Bed of Tulips


Based on the Dartmoor myth related by Mrs Bray, in The Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy, vol 1, p180.

NEAR a pixy field in this neighbourhood there lived on a time an old woman who possessed a cottage and a very pretty garden, wherein she cultivated a most beautiful bed of tulips. The pixies, it is traditionally averred, so delighted in this spot, that they would carry their elfin babies thither, and sing them to rest. Often at the dead hour of the night a sweet lullaby was heard, and strains of the most melodious music would float in the air, that seemed to owe their origin to no other musicians than the beautiful tulips themselves; and whilst these delicate flowers waved their heads to the evening breeze, it sometimes seemed as if they were marking time to their own singing. As soon as the elfin babies were lulled asleep by such melodies, the pixies would return to the neighbouring field, and there commence dancing, making those rings on the green which showed, even to mortal – eyes, what sort of gambols had occupied them during the night season.

At the first dawn of light the watchful pixies once more sought the tulips, and though still invisible could be heard kissing and caressing their babies. The tulips, thus favoured by a race of genii, retained their beauty much longer than any other flowers in the garden; whilst, though contrary to their nature, as the pixies breathed over them they became as fragrant as roses; and so delighted at all this was the old woman who possessed the garden, that she never suffered a single tulip to be plucked from its stem. At length, however, she died; and the heir who succeeded her destroyed the enchanted flowers, and converted the spot into a parsley bed, a circumstance which so disappointed and offended the pixies that they caused it to wither away; and indeed for many years nothing would grow in the beds of the whole garden. But these sprites, though eager in resenting an injury, were, like most warm spirits, equally capable of returning a benefit; and if they destroyed the product of the good old woman’s garden, when it had fallen into unworthy hands, they tended the bed that wrapped her clay with affectionate solicitude. For they were heard lamenting and singing sweet dirges around her grave; nor did they neglect to pay this mournful tribute to her memory every night before the moon was at the full; for then their high solemnity of dancing, singing, and rejoicing took place, to hail the queen of the night on completing her silver circle in the skies. No human hand ever tended the grave of the poor old woman who had nurtured the tulip bed for the delight of these elfin creatures; but no rank weed was ever seen to grow upon it; the sod was ever green, and the prettiest flowers would spring up without sowing, or planting, and so they continued to do till it was supposed the mortal body was reduced to its original dust.

Bed of tulips

Dartmoor myth – version and animation by Anna Lilley (2009)
Music by Abigail Kingsley-Parker