May 31, 2011

Spring Time in Keukenhof

Spring means crocuses, daffodils and then tulips. The Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse south of Amsterdam is noted for its tulips as well as other flowers. Tulips have long been associated with Holland. Tulips were introduced in the 1500s from the Ottoman Empire. They became wildly popular and prices rose creating what is called “Tulip Mania.” It seems that the desire for the recently introduced tulips reached such a frenzy that bulbs were sold for more than ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. It has been reported that one bulb sold for "as much as a house on Amsterdam's smartest canal, including coach and garden." The higher the price the more they were coveted becoming a status symbol. Special tulip vases were designed to display them. As the price rose people began investing in tulips. During the winter buyers bid on the bulbs that would be delivered in the spring with people borrowing money to invest. The market for tulips collapsed in 1637 when the government put an end to Tulip Mania by fixing the price. It was the first recorded speculative “economic bubble.” Today tulips are still very popular and everyone can afford them however the term “Tulip Mania” is still used to refer to an economic bubble when prices of an item exceeds its real value.

One of the most famous tulip places is Keukenhof, which was once the 15th century hunting area on the estate of Jacoba van Beieren. Herbs for the castle kitchen were also collect from the area. After the death of van Beieren the estate fell into the hands of Baron and Baroness Van Pallandt who invited landscape architects to design English landscape type gardens around their castle. It became the basis of Keukenhof.

Today Keukenhof is home to the largest bulb flower park in the world. It covers 79 acres with 4.5 million tulips in 100 varieties and nearly 10 miles of pathways. It has 2,500 trees, the largest sculpture park in the Netherlands, a plethora of other flowers and claims to be most photographed place in the world.

Keukenhof is open from late March to late May. We were there in early April 2010 and as luck would have it we were told, “Everything is late this year” so while all the tulips should have been in full bloom they were not but there were some tulips and plenty of other flowers. Each year they have an international theme. In 2010 it was “From Russia with Love.” This year it is “Germany: Land of Poets and Philosophers.”

Keukenhof has a variety of programs so there is always something to see and do. Especially popular is the indoor flower show with permanent as well as changing exhibits. The park has several inspirational gardens designed to inspire visitors to go home and create their own wonderful garden. On-site merchants sell bulbs, which are mailed to the buyer in the fall. Each year one of the highlights is the Flower Parade from Noordwijk to Haarlem that passes Keukenhof in the afternoon with 20 flower-covered floats.

John and I visited from our rented houseboat, which we tied up free at the town’s mooring site but there are many tour buses from Amsterdam and other cities. Frequent public transit buses from Schiphol Airport and other locations connect to Keukenhof. Check their web site,, for directions and more information.