The tulip and the windmill

By | Category: Travel destinations

What visitors expect to see in the Netherlands

“Go in late April or early May,” said Peter Seabrook – the star of hundreds of BBC television programmes – “that way you be sure of seeing a range of different flowers.” He ought to know. He has been coming to Keukenhof for over forty years.
Keukenhof is an annual eight week event each spring in a park just thirty minutes from Schipol airport in Amsterdam. In this short period, it celebrates spring flowers and above all – the tulip which will forever be associated with the Netherlands.
800,000 people visit Keukenhof each year – about 100,000 a week. To fully understand how important Keukenhof is to Dutch tourism about 6% of all the visitors who come to the Netherlands come to this brief, spring attraction. And 70,000 of those are us British. Coach parties are there sharp at 8am to see the light from the lakes reflecting onto the blooms – another of Seabrook’s favourite times – but they are also there to get the most out of their time.
But many are coming for just the day. With so many direct links by KLM, easyJet and BA there are dozens of flights per day to Amsterdam from airports all over the UK and Ireland. From the airport an express bus takes you direct to the park in Lisse for just €4.
Keukenhof is a big site; it covers between seventy and seventy five acres and has seven million bulbs planted by the thirty gardeners. That’s getting on for 230,000 bulbs for every gardener. Keukenhof (which means kitchen garden) has had a turbulent history going back 600 years when its then owner – Jacoba van Beieren – was married to one of the most important British figures of the time, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, a brother of Henry V. The gardens provided her with produce for the kitchen, hence the name.
More Brits than ever before will probably cross to Keukenhof this year because the main theme for 2013 is the English garden. And there on a slightly raised, sloping bank you will see a mosaic of plants portraying the Tower of London and the Elizabeth Tower that houses Big Ben. Each year Keukenhof adopts a theme but choosing the UK for this year may seem to some as reinforcing the obvious because a part of the gardens of Keukenhof is modelled on an English traditional garden from Victorian times by the designer, Jan David Zocher who, it is said, introduced landscape gardening to the Netherlands. 150 years later, the UK’s Royal Horticutural Society has assisted in creating this tribute to the UK although I’m not sure they would have had anything to do with the bowler hats that adorned some flowers in the greenhouses or the umbrellas that hung from the ceiling in the opening ceremony.
Today it is

Jasper van de Zou in front of tulip blooms

Jasper van de Zou who is responsible for each annual design and theme of what visitors see and those thirty gardeners who present the spectacle. The gardens are divided into areas and different suppliers provide their bulbs free of charge. At the end of the eight weeks all the bulbs are removed, composted and a couple of months later, ground preparation begins for the next year. In the meantime visitors will see displays of crocuses, hyacinths, daffodils and narcissi, tulips and lillies depending on the flowering periods and the days you visit.

Midnight Mystique

Athough most visitors will look at, and expect to see, tulips other plants are worth attention. In particular I was taken with a hyacinth that is a deep purplish black called Midnight Mystique. Unfortunately my image makes it look lighter than it really is. And it has a glorious smell as well.
In one section of the park, the most well-known of Dutch, TV gardeners – Rob Verlinden – was out creating his garden assisited by a painter. Yes she was painting stones adorning his small plot. One day nothing was there but an empty space. The next day and there was a completed garden for all to see. And Verlinden was chatting to visitors as they asked him about what his theme was and whether they would have their photograph taken with him!

Rob Verlinden at work

Keukenhof is in the town of Lisse. Here are fields after fields of flowering plants to see. Drive down any road and there is yet another sight ahead of you.
Although the flowers are the main attraction, two other significant draws appeal to visitors. The first consists of the public sculpture that is dotted around the park and the second is just the park itself. There is a windmill that has been transported from Groningen and set up at the far end of the park, there are the wooden stepping stones going into the lake enabling you to see the plants from different viewpoints and play areas for the children.
If you are travelling to Keukenhof then two towns worth visiting are nearby, Leiden and Haarlem. But so is Amsterdam and who couldn’t fill a week exploring the city?

Netherlands' other well-known attraction - a windmill

But you have only seven weeks to see these flowers and plants before the whole cycle restarts so make the most of a day-trip over the Easter holidays.


For more information or to buy tickets to Keukenhof, click here.

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