April 11, 2014 | By Jamey Bergman | 1 Comment
There is, perhaps, no more stereotypically Dutch landscape than what you’ll see on the way to the Keukenhof Gardens, The Netherlands’ most famous fields of tulips. Windmills, both modern and vintage, dot the roadside, and the water they help manage is everywhere. Over half of The Netherlands, or “Low Countries,” lies at or below sea level, and the Dutch have been masters of draining their land with elaborate dykes, canals and pumping stations for over 400 years.
The payoff on this trip, though, is the flowers. A mild winter means that rolling fields of velveted, technicolor tulips, daffodils and hyacinth welcome us to Keukenhof.
Mid-April is even better; it’s prime flower time at the moment (and our News Editor, Dori Salzman, is there right now). Cruisers coming by ship or by riverboat will flock to Keukenhof by the thousands for the two-month season that runs from March 20-May 18.
That Keukenhof, the world’s largest flower garden, is in The Netherlands should come as no surprise. More than 80 percent of non-bulbed flowers and 92 percent of bulbed flowers are grown in The Netherlands, and Dutch-grown flowers make up more than two-thirds of the world’s fresh-cut flower trade. (Surprisingly flowers are only the country’s fourth-largest export. Gin, herring and cheese are the top three.)
Keukenhof had a humble start as the kitchen herb garden for the Countess of Hainaut in the 15th century, but it now covers an eye-poppingly beautiful 80 acres. The literally translated “kitchen garden” will play host to more than 800,000 visitors this year, 80 percent of them foreign, during its short, two-month season. And even more astonishingly, all the 80 acres of gardens and millions of flowers are painstakingly redesigned and replanted each year to conform to an annual theme. This year’s theme is, simply enough, Holland, while last year’s was a celebration of all things British including red telephone boxes, James Bond and the Queen (one, of course, approves).
It’s beyond question that the flowers have universal appeal. And their appeal to the cruise industry is evident both in the countless number of itineraries and cruise-passenger-carrying coaches that visit Keukenhof as well as in the physical landscape of the gardens, themselves.
The windmill pictured above was donated to the gardens in 1957 by the home-grown Dutch cruise line, Holland America Line. The line reaffirmed its connection with the gardens last year by creating the HAL Signature tulip (pictured above), which is now flowering in the UK for the first time.
Incidentally, every one of the seven million bulbs planted in Keukenhof is donated, and has been for all 65 years of the flower exhibition at Keukenhof. The exhibition began in 1949 with 10 growers showing off their colorful creations to interested buyers, and Keukenhof continues to be an important showcase to this day – albeit on a bit grander of a scale.
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Look below for more photos from our visit to Keukenhof. Click the images for larger versions.