Visiting the Keukenhof, the Gardens of Europe
The Keukenhof is known as the "Garden of Europe", and if you've ever had the chance to walk through its doors, you will truly understand what they mean by this. For two months every year, from March to mid-May, a rainbow of million and millions of flowers (4.5 million to be exact) bloom over the 32 hectares of gardens that span the Keukenhof grounds. They create what can only be described as a blanket of fantastical aromas and ethereal colours covering the Dutch countryside.
The Keukenhof gardens were first established in the 15th century on what was then a hunting ground. The name Keukenhof means "Court Kitchen" in Dutch as these immense grounds once served as a giant herb garden for the Queen's castle. Throughout the years, the various royal family members who inherited the manor continued to expand the garden, and in the 19th century, the Baron and Baroness Van Pallandt hired Jan David Zocher, a renowned landscape architect, to re-design the grounds and create a truly unique and luscious garden.
As time went on, the gardens became the property of the city, and in 1949 the major of Lisse decided to open them to the public. He held an exhibit of flowers from all over the Netherlands and Europe. People were able to see and smell hybrid flowers never seen before as well as get to walk through incredible flower garden designs created by seminal landscape architects. Since its establishment in 1949, the Keukenhof has held the title as the world's largest flower garden as well as being the most photographed place on the earth. Today it houses more than 100 varieties of tulips, more than 2,500 trees in 87 varieties and 15 kilometres of walking paths that have seen over 44 million visitors over the last 60 years.
The tulip is the main feature of the flower garden. The tulip was first brought to Europe in the 16th century and caught on in popularity in the Netherlands. The tulips were able to stand the harsher temperatures and conditions of the Netherlands in comparison to other flowers. Since it was such a resilient flower, botanists began to collect more and more tulips for their gardens, knowing they would flourish and create a spectacular sight. Soon, everyone saw their beauty and importance, and they became a luxury item and status symbol for anyone who planted them in their garden or held a bouquet of them in hand as they walked down the street.
There are different groups and breeds of these Dutch tulips. One is called the Couleren, which refers to the red, yellow or white coloured tulips. Then there is then Rosen, which are the bright red or white with little streaks of white veining on the petals. The Violetten are the purple or lilac tulips, my personal favourite. And finally, and best named, is the Bizarden, which are the rather more peculiar tulips. They tend to be coloured with brown with red or purpled with yellow veins. A virus was known to infect these tulips during growth and was called the "mosaic virus" which made the tulips bloom in vibrant colours sometimes with lines or flame-like streaks on the petals. Although it was a virus, it was one that botanists cultivated since those features were more and more desired by the buyers. Throughout the years, some of the biological elements of the tulip have changed but what hasn't is the peoples love for this simple, yet elegant and alluring flower.
Our journey to the Keukenhof was rather simple. We took the train from our local station, Amsterdam Zuid, back to the airport train station. From there we boarded the Keukenhof bound bus, and in a few short minutes, while taking in the suburban landscape and sights, we arrived at the gates of the flower garden. We had purchased our tickets online to avoid waiting in the line, so we quickly bypassed the waiting patrons and headed in the door, two of the first visitors of the very early morning.
As soon as we stepped through the door, we were amazed by the colours and the overwhelmingly Dutch atmosphere of the gardens. There was an old wooden crank organ sitting in the front beside the fountain and the bright, rosy cheeked Dutch boys and girls playing their instruments guided us with their music into the garden.
As we walked through the garden, we noticed right away how different the tulips were from the ones at home in Canada. We saw marbled petals and extremely tall stems. Bright colours I'd never seen in tulips before amazed Sarah and me as we bent down to smell the sweet and sharp aroma of the flowers.
Before stopping for breakfast we found an old giant chess set and, as is somewhat of a tradition for us, set out to play each other. I started out in front, but at the end of the match, Sarah was the clear winner. We had drawn quite the crowd, I'm a very vocal and loud person, so I'm bound to draw people in, and after our game we gave the pieces to the next players and found a small picnic table to eat our breakfast on while watching the other people pass by, smiles on their faces as they took in all the jewel toned flowers spread out around them.
The hedge garden and maze was a lot of fun. We wove in between the thick bushes, discovering sinuous sculptures dotting the area. As we strolled through the garden, we saw a small petting zoo with tiny horses and cows sitting in the middle of nowhere. Children were laughing as they reached their hands over the edge to pet the fuzzy little creatures.
Then, it was off to the seminal monument of this Dutch Disneyland; the Windmill. We climbed up the windmill to get a better look out over the fields where the tulips are initially grown before getting moved to the gardens.
As we climbed down, we took a moment to try on a few pairs of clogs and giggle at their cute little exhibit of matching certain clogs styles to modern shoes.
Our next stop took us away from the array of tulips and into the "Orchid building". Orchids are amazing flowers, so strange and almost other worldly. They somehow manage to stay erect despite seeming so cumbersome and unwieldy. We walked through exhibit and were as the moved throughout we couldn't help but feel, as we looked at these alien like plants, that we had fallen off of our earth and into a greenhouse on Mars.
We left the orchids and continued throughout the grounds. We past by what can only be described as a "Barbie Doll Dream Greenhouse". The bright pink and red flowers were almost blinding. I had never seen anything like that before. Thank goodness we brought our sunglasses!
Tulips are the main attraction, but there is also a Japanese garden, a sculpture garden and even a lily pad garden where they added fake lily pads underwater that you could walk on. They sat just below the water so children could walk on them and appear as if they were walking on water. A man resting his hand over his painting as we stood there watching the children run through the water smiled and continued his artistic endeavours.
As we left the park, still in awe of all the wondrous things we saw, we caught sight of a Bride and Groom entering the grounds for their wedding photos. The Bride's dress was almost unbelievably strange and cheesy and the men were all but undressed in their half disheveled tuxes but their smiles were beautiful and as they ran through the flowers I couldn't help but wish them all the best and hope that the magic that swelled all over this place, bestowed upon them the love and happiness that could be felt all over the gardens in the heart of those happy heart that were moved into a state of amazement by the beautiful flowers all around them.