Keukenhoff Gardens, Holland

There have been several sights during my travels that made me stop and catch my breath. The first time I witnessed a sunset over the Caribbean Sea and my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon are two that come immediately to mind.

A third would certainly be tulip time at Keukenhoff Gardens in Holland. It’s a widely held misconception that tulips and other bulb flowers are native to Holland, but nothing could be further from the truth. For the origins of tulips, you must look to Asia. A tulip’s natural habitat is made up of mountainous areas, quite unlike the Netherlands.

Tulips were first introduced to the Dutch in 1593, and this serious love affair has continued to this day. Since the 1600s, growing them has been a major crop for this tiny country. Every year about 3 billion (… that’s with a “b”) tulip bulbs are produced in Holland.

Like wooden shoes, tulips are a symbol everyone associates with the Dutch. Clearly, Americans are fond of these spring flowers, as we’re the top importer of bulbs, with Germany and Japan following closely behind.

Although not an avid gardener, I do buy a flat of marigolds each spring and spend an hour or two transplanting them to display on my front porch. But I couldn’t call myself a “flower person” by any means.

Within minutes of arriving at Keukenhoff Gardens, I realized why some 50-odd tour buses sat in the parking lot. And I realized why Keukenhoff, known worldwide, is a mecca for people who have a passion for posies. As impressed as I was, I could not imagine how the scene must affect true gardening aficionados. The garden’s speciality is spring flowers, and the blossoms number in the millions.

The gardens are less than an hour’s drive from Amsterdam and are officially in the city of Lisse. Tulips are short-lived creatures, but perhaps that’s part of their allure. The actual season each year is determined by the weather and Mother Nature, rather than the tourists.

I overheard an elderly women on our bus remark that visiting Keukenhoff Gardens was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Knowing little about the gardens at that point, I recall hoping she wasn’t disappointed. Not to worry – Keukenhoff cannot fail to please.

My spouse knew even less about Keukenhoff than I did. Before our visit was over, I had to practically drag him away, after he went though three rolls of film! Within minutes, you run out of descriptive words … dazzling, incredible, fantastic, etc.

In all of Holland, Keukenhoff is the most concentrated display of bulb flowers. Of course, we knew the brief tulip season would be in full swing and that was one of our reasons for visiting in the spring. But nothing prepared us for the blaze of awesome color spread acre upon acre. The skill of Dutch flower growers is evident, especially in the way they artfully plant the bulbs. Flower types and colors are mixed to give the most dramatic effect. They even plant the bulbs to produce special shapes.

The park has small lakes, greenhouses, sculpture gardens and the obligatory windmill. The area is heavily wooded, which makes an especially nice backdrop for photos. Quiet garden paths and gently sloping terrain are perfect for wandering. When it’s time for a rest, there are pleasant terraces to sip your coffee and gaze at nature’s fleeting but outstanding triumph. Because Keukenhoff covers more than 70 acres, we never felt crowded.

If viewing all the lovely blooms gets you enthused about planting, you can purchase bulbs at several places within the park. Making it both convenient and easy, they’ll ship them to your home at the proper time for planting.

Flowers are definitely an international language and we met fellow visitors from Australia and Germany, among others. Day-trippers often bring a picnic, but you can purchase lunch at the park, as we did. Although the temperature was only in the low 60s, an outside table was our first choice. As you might imagine, picture taking and film sales are also big at Keukenhoff. With such attractive subject matter, even novice photographers can produce astounding results.

Our day trip included a look a several tulip fields. As one familiar with the corn and soybean fields of Indiana, the long rows of intense reds and yellows were unbelievable. Even hastily snapped photos taken from our bus windows turned out excellent.

If you plan to visit Holland in late April or May, be sure to make your arrangements early. We visited Keukenhoff via a one-day bus trip from Amsterdam. The bus picked us up at our hotel around 9 a.m. and we were back in the city center by 5 p.m. Due to other stops, the time allotted at the gardens was just under three hours. Beware, however, if you plan to drive; traffic jams are common.

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