There’s nothing as encouraging as seeing the first spring flowers pop out of the ground after a long, cold winter, their colors a first hint that warmer times are on their way. But just imagine seeing millions—yes, millions—of them spread out over fields and lawns and in wooded parks. You can witness a natural spectacle like that in the Keukenhof Gardens in the western Netherlands.
The Netherlands, as the undisputed world capital of flowers, honors its reputation in this magnificent spring garden—truly one of the greatest gardens in the world. And you can only visit it in spring. In 2016, the Keukenhof Gardens will be opened to the public from March 24 through May 16. You have about a month and a half to explore this extraordinarily “flowerful” park.
But let’s backtrack a little bit and take a look at the park’s location, history and what it stands for.
The History of the Keukenhof gardens
Located near the popular college town of Leiden in the province of South Holland, just a short distance from the North Sea coast, Keukenhof is set in the heart of the appropriately named “Dune and Bulb Region.” Bordered by historic cities such as The Hague , aforementioned Leiden and Haarlem, and the sand dunes along the coast, this region is literally covered with flower fields. In spring, the entire region is a palette of all colors imaginable, from red tulips to blue hyacinths to yellow daffodils.
The name Keukenhof is Dutch for “Kitchen Garden”, which refers to its former use as the herb garden of the Teylingen Castle Estate. Its history begins in the 1400s, when Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria and her staff gathered vegetables, herbs and fruit in the dunes and woodlands that surrounded her castle. The current Keukenhof Castle was constructed in 1641, after which the estate expanded to an area of more than 200 hectares (494 acres). Fast-forwarding two centuries, the castle gardens were redesigned in 1857 by renowned landscape architects Jan David Zocher and Louis Paul Zocher, a father-and-son team. They, incidentally also designed the well-known Vondelpark in Amsterdam. Their English-style landscaped gardens are essentially still the design of the Keukenhof Gardens today.
The Keukenhof Gardens Today
The park’s current use as a spring attraction began as an idea from twenty local bulb growers who wanted to use it as a place to exhibit their various cultivars of spring flowers. Keukenhof Gardens opened its doors as a spring flower park in 1950 and became an immediate success—more than 230,000 people visited the park in its very first year.
Nowadays, the Keukenhof Gardens are renowned around the world for their overwhelming flower displays, exhibits and beds. Showcasing the very best Dutch flowering bulbs, this 32-hectare (79-acre) park attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each spring.
The spring flowers in Keukenhof are supplied by nearly 100 flower-growing companies. Each company can exhibit their flower varieties and cultivars in a specific area designed by the park’s garden designers—together, the companies and designers create the best possible flower beds, according to colors, flower heights and flowering times. The gardens of Keukenhof are home to no fewer than 7 million (!) flowering bulbs each year.In addition to the flower beds spread out across the lawns and in the woodlands, there are also about twenty indoor flower displays, where an additional 500 flower growers can display their work.
This sheer abundance of spring flowers—millions upon millions of tulips (800 different varieties of them), daffodils and hyacinths—makes this one of Europe’s greatest spring destinations. It truly is a spectacle unlike any you’ve ever seen before.
In addition to the flower displays, the park also features a number of food stalls, children’s playgrounds and information boards. It wouldn’t be in the Netherlands if there wasn’t a network of pretty canals that crisscross the park, while a beautiful windmill makes it seem even more Dutch.
After you’re done exploring the park and its colorful gardens, be sure to go for a ride in the surrounding countryside as well. Bicycles can be rented at the park. This countryside is almost as spectacular as the park itself, a region that is simply covered with spring flowers. From mid-March to mid-April, this is arguably the most colorful region on earth, featuring flat fields of tens of millions of flowering bulbs. This is a landscape that’s nothing short of breathtaking.
More information on the Keukenhof Gardens
Written by and photos by Bam Reusen for EuropeUpClose.com