This month An­nie Green-Army­tage hops across the North Sea to ex­pe­ri­ence the an­nual Dutch bulb ex­trav­a­ganza

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

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...

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