"Uncle Tom" Tulips


“Uncle Tom” Tulips

Visitors to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in late April or early May have seen stunning red tulips in the south garden next to Stowe’s house. Last fall, for the first time, we planted tulips called “Uncle Tom” in that garden.

“Uncle Tom” is a fragrant double tulip that, when in full bloom, looks like a rose or a peony. Its color is a deep maroon red that matures to purple. The double flowers are huge — up to four inches wide with up to 20 petals. Created in the Netherlands in 1939, it is considered as one of the finest double late tulips.

Though most tulips are now grown in Holland and Washington state, they are native to Central Asia and, especially, Turkey, where they’ve been cultivated since the first century AD. Travelers introduced tulips into Europe in the mid-16th century. The flowers were so highly prized in the Netherlands that they remain to this day the only flower to cause a financial crisis.  Tulips can be traced to Dutch colonists in New Amsterdam, but America’s infatuation really took off in the early 1800s when transatlantic commerce provided common access. Stowe’s mother Roxana Foote Beecher received tulip bulbs from her sea captain brother Samuel Foote in the 1810s.

We don’t know how these beautiful red tulips came to be named for Stowe’s famous character, but they may have reminded their creator of the red begonias Tom planted around his cabin: “The whole front of [Tom’s cabin] was covered by a large scarlet bignonia and a native multiflora rose, which, entwisting and interlacing, left scarce a vestige of the rough logs to be seen.” [UTC Chapter 4, pg. 28] Nevertheless, it seems only fitting that “Uncle Tom” tulips should finally take their place in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s garden.






Authored by Garden Volunteer, Judith L.