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