Tiptoe Through the Tulips in Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands
Baby boomers of a certain age will remember Tiny Tim singing “Tip-Toe Thru the Tulips” on the Ed Sullivan show. Well, I tip-toed thru the tulips in real life in Keukenhof, the Garden of Europe, in the Netherlands, just outside Amsterdam
Tip-Toe Thru’ The Tulips With Me
Tiptoe by the window
By the window, that is where I’ll be
Come tiptoe through the tulips with me
Tulip Fields Near the Hague by Claude Monet
Claude Monet visited the Netherlands and was very taken with the tulips. This painting, Tulip Fields Near the Hague hangs in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
This is not your average kitchen garden!
Keukenhof means ‘kitchen garden’ but it is not like any kitchen garden I have ever seen. It is one of the largest flower gardens in the world, with more than 7 million spring-flowering bulbs. If you want to see Keukenhof, you need to plan a spring trip to Amsterdam because Keukenhof is open only for the tulip season, just 8 weeks, from mid-March to mid-May.
Tulips last about a week in my garden. How does Keukenhof manage to have perfect tulips for 8 weeks? The answer is their system of ‘lasagne planting’ or layered planting. Late-blooming tulips are planted in the bottom layer; mid-blooming in the middle layer; and early-blooming in the top layer. If I were super-organized, I would try this.
At the end of their short but glorious display, the tulips are not dead-headed…..they are dug up and destroyed!
It takes 3 months and 40 gardeners to plant 7 million new bulbs in the fall. The grass in Keukenhof is perfect with no weeds. That is because the grass is sown every spring.
The Tulip Bubble in the Dutch Golden Age
Keukenhof has a theme for its garden every year. This year, it was “The Golden Age” when the Netherlands became rich through world trade in the 17th century. This was a time of great achievement in trade, industry, the arts and sciences. It was also the time of tulipmania.
A tulip looks like a turban
Tulips were introduced to Europe from Turkey, the home of the Ottoman Empire. The Sultan’s palace gardens were filled with the most beautiful tulips. The Sultan sent the first tulip bulbs to Europe.
People were amazed when they saw their first tulip. It was unlike any other flower in Europe at that time, with its intensely saturated coloured petals.
The tulip became the ultimate status symbol that defined success. The new merchant class that became wealthy through international trade wanted to showcase their success. They built grand estates surrounded by flower gardens. The sensational tulip took centre stage in the garden.
The supply of tulips during the Dutch Golden Age could not match the demand. The supply was dictated by the life cycle of tulips. New bulbs can be produced from seed in 10 years, or from clones in 3 years. After the spring bloom, tulips are dormant for a few months and can be dug up and sold. A spot market for tulips developed during this months.
Tulips must be re-planted in the fall. In the months that tulips could not be moved, tulip traders signed futures contracts, promising to buy bulbs after their spring bloom. The contracts themselves were then sold and re-sold while the actual bulbs were in the ground.
Speculation in futures contracts drove the price of bulbs to stratospheric levels. The cost of single bulb was 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. A house was cheaper than a tulip bulb. The price collapsed overnight, driving many into bankruptcy.
Many business books have examined the underlying causes of the tulip bubble. There was renewed interest in the tulip bubble during the dot-com bubble and the subprime mortgage collapse. Some describe Bitcoin as a modern tulip bubble but without even a tulip.
The tulip was a war hero
The Dutch suffered enormously during World War II. A German blockade cut off food supplies to millions of people. The situation was exacerbated by an unusually harsh winter in 1944. Many survived by eating tulip bulb soup.
The Dutch Royal Family escaped from the Netherlands in 1940 and spent the war years in Ottawa. In 1943, Princess Juliana gave birth to Princess Margriet at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. The Dutch flag was flown from the Peace Tower to celebrate the birth of the new princess. The Canadian Government temporarily declared the maternity ward to be extraterritorial so that the new princess would hold Dutch citizenship, thereby protecting her succession status to the Dutch throne. After the war, Princess Juliana expressed her gratitude to the people of Canada by making a gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs. She sent another 20,000 to the Ottawa Civic Hospital. Princess Juliana became Queen Juliana in 1948. In every year of her reign, she sent thousands of tulip bulbs to Ottawa. From these gifts, the Canadian Tulip Festival was born.
Over a million tulip bulbs are in bloom in Ottawa during the 10-day tulip festival in mid May.
For those baby boomers who remember Expo ’67, and can still do math, you will realize that Canada will celebrate its 150th birthday next year. Canada has partnered with the Kingdom of the Netherlands to create the Canada 150 tulip. It is a red and white tulip in the colours of the Canadian flag, pictured above. I downloaded this image from the National Capital Commission.
You can buy your Canada 150 tulip bulbs this summer at Home Hardware so that you can have your own Canada-Netherlands garden celebration next spring.
Everyone needs a friend
Tulips have such personality. This one says “Don’t be shy. Show your bold streak!”
Stand out in a crowded field
The Red Tide
Keukenhof is surrounded by tulip bulb fields. We stopped by the side of the road to get the pictures of the yellow fields and the red fields. It had started to rain during our visit to Keukenhof so we cut our visit a bit short. With better weather, we would have headed over to the windmill in Keukenhof for a beautiful vista of the fields. As well, you can take a boat ride from the windmill through some of the fields. If you are a bit more adventurous, you can get a bike at the main entrance to Keukenhof and bike along the spectacular fields of tulips.
Just writing this blog had made me want to return to Keukenhof!
How to get to Keukenhof?
Keukenhof is located southwest of Amsterdam near the village of Lisse.
There is lots of parking if you drive.
You can get a direct bus from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, about a 40-minute trip. You can buy a combo bus and entrance ticket.
The Keukenhof website provides travel details when the park is open. http://www.keukenhof.nl/en/
Well, that is the end of our tiptoe through the tulips in the Netherlands.