The beautiful blooms that keep historic tulip society alive

Each May, some of the finest tulips are put on display at the Wakefield & North of England Tulip Society Show.

By Julie Marshall
Friday, 6th May 2022, 12:26 pm
Updated Friday, 6th May 2022, 12:39 pm

Exhibitors and visitors come from all over the UK and Europe to take part and witness this tradition which dates back more than 180 years.

Society secretary Sarah Brooks said: “Last year we had to hold a postal show due to the pandemic restrictions with only six members in attendance and a reduction in the number of classes from 32 to 12 .

“This year we will be welcoming back many more members and the public to our 187th Annual Show.

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One of Margaret and Roy Mitchell’s blooms ready for the show

“It will be held on Saturday, May 14 at the Ossett War Memorial Community Centre on Propsect Road - a new venue for this year’s show.

“The Ossett War Memorial Community Centre is a larger venue so we can display the tulips to full effect and accommodate the numbers likely to visit – the show had become so popular in 2019 that we decided we had outgrown our previous venue in Horbury.”

Sarah said there promises to be a fantastic display of rare English Florists’ tulips and plenty of colourful garden tulips as well as other tulip-related items to see and buy.

She added: “For many years the society has exhibited English Florists’ tulips in plain brown beer bottles and the sight of the beautiful and brightly coloured tulips lined up in shiny beer bottles is unforgettable.”

Although a long-standing tradition, it wasn’t always the case.

The blooms were originally displayed in little stone jars which were made specifically for showing and they had a very narrow opening at the top.

Today, the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society has around 230 members, including some from as far away as Russia, Sweden and the United States.

The society’s main focus is the English Florists’ Tulip, which has two forms - broken or breeder.

The former, also known as rectified’, clearly show the effects of the tulip breaking virus, which is spread by insects and causes the colour to split and striking patterns form as a result.

Breeders are not visibly affected by the virus and come in three colour categories. Rose is made up of a white base, with rose, scarlet, crimson or red petals. Bybloemen, too, has a white base but with petals a shade of purple, mauve or black, and Bizarre has a yellow base with orange, scarlet, brown or black petals.

Margaret and Roy Mitchell have been involved with the society for many years after being shown around the garden of society members and falling in love with the colourful flowers.

In their garden in Wrenthorpe they grow a small selection of blooms, some for exhibiting at the annual show.

Margaret said: “When we went to our first meeting we were given five bulbs and asked to bring them back the following year.

“We always plant the bulbs on Lord Mayor’s day which is the first week in November.

“It’s starting to cool down then and they need to get frosted.

“From late April onwards they then need heat to bloom in time for the show.

“If the tulips are blooming too early they can be cut off and put in water in a fridge until the day of the show.”

A long and proud history

The Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society dates back to 1836 but is probably older than that as there are reports of a Tulip Show in


James Akers, the society’s archivist, has found evidence of a Florists’ Society having its first meeting at the grandstand at Outwood Racecourse in 1807. Back then there were auriculas on show rather than tulips but in the years after that, as tulips became more popular, they too were exhibited at shows.

Artisan labourers were dedicated to growing and showing varieties in the West Riding - both at a time when floral societies nationwide were thriving and when many were folding.

Back then, certainly at the time of the society’s establishment in 1836, it was viewed as an attractive hobby away from the daily grind.

As well as bringing in some much needed extra cash, it was also a hobby that brought with it a social network, as growers met in local pubs to exchange bulbs and horticultural tips.

Florists are people who grow plants for the sake of their decorative flowers rather than for any useful property the flower might have and English Florists’ tulips have been bred to florists’ standards since the first half of the nineteenth century.

Once there were many tulip societies in the UK but the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society is the only one remaining now.

This year’s show takes place on Saturday, May 14 at the Ossett War Memorial Community entre, Propsect Road.

Admission is free and the show will be open to the public from 2.30pm to 4.30pm.