Keukenhof Garden, Amsterdam
Tiptoe through the tulips
In the depths of winter it’s hard to imagine how all that
bare earth, naked trees and seemingly dead bushes will ever come back to life.
Yet, without fail, as February melts in to March, the green shoots re-appear
and suddenly colour creeps back to our lives. So hold that thought and imagine
the largest spring garden in the world – and there you have it, the wonder that
is Keukenhof Garden, just outside Amsterdam.
Open for just 8 weeks every year, Keukenhof is a veritable
kaleidoscope of floral wonder. Over 7 million bulbs - every shade, shape,
variety you can imagine – are donated by almost a 100 Dutch bulb growers. Meticulously
planted by hand in autumn by a dedicated team of 30 gardeners they then bloom
to form a feast for the eyes. This is Holland so naturally tulips are the stars
of the show but there are spring flowers of all kinds; hyacinths, muscari,
daffodils, bluebells and many more, all planted in glorious woodland as well as
more structured designs based on traditional English and European garden styles.
The gardens cover some 32 hectares and would take around 90 minutes to walk
around the perimeter at a brisk pace. But you won’t do that, you will linger,
you will ‘oo’ and ‘ah’, you will take endless photos and you will find, before
you know it, that 4 or 5 hours have vanished and you still haven’t seen
Open every day between late March and mid-May, to get the
most from your time at Keukenhof a little planning is required. The park itself
is very easy to get to by car or by bus
directly from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport – they leave every 10 minutes, the
journey takes around 20 mins and the bus stop is right at the entrance. Pick up
your free map of the park and you are away. Follow a network of paths (all
wheelchair accessible) to discover the different areas. There are 4 large indoor
pavilions with displays of cut flowers as well as exhibits relating to the
different theme adopted for each year. Outside, a good place to start is the
historical garden – ‘tulipmania’ dates back to the 17th century. Tulips did not
originate in Holland but found their way there via the renowned Dutch global explorers
of the day. The precious bulbs soon became sought after and highly prized. Hard
to imagine but, in those days, just two rare bulbs could buy you a grand canal
side home in central Amsterdam.
From the historical, you progress through the ages to modern
day bulb farming. Even today, new bulb varieties take up to 25 years to develop.
Keukenhof is the shop window for the growers. To ensure blooming perfection
throughout the 8 week opening, bulbs are planted using the ‘lasagna’ technique
– 2 or sometimes 3 layers deep so that once the early blooms start to fade, a
fresh display will emerge. I visited in the final week of the 2016 season and,
although some of the displays were past their best there was still more than
enough to see.
One of the most spectacular sights from the park though is
from the Windmill where you can look out over the surrounding, privately owned,
tulip fields – planted neatly in
straight blocks, startling strips of vivid colour stretching for miles and
miles. Nature is unpredictable though so timing is everything. Too early in the
season and the flowers may not have opened, too late and they will have been
cut and sent to market. Mid-April is usually the optimum time to see the fields
in all their glory. When they are at their peak, it’s also worth hiring bikes
or taking a ‘whisper boat’ canal tour of the surrounding fields. This is an
optional extra, not included in the park entry cost.
Keukenhof is so accessible from Schiphol Airport it is
easily ‘do-able’ as a day trip from UK regional airports but, stay longer, and
you are spoilt for choice for things to see and do. That said, April and May
are very busy months in the ‘capital of cool’ that Amsterdam has become. If you
struggle to find affordable accommodation in the centre its worth considering
staying a little further out and taking advantage of the fantastic public
transport system. I stayed at the Inntel at Zaandam. Very striking from the
outside, the structure is formed as a stack of colourful Zaan style homes.
Inside the rooms are spacious, modern and comfortable – and, unlike the narrow
steep staircases you find in so many canalside buildings in the city centre,
here there are lifts! Double room rates start from around 125 Euros. The
station is literally 2 minutes walk from the hotel and its just 2 stops and 12
minutes away from Amsterdam Centraal Station. There is also a direct train
service to Schiphol every half hour which takes 18 minutes. Haarlem would also
be another good option for an alternative base when visiting Keukenhof.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends RHS Garden Holidays