You might have seen postcards of Dutch tulip fields: rainbows of flowers under a Vermeer-worthy sky. This annual treat is a highlight of life – and travel – in the Netherlands.
Whether you visit Keukenhof’s splendid gardens, or enjoy the dazzling ribbons of color as you drive past enormous bulb farms, the flower fields are sure to impress. Here, we take a look at six fascinating aspects of flower fields in the Netherlands.
1. Flower showtime
The floral extravaganza usually starts mid-March, weather permitting of course. First crocuses take the stage, followed by daffodils and hyacinths. From mid-April to mid-May the fields burst with tulips of all shapes and colors. After the spring craze comes the summer flow. From mid-July to mid-September the heather shrubs turn the dunes into a majestic sea of violet.
2. Seven millions ways to show off
Keukenhof is the most famous flower park in the Netherlands. Located near Lisse, an easy driving distance from Amsterdam and reachable by bike from Haarlem, the garden boasts seven million bulbs. That’s the entire population of Philadelphia in flowers! And every year new displays are created around a specific theme, so you’ll never enter the same garden twice.
3. What happens to all these flowers?
So you’ve seen the crazy flower extravaganza and it suddenly hits you: are all those flowers there really blooming for your eyes alone? Well, yes and no. The blossoms are there for us to enjoy because it’s the bulbs that the farmers are after. In 2017 alone, four million bulbs were produced in the Netherlands, of which two billion were headed for export. That makes the 30,000 flowers that the Dutch send to the Vatican every Easter look like a token gesture.
4. If farmers don’t need the blooms, may I pick them?
The short answer is no. At least not in the major parks and bulb farms. There are, though, a few designated gardens (called pluktuinen in Dutch) where you can pick as much as you can carry (and pay for). And the great thing is: these gardens will often stay open throughout the summer, so once the tulips are gone, you can still pick the wonderful summer blossoms.
5. The tulip is an immigrant too
‘What?! The symbol of the Netherlands is actually a foreigner?’ we hear you cry. Surprise! The first tulips arrived in the Netherlands from the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey) in the late 16th century. It quickly caused a craze called tulipmania and a major financial bubble. At one point, the price of a single bulb escalated to that of a decent canal house. Yes, that’s right! A bulb for a mansion. But, not much later, the bulb-bubble popped, prices plummeted and the trade of tulips ground to a halt. And yet, fast forward to 2019, and the Dutch are again the largest tulip exporters in the world.
6. Tulips all year round
If you miss the tulip season, you can still see the flowers that enchanted the Dutch in the paintings of Jan van Goyen, Anthony van Dijk and Cornelis van Haarlem at the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, or in the works of Hans Bollongier and Jacob Marrel at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. And if you decide to take some tulip bulbs home, make sure to read the fine print and get the ones your country will allow you to bring in.
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