Not the Netherlands but Norfolk! Huge demand for British-grown tulips sees more field turned over to colourful crop.
With thousands of bright, blossoming tulips across acres of farmland, you’d be forgiven for thinking that these remarkable pictures were taken in the Netherlands.
But incredibly, rather than coming from the tiny European country, these stunning flowering fields can be found in the UK.
Britain’s last remaining tulip bulb fields are making a comeback this year with farmers planting seventy per cent more flowers to cope with the sudden demand.
At the beginning of the 20th Century more than 3,000 acres of tulips were grown in Norfolk and Lincolnshire, but in recent years the industry has almost been wiped out as farmers turned to more profitable vegetables and cereals.
Now with the Queen’s Jubilee and the London Olympics more people are looking to buy British and English bulb fields are once more a spectacular blaze of colour.
Family-run Belmont Nurseries has planted a massive 168 acres of tulips, instead of its usual 100 acres, to deal with the resurgence.
‘We have really increased our acreage this year as there is a big demand for our tulips,’ said Mark Eves, who helps to run the nurseries.
‘We are the only suppliers of British grown tulips and we are working hard to give people what they want.
‘People are very proud to be buying British and we are proud of our fields.’
This year’s magnificent crop of tulips has arrived two weeks early due to the extra warm sunny weather at the start of the spring.
The stunning pink, yellow, red, white and purple blooms look like they belong in the heart of Holland but in fact the field is near the village of Narborough in Norfolk.
The flowers have turned the landscape into an incredible kaleidoscope of colours which looks more like a scene from the Netherlands than the UK.
‘We are very pleased with the spectacular crop of tulips this year, which have opened a fortnight earlier due to the warm weather,’ added Mr Eves.
‘We would normally expect them to be flowering at the end of April but the sunny weather has brought them on more quickly.
‘They seem to be a bit shorter than usual as they have come to flower so quickly, but they should continue to grow taller while flowering.’
The business is owned by Mr Eves’ parents-in-law Janet and Peter Ward, who have been growing tulips for 12 years and supply more than 15 million stems to supermarkets each year.
They hire two fields in Norfolk, which have slightly sandy soil, and rotate them on an annual basis.
Peter Ward, who has worked in horticulture since he was 17, began the business 11 years ago and felt he could grow tulips as well as the Dutch.
They now grow 37 different varieties and introduce new ones each year, including a pink tulip named after Mr Eves’ daughter Olivia.
The family has already been inundated with emails and phone calls from people who can’t travel to Holland and want to visit their bulb fields instead.
‘At one time there used to be lots of tulip fields in this area and people would be able to go on bus trips to see the bulbs,’ said Mr Eves’ wife Susanne.
‘Now we are the only tulip bulb growers left in Britain and the fields do look amazing, but unfortunately we grow the flowers for commercial reasons and can’t show people round.’
Tulips first arrived in Britain in 1907 when Frederick Culpin brought in 100 bulbs of six different varieties and established the British tulip fields.
By 1935 more than 300 people were visiting the fields, arriving from London by train and bus to witness the coming of spring.
This number had increased to more than 100,000 people by 1949 and special daily sightseeing routes were established to enable the visitors to see the best of the day’s blooming flowers.
But over the last few decades growers have struggled to compete with imported flowers and cheap supermarket prices.
The family hopes the new interest in British grown produce will help keep their business alive.
‘It is hard work and time-consuming, but the results are worth it,’ said Mrs Eves.
‘People are always very excited to see the colourful fields.’
Sadly in just three weeks the 30 million tulip heads will be chopped off.
The fabulous flowers will be cut off in their prime so the plant’s energy can go into making the bulbs bigger and these can later be sold.
‘We have to cut the heads off the tulips before the petals fall off,’ said Mr Eves.
‘If the petals drop into the gap between the leaves and the stem they will rot.
‘We have to remove the tulip heads so all the goodness will go back into the bulbs, rather than the flowers.
‘It’s a real shame as they look so beautiful and we have to take all that away.’
A group of five pickers will remove the heads and any tulip bulbs where the colours have got mixed up.
They will also select the best flowers for the annual Spalding Tulip Parade, which uses 300,000 tulip heads to decorate its floats.
A machine then finishes the job, guillotining the remaining heads from their stalks.
The heads are left in rows in the field to rot, while the leaves and stalks are left to decompose and the bulbs finally removed from the soil in June.
They will then be taken to Belmont Nurseries near King’s Lynn, Norfolk where they will be sorted.
The larger bulbs will be sold to British supermarkets next year, while smaller bulbs will be replanted for sale in the future.
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