Dutch bulb fields have, since the time of ‘tulip mania’ in the 17th century, attracted painters from Europe and beyond, mesmerised by vistas of flowers, row after row, vibrant and tantalising, extending like floral carpets to meet the horizon.
One of my favourite examples is Tulips in Holland by French Impressionist, Claude Monet, painted in 1886.
I am fascinated by the light and the vivid hues, and had pondered the reality and how it compared with Monet’s impressions as he set them to canvas in real time.
The Dutch tulip season is short, beginning in March and ending in May. A short visit to Holland’s southern bulb region last week presented the opportunity to feast my eyes on multitudes of magnificent blooms as Monet did on another spring day over 130 years ago.
The flat land and waterways reminded me of happy childhood holidays cruising on the Norfolk Broads with my family. They are early memories, set in time in a technicolour palette; our sensory perceptions of colour, smell, pain and sounds gradually fade as we grow older. I still remember the boldness of scarlet poppies against the parched East-Anglia fen land and vast sky. Of course, the two regions of England and Holland were once joined, back in the mists of time, so perhaps the connection is understandable.
The landscape changes from week to week as fields are harvested and return to barren soil, their glory days ended for another year. Elsewhere, new flowers open to the sun as their moment arrives.
I ambled alongside one narrow canal which skirted several smaller fields. Views from the water’s edge offered a chance to see further and to form my solitary impressions.
My impression is of a grand artistic collaboration between nature and nurture at its triumphant moment of fruition, and that I was lucky to be in the gallery to see it for myself.
Two or three years ago my mum revealed that as a young woman she’d longed to visit Dutch tulip fields. She’s 77 now and although that long ago dream had never come true, she had still thought of it from time to time. Mum had never previously mentioned this ambition as she had thought it too difficult to realise. That’s not completely without foundation; tulips bloom for just a couple of months, mid-March to mid-May, so any visit would have to take place within a fairly tight window. Practically, I’m the only one of her children who could accompany mum on such an expedition, and I can only take holidays at certain times. This year the opportunity finally arose for us to visit the Netherlands during my Easter break.
The Netherlands is famously the world’s largest exporter of flowers, and nowhere can the glory of Dutch flora be better experienced than at Keukenhof Gardens. Keukenhof is situated in Lisse in the bulb growing region of Holland to the south-west of Amsterdam. The 80 acre park was opened in 1950 as a site for growers from all over the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe to exhibit their hybrids and help the Dutch export industry.
The land had formerly been a medieval hunting ground, and was used in part to provide herbs, fruit and vegetables for the kitchen of the land-owning Countess of Heinaut’s castle, hence the name Keukenhof, or ‘kitchen garden’. After the Countess’ death, the land was possessed by several very wealthy owners. Constantly expanding since the current park’s establishment, it has become one of the largest flower gardens in Europe and attracts millions of visitors from all over the world.
Keukenhof opens its gates to visitors for only seven or eight weeks each year, so it can be very busy. It was wonderful to see so many awe-struck flower enthusiasts soaking up the April sun and the spectacular vistas. ‘Oohs’ and ‘Aahs’, I discovered, sound the same in all of the many languages I heard as we wound our way around the botanical wonderland.
Traditional woodland areas still displayed late flowering snowdrops and daffodils, some presented in very artistic arrangements.
Carpets of tulips and hyacinths rolled out in glorious displays of colour and texture.
Each year Keukenhof has a theme, and in 2019 it is Flower-Power; a ’60s retro celebration of peace and love. Various exhibitions and installations appeared throughout the park; I particulary enjoyed the inspirarational peace garden.
Many lakes and water features grace the park. Some provide quieter places to sit – as far as is possible at a popular site on this scale.
Keukenhof Gardens is roughly the size of 80 football (soccer) pitches, so a full day is needed if you want to see all of it. Of course, this necessitates stops for food and rest, all of which is catered for. There are two larger restaurant areas but these do become very busy at the obvious times. Other charming cafes offer delicious coffee and famous Dutch apple pie.
Everywhere is accessible for prams and wheelchairs, and there are lots of places to sit and take a break whilst enjoying the carnival of flowers.
This is just a flavour of my visit to Keukenhof; a small selection of the delights for the senses. I have returned with a selection of bulbs for my own garden which – fingers crossed – will be a reminder when they flower of a special kitchen garden that I was able to share with my mum and make a dream come true.
I wish an enjoyable weekend to all, hopefully one that will include some beautiful flowers and sunshine.
is one of the world’s largest flower gardens. Covering an area of 80 acres it is a celebration of Dutch flora on a magnificent scale. The of the modern is one of the world’s largest flower gardens. Covering an area of 80 acres it is a celebration of Dutch flora on a magnificent scale. The of the modern
On a recent visit to Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery my eye was drawn to John William Waterhouse’s painting of EchoandNarcissus. The painting shows the mountain nymph, Echo, gazing longingly at Narcissus as he gazes even more longingly at his own reflection in the water. Echo’s love is unrequited by the object of her affections and, feeling rejected and invisible, she fades away until all that remains is her voice. Desperately thirsty, but unwilling to disturb his image on the water’s surface, Narcissus eventually dies from dehydration (though in another version of the myth he drowns). A clump of Narcissi, pale yellow heads leaning forward to peer into the water, springs up on the spot.
Despite the recent return of early morning ground frost to some of our gardens, spring is established. Things are happening in my little patch.
One of the earliest blooms each year is the dwarf rhododendron which I have kept in the same pot since I rescued it from a skip about five years ago. I was told that it wouldn’t grow much bigger even if planted in the ground so I decided not to disturb it. It flowers only once, and only for a short time, but I look forward every March to that exquisite show that tells me spring has arrived in earnest.
The early flowering clematis which I planted quite recently seems to have taken root. Although it looks so delicate and fragile right now I hope it will provide a stunning backdrop as it climbs the fence and heralds the arrival of spring at the end of March for many years to come.
The little old spiraea which every summer I suspect has had its last day in the sun never ceases to amaze and delight me with its spring revival.
Even those plants which won’t flower until June or July are showing new green shoots on last year’s woody stems. The potted herbs are flourishing, quickly returning in colour and scent.
At the beginning of December I planted some daffodil bulbs which I’d bought in the autumn and forgotten about . I thought it was probably too late but hope, as they say, springs eternal. Well, spring they did! Some of them, anyway.
I’ve noticed that many of those swathes of early daffodils which graced roadside verges and parks have now faded, like the lovely Echo, leaving only lowered browning heads or leaves which will also die back over the next month or so, though below the ground the bulbs will sleep until their time comes again. I’m happy that my late blooming golden narcissi, a few still unfurling, will still be around a while longer yet to make me smile when I look outside every morning. Like their mythical namesake they have every reason to stand proud and show their faces to the sun.