By Wynne Crombie
The Netherlands has something for all ages…from those who grew up with “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates” to kids of today. For my husband Kent and myself, our first Dutch venture was to explore, “Keukenhof and The Tulips”.
We were surrounded by over seven million flowering tulips. From a distance, they appeared as long ribbons of multi-colors. We had arrived at Keukenhof Park, in Amsterdam, where tulips take center stage for eight weeks every spring.
Over four million bulbs are planted by hand in new designs every fall. All the old bulbs are dug up. How do you begin to take it all in?
You have a few choices: You can rent a bike near the main entrance. (Just stay out of the tulip beds) If you prefer a boat trip around the flowering fields surrounding Keukenhof, a 45-minute boat trip is available. Tickets are available at Keukenhof or online.
We began our venture by walking… slowly… just enjoying the enormity of the tulip fields. There are approximately five million visitors a year (pre-Covid) Seventy-five percent of the visitors come from outside the Netherlands. And, to think this whole operation of 70 acres was once part of a medieval kitchen garden!
Our guide told us the best time for a visit is from mid-April to mid-May. The flowers usually peak in mid-April. We were there in early May. Some of the blooms had already died.
You can’t help but admire the walking paths, streams, and fountains. It is a photographer’s paradise. We even caught a glimpse of a wedding party and people walking around on stilts.
Quick Bite or a Full Meal
The restaurants we encountered are more for a quick bite than a full meal. If you just want a snack or coffee there are a variety of mobile food stands,
Relaxation is easy here. Playgrounds, petting zoos and scavenger hunts keep kids busy. A multi-colored chicken was wandering around picking up anything he deemed food-worthy.
Just ahead of him, three folks, in costumes and masked faces were parading around on high stilts.
Nearby, we watched as a fellow bent down on his knees in front of his girlfriend. Proposing? We didn’t stay for the answer.
There are pavilions to check out. The Oranje Nassus Pavilion has different flower shows every week. The Avillion features orchid shows while the Willem-Alexander Pavilion has mostly tulips with different varieties on display.
The Juliana Pavillon displays the history of tulips going back to the 17th century. At that time there was a crisis: bugs were infecting the tulips almost obliterating the red colors.
Ironically, today they deliberately raise tulips of multiple colors. For the serious gardener, there is the Inspirational Garden displays…i.e., ideas for different ways to grow and display flowers.
Just five kilometers from Keukenhof Gardens you will find the tulip farm, De Tulperij. In the greenhouses, they are able to grow tulips and other flowers all year long, so they don’t have to depend on weather conditions in winter and spring. They are only open from mid-March through mid-May.
De Tulperij is a relatively small family-run tulip farm. It can be visited during the opening season of Keukenhof Gardens. But oh, all the details that go into farming tulips!
The fields are cleared of all the greens and the bulbs remain in the ground. A big machine will then drive over the land and scoop up the sand including the bulbs. The machine will then shake the bulbs to get the sand off as much as possible.
The bulbs are then collected in big wooden boxes and driven back to the farm for sorting, cleaning and packaging. Then, they are sold all around the world and maybe, end up in your garden!
No Picking at Keukenhof
Although you can’t pick tulips at Keukenhof, you can create your own bouquet at nearby Annemieke’s Pluktin (picking garden). Annemieke started the garden as a hobby. All colors and varieties are $.20 a stem.
Their main summer feature is a Dahlia show. For kids ages four through twelve they give educational walking tours.
We watched as a man stripped down dead tulips and extracted the bulbs. The remains were then thrown into a large pile to be used as animal feed.
The bulbs are collected in big wooden boxes and driven back to the farm for sorting, cleaning, and packaging. The dirt-gardening-encrusted boots were stacked in even rows.
Reclaimed Land for Tulips
By building the polders (low fields of land enclosed by dikes) these tulip areas were reclaimed from the sea. Nowadays, there are huge quantities of flowers grown on these particularly fertile rural terrains.
Shops with souvenirs and flower bulbs are evident. (FYI, I bought a box that looked as though it contained at least ten bulbs.
Alas, it contained a pot, which took up most of the room, and one (!) bulb.) This fall it will be put into action.