Tulip Time in the Old World: The Keukenhof
Keukenhof, Holland: the gardens that inspire tourists worldwide to journey to The Netherlands each year in spring. The gardens are open for just eight weeks each year, and during that time, if my visit was any indication, hordes of people come to enjoy the amazing array of flowers.
My hosts for our day at Keukenhof (which translates to mean “kitchen garden,” which is why you wouldn’t want to say “Keukenhof Gardens”) were a family friend who my daughter met while working in The Hague, and his father, his partner, and her three-year-old grand-daughter, Amira. It made for a lively and fun party. We entered via the overflow parking entrance onto an island bisected frequently by small water channels, which gave it a distinctly Dutch feel. Bed after bed of flowers—tulips, of course, but also hyacinths, lilies, and other flowers as well—greeted us. Along the path, we encountered a building where an orchid display was underway. After that we wandered up to the operational windmill, and climbed up to the second level for the view across to commercial fields of multi-hued lanes of flowers. Then over to a more traditional English garden area, with a petting zoo along the way, and a small all-blue garden celebrating all things Delft.
The gardens were part of the estate known as Keukenhof Castle, built in 1641. Prior to that, according to the garden website, Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria (1401-1436) gathered fruit and vegetables from the nearby woods and dunes for her castle kitchen. The gardens were redesigned in 1857 by a father-son team of landscape architects (Jan David and Louis Paul Zocher) in the English style, After the war, in 1949, twenty bulb exporters proposed using the estate for a permanent exhibit. With its opening in 1950, the park was an instant success. Nowadays, the flowers come mostly from 100 companies that participate to show their living catalogue of flowers.
After browsing the crazy-quilt rose display in a central building (including rainbow roses!) and a welcome hot cup of tea, we came across more of the banquet of color in a quieter corner of the park. There, we watched a photo shoot for a bridal party—the gardens were the perfect happy backdrop. We made our way, at last, to the center of the park where the map showed what seemed to be seven giant greenhouses, but it turned out they were all one immense open room, filled with flowerbeds! Tulips like you’ve never imagined them, with all manner of names. Some reminded me of friends and family: Russell, Maureen, Uncle Tom. The brown sugar tulips looked good enough to eat.
Keukenhof is where the Dutch proudly display the best of its floricultural sector—specializing, not surprisingly, in Dutch flower bulbs. Imagine seven million spring-flowering bulbs! It was astounding—and the meandering pathways and sometimes whimsical presentations kept our interest high. Although we were not there for the annual flower parade, judging by the website photos, it rivals the American Rose Bowl parade. See more at: keukenhof.nl/en