Today's blog is about bollen, bollen, and meer bollen (Dutch for bulbs, bulbs, and more bulbs). I joined the million and a half tourists who descended on the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse in the northwest part of the Netherlands. The garden is open for only eight weeks each year which makes for quite a viewing frenzy. If the tulips blossomed continuously every day of the year there, I believe that the total number of visitors to Keukenhof would be far fewer. There’s something about a deadline that gets people moving.
Unlike the usual visitors who take selfies and make sure they and their friends are in every picture with the tulips, to me it was all about the flowers. The design and theme of the garden are different each year to lure folks back again and again. Even visiting in one of the first weeks will be different from visiting near the end of the fleeting season.
More than 100 growers donate seven million bulbs including crocus, daffodils, and hyacinth plus 800 varieties of tulips. When I visited in late April, the crocus and daffodils were gone so the tulips were the stars of the show, sometimes edged with purple hyacinth to help the colors pop.
I watched in horror as some gardeners were systematically picking all the still good looking, yellow tulip flowers in one area. Since tulips only bloom for around a week, the tulip bulbs are hand planted in the fall in layers like a parfait with the later bloomers are the bottom and earlier bloomers closer to the surface. That strategy isn’t enough to ensure continuous blooms, so when an area of flowers is about to fade, they remove them. Surprisingly, the swath of greenery contrasts beautifully with their colorful neighbors. It’s all part of the plan.
What do they do with those thousands of bulbs when the eight weeks are up? They simply throw them away. Those 100 growers benefit from their donations with the ability to advertise that theirs are Keukenhof bulbs.
The tulip industry is gigantic in the Netherlends. They are grown to sell as bulbs or as cut flowers. The cut flowers are picked before they blossom. The bulb flowers are “topped” after the flowers bloom. In Dutch it’s called “Tulpen Koppen” and is necessary to ensure that the bulbs get as much nourishment as possible. Below is a link to see what it looks like. Prepare yourself for a shock.
Garden Club member Anke Clews is from the little town of Hengelo in the Netherlands near the German border. Anke and her family attended many tulip festival parades and events where they often bought strings of tulips and decorate the hood of their car with them. These flowers came from the topped fields and thus had their moment to shine. When I visited Anke at her home in Grantham recently, I commented on the four gorgeous, red tulips in her front yard. Anke told me she doesn’t know where they came from. She didn’t plant them. Hmmm, I have lots of theories—all of them delightful. There is nothing like a little mystery—especially when it involves tulips.