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Modern tulips, bright and cheerful, are extraordinarily popular. The Netherlands produces some three billion bulbs a year, in fields that cover, Pavord says, almost half the country. Selected for features like size, vigor and speed of growth, these flowers are the culmination of a 500-year history: no reader of Pavord will treat them dismissively again. But they also will long for a sight of those broken blossoms of the past, those beautiful flowers that drove men mad.

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