Art + Design

Art + Design: Tulips are Blossoming

While we in the Bay Area have been lucky enough to have sun and warm weather this past week, I hear back in Gobbler’s Knob, Punxsutawney Phil (the infamous groundhog) saw no shadow—so this bitter winter will soon turn to spring. For me one of the great joys of spring is when the tulip bulbs I planted last fall start to peak through the soil and blossom, bringing with them a burst of vivid color and beauty.

In case you didn’t plant bulbs last fall, I thought you’d enjoy a taste of spring in the stunning images from The Tulip Anthology. An avid gardener, as well as accomplished photographer, Ron van Dongen agreed to answer a few questions about gardening, tulips, and photography.

Which came first, photography or gardening, and why did you start gardening?

So many times I have been asked why I started gardening (and gardening came way before photography). The answer is: I have no idea.

But I have been in love with nature, both flora and fauna, from an early age. I was born in Venezuela and my early life there consisted mostly of going to the beach and discovering and collecting exotic animals (mostly brightly colored insects) and plant specimens, some of which I transported home in my sister’s doll carriage.

Why I love to see plants grow and tend to them is impossible to answer. Maybe gardening is in our genes (a way of surviving) and a lot of us don’t recognize it? Maybe because plants look so static and ‘un-alive’ and yet are so powerful and mysterious in the way they manifest themselves? Or maybe they are truly objects of art.

When did you discover the tulip?

My earliest tulip memory is from the time when I was four or five years old. While we lived in Venezuela, we also traveled annually to the Netherlands to visit relatives. It was there that I saw my first tulip field, which remains etched in my memory.

My parents tell me that I was mesmerized by the massive fields of color—the repetition of seemingly identical flowers, the endless tapestries disappearing into the horizon—because they remember they couldn’t get me away from them. Those geometric fields with their blobs of bold color like a painter’s palette were so much in contrast to the complex and delicate natural beauty of tropical Venezuela.

Do you grow tulips in Portland, Oregon?

Yes, but right now the garden still looks very wintery. The Hellebores, Dwarf Woodland Irises, and Crocuses (or croci) are in full bloom.


The Rembrandt tulips are just showing their first leaves. Since I have photographed my four favorite tulip varieties (Absalon, Insulinde, Columbine, and The Lizard) for many years now, I will just enjoy watching them grow this year. Other varieties I’ve planted for this year are Rococo, Ollioule, Beau Monde, and Flaming Parrot. We now have many species of tulips that have nicely naturalized and always surprise me when they start to bloom.



What else are you growing in your garden now?

In general, we don’t grow any specific types of plants in the garden. We have lots of nice perennials that once were bought with photography in mind. Now that they’ve matured, the garden is starting to look lush and complete (in summer that is).

A lot of space is reserved for annuals and veggies, but even they need to have some photogenic properties. We have no specific plans for the garden this year, but are thinking of building a greenhouse in order to satisfy my fascination with tropical plant life.

Ah, now I’m really ready to take a trip to the nursery!

Read more in The Oregonian.
Purchase The Tulip Anthology.

Patti Quill
Art + Design

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