As days grow longer and temperatures rise, so to do tulips. The promise of seeing millions of the colourful flower swaying in the springtime breeze draws millions of visitors to the country. You might think mid-January in northern Europe would be too early to declare the tulip season open but that’s precisely what happens in the Netherlands on the third Saturday of the year, National Tulip Day. Around 200,000 tulips are ranged into a temporary garden on the cobbles of Dam Square, in front of Amsterdam’s royal palace. A brass band plays jaunty tunes, entertaining the tens of thousands of people who gather on the square as big screens displaying clocks count down to the official start of the tulip season.
Every year a new variety of tulip is officially dedicated on National Tulip Day. This Year, to mark the Netherlands’ presidency of the European Union, the Spinoza tulip was unveiled. The flower was named in honour of Benedict de Spinoza, the 17th century Rationalist philosopher who proved an influential figure during the European Enlightenment. As a young man Spinoza sold tropical fruit at a canal-side stall. Today Amsterdam’s flower market floats on the Singel Canal, just a few minutes’ walk from the location where Spinoza worked. At it you can purchase bulbs to grow back home or, should you prefer, bunches of tulips to brighten your hotel room.
THE TULIP FESTIVAL
Anyone present at National Tulip Day can take their pick of the flower ranged across Dam Square. People queue for hours behind temporary fences to enter the garden and fill a plastic bag with flowering tulips still attached to their bulbs. They can be replanted and will flower for years if the treated with care.
Remarkably, around 1.7 billion tulips push their way through Dutch earth each spring time. Many of them are cultivated in the province of Flevoland, southward of the Zuiderzee, the shallow North Sea bay that cuts into the north-central coast of the Netherlands. Land at Noordoostpolder has been painstakingly reclaimed from the sea by building dykes and draining the sodden earth. From April 15 until May 8 the region celebrates a tulip festival that encourages people to drive or cycle around 100 km through the bulb fields. The route sweeps through around 2,500 acres of tulip growing fields and was spectacular enough for National Geographic to name it among the world’s most beautiful road trips in 2009.
THE DUTCH EXPERIENCE
If you want a genuine Dutch experience then head to Espel, 92 km north-east of Amsterdam, and cycle the 19 km to the famous De Goldhoorn Gardens in Bant. Local will encourage you to do so a delivery bicycle, with a basket in front of the handlebar, so you can pause in gardens long the way and pick a selection of tulips. The garden route is clearly signposted, so you should have no difficulty along the way. A word of warning – don’t be surprised that there are no brakes to grip when you’re cycling here-you need to pedal in reverse to engage the brake on many Dutch bicycles.
By far the best Known destinationfor viewing springtime tulips in the Keukenhof at Lisse, 34 km south-west of the nation’s capital. Around 800 varieties of tulip are displayed over 32 hectaresof the garden, which this year open to the public from March 24 until May 16. As many as seven million flowers fill this place with colour and photo-ops.
The theme of the Keukenhof garden changes year on year, drawing people back time and again. This spring, the gardens are celebrating the Netherland’s Golden Age, the period of discovery and seafaring in the 17th century that helped to boost Dutch trade. In turn the wealth generated financed urban development and artworks by the likes of Rembrandt and Johannes Vermeer, which you can view in the likes of the Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and the Mauritshuis Art Museum in The Hague. There’s also a garden inspired by delft porcelain, whose distinctive blue-and-white glazing was inspired by wares produced in China almost four centuries ago. Lovers, messages of adoration within the Keukenhof’s romantic garden.
In the Tulpomania pavilionyou’ll have the chance to learn how the price of tulips soared to astronomical levels during the tulip mania of the Dutch Golden Age. The peaked early in 1637. Single bulbs changed hand for thousands of Guilders- the price of houses- at the height of the craze, which is regarded as the world’s first pricing bubble. The sudden fall in prices is said to have ruined numerous merchants.
Keukenhof Castle was contructed just four years after the peak of the mania but it wasn’t until 1950 that the first spring flower show was held in the gardens. The event immediately captured the public’s imagination and has been held every year subsequently. Around 100 companies now exhibit at the Keukenhof, which has become a showcase for the Dutch flower industry.
Amesterdam hosts its own Tulip Festival in April. The event is the brainchild of Saskia Albrecht, a landscape architect who gained inspiration from the tulip festival held in Istanbul, Turkey. The event adds a splash of colour to public spaces around the Dutch capital. In addition to squares and sparks, you can see tulips at tourist attractions such as Eye, the city’s film museum, Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam’s botanical garden, and the Museum van Loon, a canal-side patrician house that dates from the Dutch Golden Age. In total around 820,000 tulips will be on display in the city, representing one for each of Amsterdam’s residents.
Thankfully in the modern-age tulips are affordable and ubiquitous. But, just as they were during the period of tulips mania, the flowers remain cherished in the Netherlands.
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