Holland's Keukenhof Gardens: Sixty Years of Spectacular Spring FlowersBy Jill M. Nicolaus (critterologist)
April 2, 2009
Her Majesty Queen Beatrix visited the gardens in honor of its 60th Anniversary, baptizing the new 'Spring Garden' tulip during the opening celebration. I had asked about visiting the gardens just prior to opening day, to talk to some of the people putting the finishing touches on the facilities and displays. But when I arrived on my arranged day, I found a flurry of preparation and security arrangements in preparation for the Queen's arrival, making it impossible for me to remain on the grounds. I don't know how our wires got crossed like that, but I certainly understood that the Queen's visit took precedence over mine! Opening Day was blessed with blue sky weather, and I'm sure Queen Beatrix enjoyed the gardens as much as I did when I returned.
Peak Bloom Time
Late April is generally the best time to visit the park. Whether spring comes early or late, tulips will fill the beds by then, and the weather turns sunny and mild. During the first week of the season, I saw more tulip leaves than blooms in the outdoor beds, but that didn't mean I was deprived of flowers. The beds are planted with layers of bulbs, including early-blooming crocuses, squill (Scilla siberiaca) and little Dutch irises (Iris reticulata). Planters of forced bulbs brighten the views, and the indoor pavilion areas offer a festival of blooms as well as informational exhibits all season long.
Seven Million Bulbs
Every year, growers in the Netherlands donate seven million bulbs to be planted in the 32 hectares of display gardens at the Keukenhof. Since its inception, the garden has served to showcase Holland's bulbs, from old favorites to new must-have varieties. With 800,000 visitors each year, the gardens offer growers a good venue for boosting sales. See something you like? Most of the flowers in the displays are labeled, with a sign nearby indicating which company donated the bulbs, so it's easy to figure out where to obtain your new favorites.
There are bulbs for sale,too. I stopped at the pavilion belonging to the oldest bulb company at the gardens, Frylink & Zonen. Unfortunately, at this time of year there are no bulbs available with the all important inspection stamp that would let me bring them back into the USA, so I could only look, and sigh longingly. You can purchase bulbs for later delivery, however. Although I didn't order any on the spot, I made sure to get on the catalog mailing list so I could dream about my fall order.
Flowers under Glass
Earlier in the season, the huge indoor space of the Willem Alexander pavilion is filled with tulips on one side and daffodils on the other, more varieties than I've seen anywhere other than one of the major bulb supplier catalogs. After a given variety has passed the peak of its perfection, it is removed and replaced by a display of lilies. By the end of the season, the wonderful scent of the lilies is so strong it wafts out the pavilion doors to perfume the surrounding garden.
The Beatrice Pavilion is given over to a fabulous display of orchids and decorated further by groups of bright bromeliads. The riot of color in this space almost seems at odds with the cool elegance of individual sprays of orchid blooms.
I knew the Keukenhof was famous for its stream-shaped flower beds, but I didn't realize I'd find water features virtually everywhere in the park. From a lake with a stepping stone pathway through the water to curving rock-edged streams studded with waterfalls, water is as much a theme in the garden as the flowers themselves. Formal fountains serve as focal points in some areas, while small bell-shaped sprays of water elsewhere provide more subtle accents. Next to the Keukehnof's landmark windmill, a peaceful canal separates the gardens from the bulb fields beyond. Later in the season, people will be able to tour the bulb fields in small boats with quiet electric motors.
The New Amsterdam Connection
New York began as the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam, established 400 years ago by Henry Hudson. The Keukenhof's newest display celebrates the links between the Netherlands and the USA. An avenue of educational billboards with old photographs explains the heritage of neighborhoods such as Harlem (named for the Dutch town of Haarlem) and the Bronx (from Bronk's River, after the sea captain who was the area's first recorded European settler).
In one of the newest areas of the garden, a large bed of white tulips edged with 'Blue Star' Muscari has been planted in the shape of the head and upraised arm of the Statue of Liberty. The outline of the Lady was clearly visible when I visited, although only the bulbs had only just begun to sprout.
If You Go
This year, the Keukenhof will be open to the public daily from 8 am until 7:30 pm through May 21. From Amsterdam or Leiden, the easiest and most economical way to get there is to purchase a "combi-ticket" covering your entrance fee and your bus fare over and back again. Bus 58 runs every 10-15 minutes during the season, making it easy to find a ride that suits your schedule. Or you could consider renting a car in order to continue your tour by driving through the nearby bulb growing region.
Don't forget your camera, and be sure to take notes so you can add your favorite varieties to your own garden next fall!
Move your mouse over the images and links above for additional information (let your cursor hover on the image for a moment or two, and a caption will pop up).
Thanks to Herbie43 for the wonderful photo of tulips in New York City. All other photos by Jill M. Nicolaus.
Special thanks to the communications office and Annemarie Gerard for arranging an unforgettable tour with master gardener André Beijk. For a gardener's perspective on the Keukenhof, see "Planting Seven Million Bulbs" and "Preparing for Seven Million Blooms."
Thanks also to Dick van Ruiten of Frylink & Zonen, for entertaining my questions and adding me to their mailing list.