Dutch Courage

My trip to Hol­land has in­spired me to be far bolder with colours in the fu­ture

Rutherglen Reformer - - House & Home - Diar­muid Gavin With Diar­muid Gavin

This week I went to visit a world-fa­mous flower show. While Lon­don hosts the most fa­mous of all flower shows in a fort­night’s time, Hol­land hosts an an­nual ex­trav­a­ganza which starts ev­ery year in March and fin­ishes the third week of May – just as the Chelsea Flower Show opens its doors.

The place is Keuken­hof, about a 45-minute drive from Am­s­ter­dam, and it’s mainly a cel­e­bra­tion of a sin­gle species – the tulip.

The Nether­lands is the world’s largest pro­ducer of tulip bulbs, pro­vid­ing an an­nual 4.2bil­lion.

Al­most 2,000 dif­fer­ent cul­ti­vars are cul­ti­vated com­mer­cially, and ap­prox­i­mately 100 new cul­ti­vars are added an­nu­ally. Keuken­hof is a show­case for all of this.

Now in its 68th year, the park­land is host to seven mil­lion spring flower bulbs with more than 800 va­ri­eties of tulips. Keuken­hof, mean­ing kitchen gar­den, dates back to the 15th cen­tury when Count­ess Jac­que­line of Bavaria used to gather fruit and veg from the sur­rounds for the kitchen of the cas­tle. The cas­tle gar­dens were re­designed in 1857 in the English land­scape style and this forms the ba­sis of the park to­day.

I couldn’t have picked a busier day to visit. It was a bank holiday week­end, the sun was shin­ing and tens of thou­sands of oth­ers had the same idea. But with typ­i­cal Dutch ef­fi­ciency, ev­ery­thing from park­ing, to the quest for en­try, waf­fles and cof­fee was eas­ily ne­go­ti­ated.

The park is a nice size for a day out. Rec­tan­gu­lar in shape, and handy fold-out maps are freely avail­able. The set­ting is pic­turesque... beau­ti­fully planned for­mal gar­dens lead­ing to hilly land­scaped zones (un­usual in Hol­land), with wa­ter in the form of canals, streams and lakes ev­ery­where.

Cen­tral to pro­ceed­ings is a huge ex­hi­bi­tion and sales green­house called the WillemAlexan­der (many of the des­ti­na­tions are named af­ter mem­bers of the Royal Family).

It was thronged with tourists ad­mir­ing flo­ral art demon­stra­tions and peo­ple buy­ing tulip mem­o­ra­bilia.

I rushed through, anx­ious to take in as many vis­tas and views as pos­si­ble.

Ini­tially scep­ti­cal, I was soon over­come with the ex­cite­ment of vast swathes of tulips of ev­ery kind set out in or­dered beds or gen­tly me­an­der­ing rows.

There are open ar­eas, water­side land­scapes, wood­land vis­tas and ar­range­ments of tulips made to look like a Mon­drian paint­ing.

Crit­i­cal mode went out of the win­dow, lost to the over­whelm­ing sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence – colours of ev­ery hue used singly or in in­tox­i­cat­ing mixes. Flo­ral scent hung heav­ily in the air but most of all it was the look of awe on vis­i­tors’ faces and their smiles which re­mained the last­ing im­pres­sion. Ev­ery view is a “Ko­dak mo­ment” – selfie sticks abound.

So what can we learn from this? It’s all about bold use of colour. This can be as sim­ple as us­ing one colour in a bold sweep or mix­ing up lots of colours to cre­ate a joy­ful ca­coph­ony.

I loved the perfect curv­ing lines of con­trast­ing colours – like the won­der­ful or­ange frit­il­lar­ies un­der-planted with deep pur­ple tulips, the rows of zingy or­ange and white tulips, and the rivers of blue mus­cari along­side creamy white tulips.

Equally beau­ti­ful was the scheme that used com­ple­men­tary colours blend­ing hap­pily in se­quence – pur­ple to deep pink to pale pink to red.

The plan­ners here love colour and they aren’t afraid to have a lit­tle fun with it, cre­at­ing ex­u­ber­ant, cheer­ful de­signs.

I’m truly in­spired by their ideas and hope you are too for when you’re plant­ing up your borders for next spring’s dis­play.

For more on vis­it­ing the gar­dens at Keuken­hof, go to keuken­hof.nl. En­trance costs €16 (£13.50).

MIR­RORED Curv­ing lines make for a stun­ning spec­tle

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