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The People’s Friend

When It’s Spring Again . . . 8



Gillian Thornton heads for Keukenhof and the most spectacular display of tulips in the world . . .


A carpet of colour.

HENEVER anyone talks about Holland, I instantly have a mental picture of flat fields swathed in vibrant blocks of tulips and dotted with picturesque windmills. A cliché, I know, but as a child of the Fifties, I grew up to the refrain of Max Bygraves’ hit song “Tulips From Amsterdam” and the image has never left me. So when I arrived in Holland last spring for the annual opening of the legendary Keukenhof Gardens, I was surprised to find that tulips are only part of the story. Holland grows spring bulbs of every imaginable kind and Keukenhof showcases the very best of them from daffodils to hyacinth, amaryllis to orchids. The story began in 1949 when a group of leading bulb growers and exporters came up with a plan to stage an open-air exhibition of spring flowers in the park of the Keukenhof estate. The aim was to showcase their bulbs in a natural setting, so the 70-acre park was landscaped with lakes and canals, winding paths, rockeries and flowerbeds. Soon Keukenhof had become synonymous with spring colour and fragrance. For a garden that is open for just eight weeks every year – plus a weekend for autumn foliage – Keukenhof is a surprisingly timeconsuming operation. The team of 30 gardeners starts work on next year’s planting as soon as the gates have closed on the last visitor of the season. In 2013, 85 flower-bulb growers and exporters provided more than 7 million flower bulbs free of charge. In return, these “preferred suppliers” are

allocated a section of the park where they can plant their latest blooms – after consultation with the organising committee, of course, to ensure that the display has a harmonious feel. Keukenhof opens from mid-March to mid-May and there needs to be something for visitors to see throughout the open season. The answer, I discovered, is in the “lasagnestyle” planting. Early flowering bulbs such as crocus are planted nearest the surface with two further layers of bulbs beneath. Then at the end of the eight weeks, all the bulbs are lifted and discarded, so the soil can be prepared for the new bulbs. Visit early in the season and the amount of colour does depend on the weather. Sometimes the flowers are in full bloom on opening day but there have been occasional years when they are under snow. The late spring of 2013 meant that few blooms had raised their pretty heads out of doors and the bulb fields surrounding the park were still lines of green shoots when I visited. But there was still plenty to enjoy.


WAS knocked out by the flower shows in pavilions dotted around the park. Some 30 shows take place across the two months; the Oranje Nassau Pavilion features a different flower each week, from freesia to daffodil, alstroemeria to iris and chrysanthemum. Whether you’re a flower arranger, a gardener, or just an enchanted onlooker, you can’t help but be inspired by the innovative design of the displays. On a grey spring morning, I felt my spirits lift as I entered the huge

Willem-Alexander Pavilion in the centre of the gardens, home to more than 100,000 tulips and other blooms. Here I found “beds” of tulips in rich shades of pink, salmon and scarlet; white, yellow and gold; and a rainbow of other bright colours. There were tulips in plain colours and tulips with bold stripes; tulips with classic smooth petals and flamboyantly frilled tulips with attitude. And not just tulips, either. I loved the arrangements of amaryllis in colours ranging from shell pink and white to deep ruby-red and crimson, and the bowls of tightly packed hyacinths in everything from pastel shades to candy colours, vibrant hues to blooms that were almost black. Across the park in the Beatrix Pavilion, the scents and colours of the orchid display brought a touch of the tropics to the Netherlands, and just a short walk from the pavilion, the Keukenhof windmill completed my childhood picture of Holland. Jan the miller – who lives in a mill of his own close to the park – revealed that it had been built in 1892 in Groningen and presented to the park in 1957 as a gift by Holland America Line. From the platform beneath the sails, there’s a great view across the canal to the surrounding bulb fields, and if you want to explore at closer quarters, you’ll find bikes for hire outside the main gate. With no hills to negotiate, Holland offers easy pedalling for everyone! Or maybe take a ride in a silent “whisper boat” to enjoy the fields at tulip level. Keukenhof’s seven Trend Gardens provide inspiration each year to anyone wanting to give their


Not only tulips feature at Keukenhof.

home plot a makeover. I particularly liked the eco-friendly Kitchen Garden, the chill-out zone of the Quiet Garden, and – just my thing – the Easy Garden. Art installations are also an important part of the Keukenhof experience with more than 30 artists contributing pieces that range from classical to unconventional.


ACH year, the park adopts a different theme and 2013 was the turn of “United Kingdom – Land of Great Gardens”. Working

closely with the Royal Horticultural Society, the Julian Pavilion staged an exhibition about English gardens, whilst a flower mosaic featuring Big Ben and Tower Bridge was planted out beside the Oranje Nassau Pavilion. The 2014 theme of “Holland” promises to be fun, with the focus on the history of the tulip, including the tulip mania of the 17th century and a spectacular flower mosaic depicting Amsterdam’s canal buildings using 60,000 tulip bulbs. The 2014 season will mark 65 years of fabulous floral

Plenty of colour.

displays at Keukenhof which today attracts some 800,000 visitors a year, 75 per cent of them coming from abroad. British flower fans have always loved the gardens, but increasing numbers of tourists are now arriving from the United States and South America, Eastern Europe and Asia. And for those who would like to take the colour of Keukenhof home with them, three preferred suppliers have sales outlets in the park where you can order bulbs for home delivery. Tulips from Amsterdam indeed! n

Keukenhof castle is open to the public in summer.

Lasagne Planting If you would like spring colour like Keukenhof: n Plant bulbs in two or three layers, with early bloomers like crocuses on the top and tulips or other later-flowering bulbs 3 cm lower. n Plant the bulbs singly in a pot with a drainage hole and cover it with crocks or clay granules before adding the soil. Large bulbs should be spaced at intervals of 2-3 cm and smaller varieties, 1-2 cm. n Opt for two or three layers with a minimum planting depth of 5 cm. Water regularly and then just enjoy the results all through the spring.

Want To Know More? n Gillian flew to AmsterdamSchiphol and stayed at De Beukenhof Hotel in Leiden, a picturesque alternative to Amsterdam. A direct bus service (Line 858) links the airport to Keukenhof throughout the open season and takes around half an hour. n There is also a direct bus (Line 854) from Leiden Central Station, taking around 20 minutes. n Entrance to Keukenhof costs €15 for adults; parking is €6 per car. Opening dates for 2014 are March 20 to May 18 from 8 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. Visit

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When It's Spring Again: Keukenhof

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