Keukenhof and the Bulbfields of the Netherlands
The bulbfields of The Netherlands and in particular the Keukenhof Gardens were the first trips I made as a travel writer. I have been back several times since but that first trip made a lasting impression.
The sweet smell of hyacinths was all pervading with a hint of narcissi notes every now and then. Stretching away to a small lake was a palette of eye-searing intense colour. Beds and borders were filled with tulips of every colour imaginable from the in your face yellows, reds and oranges to the more subtle pastels of pink, apricot and creams. Under the trees were swathes of narcissi in all the hues from white to sunshine yellow and delicate apricot. Hyacinths of every shade of pink, blue and white took their place in beds among the displays of tulips and narcissi. It was an assault on the senses of sight and smell.
Ten growers and exporters created Keukenhof as a showcase for the flower bulb industry. In 1949 the gardens opened to the public for the first time.
Today the gardens cover 32 hectares in which 7 million bulbs are planted supplied by 100 hundred exhibitors completely free of charge eager to showcase their products.
The Keukenhof gardens are redesigned every year. There are of course permanent features such as the lake but the layout of the borders changes annually. Every year there is a different theme.
Among the sea of colour are several pavilions devoted to other flowers such as orchids and lilies. There are exhibitions to visit, a sculpture park and a changing selection of flower shows and flower arranging sessions.
Keukenhof is only open for eight weeks of the year and will close in mid-May. It is easily accessible from Amsterdam and Schipol Airport and is right in the middle of an area known as the “Bollenstreek” or bulbfields.
On a short break it is easy to hire a bike and explore the bulbfields by cycling along the many cycle paths beside the fields and the canals. The Netherlands is flat and the extremely bicycle friendly. The sight of vast fields of colour stretching away past a windmill to the horizon is quintessentially Dutch.
It is well worth visiting one of the huge auction houses devoted to selling the flowers from the bulbfields. Millions of blooms are sold each day using the Dutch auction method. The price drops continually until someone bids which means you have to have nerves of steel or pay over the odds. It’s amazing to watch. From the auction they are packed and rushed to nearby Schipol Airport. Fresh bunches of flowers are on the streets of London and other European streets by 10:00am. It is an early start to see the sales at there best but is well worth it.
If you want to buy a bunch of tulips or narcissi the best place to head to is the floating flower market in nearby Amsterdam where you can shop at leisure and take time over picking the exact bunch you want.
Gordon Lethbridge blogs at www.travelunpacked.co.uk