Keukenhof - Tulip Capital of the World

Now that spring has sprung, your thoughts may be turning towards gardening. If you are in the market for tulips, the best place to buy them or just to see them - is the tulip fields of Keukenhof in Holland. These huge gardens are the largest and most spectacular flower gardens in the world from March to May every year they are a sea of multicolored tulips stretching over the flat Dutch landscape as far as the eye can see. Recent additions in 2005 make the bulb fields a must-see for anyone interested in gardening, landscaping or flowers.

Keukenhof has not always been the center of the tulip industry that it is today. The cultivation of flowers in the area dates back to the 15th century when much of the present day site was a garden belonging to the estate of the castle Slot Teylingen. The residents of the castle grew fruit and vegetables, as well as flowers in their gardens, giving it the name Keukenhof (kitchen garden). In 1840, the celebrated landscape architect Zocher, who also designed Amsterdam's Vondelpark, was commissioned to develop the area into the extensive gardens that you see today. In its first year of opening, more than 200,000 people visited the site, enough to justify the gamble and expense of developing the area. In 1949, the mayor of Lisse conceived the idea of a permanent venue for the area's many bulb growers, and the future of Keukenhof as a commercial venue was assured.

Past visitors to the gardens have included such notables as President Clinton and Queen Elizabeth. Surprisingly, the tulip which has become the most recognizable symbol of Holland did not actually originate in Holland, but in Turkey. The plant was introduced to Holland in the 16th century by an eminent horticulturalist of the time, Clusius. The Dutch were immediately taken with the flower's beauty and were willing to spend huge sums of money on a perfect specimen. The tulip is still one of the most important exports of Holland.

Today, almost a million people visit Keukenhof each year to marvel at the spectacle of endless fields of tulips making it the most popular tourist attraction in Holland, and one of the most photographed sights in Europe. Keukenhof has almost become a sort of horticultural theme park, with restaurants, shops, exhibitions and a children's play area. But it is still of course the tulips that most visitors come for over 7 million bulbs of every conceivable color and variety red, yellow, even black tulips - are planted in the gardens every spring. This is one place you won't want to run out of film.

The outdoor tulip collections also feature different designs and landscaping ideas ranging from traditional to innovative. There are several large indoor pavilions where you can while away the day in case of inclement weather. Keukenhof is still primarily a showplace for commercial bulb growers, and though you are not obliged to buy anything, you will find many opportunities to spend your money. Over 90 different bulb growers offer their expertise - and their merchandise - at Keukenhof.

The bulb fields at Keukenhof are situated in the town of Lisse, the heart of Holland's bulb growing country, easily reachable from Amsterdam in about 1 hour by car or train. The park is open from mid March until mid May every year. The bulbs usually flower sometime around late April or early May, making this the best time to visit. Try to time your visit for the Flower Pageant, in which decorative floats make their way through the bulb-growing region. In 2006 the procession takes place on Saturday, 22 April.

author: Martin Loughlin

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