DELIGHTFUL DUTCH TULIP GARDENS
This month Annie Green-Armytage hops across the North Sea to experience the annual Dutch bulb extravaganza
I’VE ALWAYS wanted to visit Amsterdam in the springtime. Holland is, of course, bulb country and, as a photographer for many years, I’ve been meaning to capture the glory of massed tulips in their homeland but for one reason or other never quite managed it.
Last year the lure proved overwhelming. I decided to visit Keukenhof, just outside Amsterdam, hailed as ‘the most beautiful spring garden in the world’ with more than 800 species of bulb flowering from the end of March until the end of May. It was to be a working trip: flying to Schiphol, boarding the half-hourly bus which takes visitors from airport to park entrance, returning to Norwich the same day.
The family had other ideas. “Let’s make a weekend of it,” said my other half. “I wouldn’t mind seeing Amsterdam,” said daughter number two unexpectedly. “Count me in,” said daughter number one, incredibly.
So a family trip it became, with a five-day stay on the outskirts of Amsterdam and trips to museums, restaurants and general mooching around the picturesque streets and canals. This involved many cones of fries topped with mayo, and hearty slabs of Dutch apple cake, but most importantly we learnt that the great tulip explosion is no longer confined to Keukenhof.
Pots and tubs of the iconic bulbs are also appearing across the city for the annual Tulp Festival, which is seeking to reintroduce a little tulip mania into the heart of Amsterdam. The organisers ultimately aim to plant a tulip for every citizen, a staggering 800,000 bulbs to be grown and replaced annually.
This year they will reach a mere half-million. In public parks and squares, in the grounds of museums and hotels, on busy streets and outside cafes, tulips now add technicolor to the cool grey streets during April and May.
Some of my favourite planters included apparently floating islands of red and white in the broad rill in front of the Rijksmuseum, and cheerful pots of yellow Darwin hybrids lighting up Damrak, the main street leading up towards Amsterdam’s Central Station. Another winner was Prinses Irene, in glowing vermilion with feathery markings, standing proud outside one of the traditional gabled houses on the Herengracht canal.
My ‘work’ trip to Keukenhof was pushed back and back until on the last day, I finally abandoned the family (who were heartily sick of tulips by this time) and took myself and my cameras on a lone visit. With hindsight, going on the first sunny Sunday of April may not have been altogether well-judged.
Many, many others had the same idea and the queues to enter were daunting. However, once inside, the park is large enough at 32 hectares to allow for quiet moments of something close to solitude. Staying until the evening also saw most of the tour buses leave and afforded a couple of hours of tranquility and golden light.
Keukenhof is spectacular. Great swathes of tulips in bold blocks of colour – purple, pink, orange, gold – run like rivers through the grass. Mature trees and lakes create structure and act as a foil to prevent the colour becoming indigestible. Wide, level pathways make the park accessible to all and well-placed cafes and food stalls provide sustenance to the footsore.
There are also several covered exhibition spaces which I didn’t have time to explore as I was too busy outside, acting like a kid in a candy shop. There’s even a scaled down windmill for kids (and their mums and dads) to climb up, and an electric boat trip – aptly named the whisper boat – around the neighbouring bulb fields.
Planting is not restricted to tulips. Some of my favourite displays were combinations of spring bulbs: hyacinth, narcissus and crown imperial fritillaries in gentle shades of lemon and lilac, bolder purple and pink triumph tulips teamed with lavender hyacinths, and creamy white and pale blue grape hyacinths set in artfully broken blue Delft-ware.
OK, maybe the latter was sailing close to kitsch, but it did look good. Add a generous helping of cherry blossom and smallflowered magnolia (M. stellata), beautifully maintained lawns and waterways, and the fresh green of the unfurling tree canopy and you have something pretty special, all of which is a lot nearer than you may think.
I was astonished to find that we spent around the same time in the air as we did driving to Norwich airport from the edge of Dereham.
I may just go again this year. You’re all invited.
The Keukenhof windmill seen from across the neighbouring bulb fields at Lisse, in the Netherlands.
Above (left to right): Waterlily tulip, Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Goldstück’; Mixed border of tulips and hyacinths including triumph tulip Tulipa ‘Purple Prince’, Tulipa ‘Candy Prince’ and Hyacinthus ‘Purple Sensation’; Early waterlily tulip, Tulipa...
White wooden bridge across a curving rill with child walking. A weeping flowering cherry (Prunus sp.) is in front and mixed spring flowers including hyacinth, tulip, Anemone blanda and daffodils (Narcissus cvs) behind. Woodland in the background.
Above (left to right):Graphic concrete pathway leading to sculpture through borders of hyacinths and fritillaries. Including Hyacinthus ‘Apricot Passion’, H. ‘Paul Herman’, Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Ostara’, and jonquil Narcissus ‘Sailboat’; Thatched...