Tulip mania reigns in Holland in spring. Some 800,000 bulbs are planted in Amsterdam, one for every resident, garnering almost as much attention as the Rembrandts and Vermeers in the city’s renowned Rijksmuseum.
But photos of tulips at Keukenhof garden were what put “see tulips in Holland” on my bucket list.
Every fall — October and November — 100 growers bury 7 million bulbs, mostly tulips, in 72 acres adjacent to the 15th-century Teylingen Castle, near Lisse, an hour southwest of Amsterdam. Keukenhof, literally “kitchen garden,” was designed in 1857 as an English-style garden.
But in 1950, flower bulb exporters turned Keukenhof into a spring showcase of eye-popping flowers available to home gardeners and landscape architects. It’s a living catalog of about 800 varieties of tulips and other bulb flowers. Last year, 1.4 million people from 100 countries descended on Keukenhof in the eight weeks it was open. The 2018 season opened Thursday and lasts until May 13.
Some purists derisively call it a “botanical Disneyland.”
I went twice last year to make sure I saw as much as possible. My first pilgrimage, a day-tour from Amsterdam on April 19, included a visit to Dan the Bulb Grower. Dan Jansze let us pose for photos in a field of red tulips and explained that after the tulips bloom, growers snip off the flowers so all of the energy goes into the bulbs rather than the blossoms.
I returned to Keukenhof late last spring on a tour from my riverboat cruise from Amsterdam to Antwerp. By then, some fields already had been clipped so green stems were naked at the top.
Catching the tulips at the best time is akin to figuring the peak of fall color in the United States. Typically, tulips are prime from mid-April to early May, which is why March tulip river cruises are cheaper.
Exact dates depend on the weather; warm winters bring earlier blooms. You can track the growing season, starting in March, at tulipsinholland.com.
Keukenhof is always in bloom when it’s open. Tulips are supplemented by daffodils, iris, bluebells, lilies, crocuses, narcissus and hyacinths. Orchids inhabit one of seven indoor pavilions. They display cut flowers and potted plants from several hundred growers, each identified by its name and website for ordering. More than half of the tulip bulbs sent worldwide are shipped from Holland.
But Holland is not their original home. Most believe tulips originated in Asia and flourished in Constantinople, now Istanbul.
Some claim the flower was called a tulip because its shape was similar to a turban. First known plantings in The Netherlands were in the mid- to late 1500s, and the exotic flower became wildly popular and ridiculously pricey. The Hortus Bulborum north of Limmen is a historical bulb garden that might appeal to serious gardeners.
But Keukenhof is for everyone. It’s family friendly with indoor cafeterias, outdoor food booths, playgrounds, a maze and petting zoo. A 50-pound-plus shaggy dog sat in an oversized yellow wooden shoe, its owner posing with him for a photo.
Paths pass formal English gardens, more spare Japanese ones and all sorts of designs. There’s a pond with steppingstones, a historical garden with varieties dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. You hear lots of "wow!"
“Wow” is universally understood.