As it is the national flower of the Netherlands, is it typical Dutch to love tulips? Looking at the annual number of visitors to the Keukenhof: one million from over one hundred countries, it must be all universal. I recently went with friends to this world-famous ‘Spring Park’ – as it is only open from end of March until end of May when Keukenhof displays thousands of tulips of all imaginable colors and shapes, often grouped together with other bulbous species.
Keukenhof means ‘Kitchen Garden’ but it is not exactly your mother’s kitchen garden. Originally it was indeed part of the Teylingen Castle, a family estate of over 200 hectares which developed into the Keukenhof Castle in 1641. It was redesigned in 1857 in English landscape style, and only in 1949 a group of bulb exporters used the Keukenhof then to exhibit their spring flowering bulbs. This was an instant hit with the public and, voilà, the annual spring flower exhibition was born.
The Dutch tulip history-story, as displayed at the Keukenhof Juliana Pavilion, tells that when the tulip was first introduced to Holland by botanist Carolus Clusius in 1593, his precious bulbs were soon stolen. This incident made the tulip instantly famous as people realised the unicity of this strange flower that had come from Turkey. That period is called Tulipomania, as the rich were willing to pay copious amounts of money for just one bulb.
Whereas in the 17th century one speciality bulb like the ‘Semper Augustus’ could fetch a price equal to the value of a grand house, today you get bulbs for ‘peanuts’. A bunch of ten tulips in Holland will cost only a few euros. A rare item has become a most popular product of beauty.
You can give credit to the Dutch that their fascination with the tulip lead to the ultimate cultivation of this bulbous plant. Over the past 400 years incredible hybrid varieties have been developed while mass production has made the tulip an item of flourishing commerce.
Depending on the weekday, Keukenhof can attract so many visitors that the situation can be quite difficult to fully enjoy the beauty of the Park if not make it a challenge to take photos. Nevertheless, the quiet beauty of the tulips will quickly capture one’s attention and one gets absorbed by a deep spectrum of colors, wonderful varied shapes and fine subtle fragrances that take you into that otherworldly atmosphere of the tulips.