipa Gesneriana, var. Keizerslcroon.
The curiously cut Parrot Tulips and the several natural species are dealt in chiefly by bulb merchants, and fairly large numbers are purchased by the owners of large gardens and by public-park authorities.