Keukenhof and bulb fields

Judy Glattstein
Mon, 03 Apr 2006 03:55:20 PDT
In 1973 my husband was working in the Netherlands. I went over for two 
weeks in April "to see if I'd like it there" sufficiently to go over for 
the summer. Which I did, so accompanied by two young children, a 
dachshund and two cats we joined him for 3 months, living in Leiderdorp. 
Came home with children, dog, cats, two tortoises, 20 small 
rhododendrons, a box of assorted plants and 20 kilos of flower bulbs. 
But that's another story.

As well as that original visit to Keukenhof in April 1973 I've been back 
several times accompanying tour groups or doing research. Was in Lisse 
in summer 2002 attending a conference, when fields of tigridia were in 
flower, and another visit in the late summer / early fall when the bulb 
harvest was well underway.

Keukenhof is spectacular. Growers submit designs for their display 
plantings, which are immaculately maintained. I have the feeling that 
should one tulip in a group have the audacity to grow an inch taller 
than its neighbors, that night someone would come along, dig it up, 
deepen the hole and replant it for uniformity. There are pristine white 
swans floating on the still waters of canals and ponds on the grounds of 
Keukenhof, viridian green turf, even the trunks of the venerable beech 
trees are green with algae. The major parking lot is filled with tour 
buses from across Europe, even from the UK. (Ferry from Hook van Holland 
or through the Chunnel I suppose.) Colorful, unlike anything else, well 
worth seeing, but more blobs, painterly swathes of color than "garden."

The bulb fields are clearly where Mondrian got the idea for his 
geometric paintings, crops of give-me-a-ticket red tulips, yellow 
daffodils, and hyacinths in a rainbow array. Since the hyacinth flowers 
are culled, the clever, thrifty Dutch use them for a Bloemencorso, a 
flower parade through the towns by the bulb fields, with figures on huge 
floats made from hyacinth flowers. All sorts of vehicles from cars to 
trucks to ambulances are in the parade, so embellished with flowers that 
you wonder how the driver manages. The parade is always held the last 
Saturday in April.

Tour buses are often decorated with a garland of tulip flowers strung 
like some gigantic Dutch version of a Hawaii lei over the front. I 
remember one once broke apart and the air was filled with flying tulips, 
psychedelic to be sure. Store fronts will be decorated with garlands of 
tightly strung yellow daffodils.

There's the Museum of the Black Tulip (Zwarte Tulp) in Lisse, with 
historical displays and also all sorts of tulip-related items - 
paintings, pottery, and more. In Limmen is the Hortus Bulborum, a 
historical bulb garden growing old cultivars of tulips, daffodils, 
crocus and more that are no longer readily available. They're in rows in 
the sandy soil, a thin covering of straw as a mulch. I remember that the 
small garden of the Frans Hals Museum had charming bulb plantings, and 
in the museum is Judith Leycester's famous painting of a red and white 
tulip from the Tulipomania. Not to be missed are the restored gardens of 
the Palais Het Loo in Appledorn, very formal with parterres and bulbs 
planted as the rarities they then were, when William of Orange and Mary, 
his queen would stay at this hunting lodge, before they went over to 
England to rule there. Gestner's tulips, just 5, planted in a quincunx, 
loosely flowered blue hyacinths, ditto, stately Fritillaria imperialis, 
and other bulbs. Every ten years (next one in 2012) there's the 
Floriade, a horticultural extravaganza that leaves the host community a 
new park when the event is over. And bulbs are, as you'd expect, quite 
prominently featured.

Well this has gotten quite a bit longer than I intended. Clearly I have 
many fond memories of my stays in Holland, and would willingly return.

Judy in New Jersey, where there's a little Tulipa greigii coming up and 
flowering in the lawn, with no idea how it got there since for sure I 
didn't plant it.

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