If I ask you to name a country which you think is the motherland of tulips, most likely, you will say: the Netherlands. This European country has actively maintained this association for many hundreds of years already. However, the first tulips were bred not in the Netherlands, but in Central Asia (today, it is Turkey and neighboring countries). The first large consignment of tulips was delivered to Amsterdam, the capital of the Dutch Republic, in 1562, and this modest flowers conquest of the world began.
At first, the price of tulip bulbs was so high that merchants weighed them on precise apothecary scales and sold them by the piece. Collectors were ready to pay a huge sum for rare sorts. It’s known that one gentleman gave 4,600 guilders and a carriage with two horses for one bulb of Semper Augustus. In those times, you could buy a house for such money. Thank God, today, we buy tulip bulbs for our country house’s garden much more cheaply, although the label on their pack still reads: Made in the Netherlands.
Tulips started to gain popularity in Europe. This flower wasn’t afraid of cold weather, required no protection in winter, and thrived in any season. Some new sorts started to obtain names of famous nobles. Cardinal Richelieu; Voltaire, the great French philosopher; Franz II, the first Emperor of Austria; and Louis XVIII, King of France, were fans of tulips. However the center of tulip mania was the Dutch Republic (the Netherlands, today) where the first tulip exchange was opened. For twelve years (1625-1637), nearly everyone was involved in the development of new varieties of tulips, creating and losing fortunes.
Finally, this bubble burst. The market was saturated, and the tulip rush stopped as quickly as it started. Many families lost everything, because they invested their money in flowers whose price fell drastically. The European flower madness that was called tulip mania ended, but citizens of the Netherlands preserved their love for this flower. I don’t know why Irina, my wife, also adores tulips. She was born very far from the Netherlands, but she has wished to visit the Mecca of these flowers, the Keukenhof Tulip Garden, Holland, the Netherlands, for a long time already.
If you read French novels, I am sure you know the most famous history about tulips. It sends us to the 17th century when citizens of Haarlem, the city near Amsterdam, wanted to get a unique tulip of black color. In 1672, the municipality of Haarlem promised 10,000 guilders to whoever would cultivate a completely black tulip. There were no official records, but Alexandre Dumas was so impressed by this history that he wrote a whole novel with a tragic ending.
In reality, the first black tulip saw the light in February of 1986, when Henk van Dam, the head of the West Friesland Floral Institute, the Netherlands, reported it at a conference. Six horticultural companies worked for 25 years to perfect the variety, a cross between two dark ones: Queen of the Night and Wiener Weld. While the flower seemed black, its color was deep violet. So, about 300 years had passed between the first mention of a black tulip and its actual birth.
Of course, we searched for such a flower at the new varieties exhibition in the Keukenhof Tulip Garden to make sure it exists, but we were unsuccessful. By the way, we haven’t seen black tulip fields while traveling around the neighbourhood of Lisse, Holland, but only red, yellow, white etc.
Today, hundreds of thousands of tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths are grown on the dried bottom of Haarlem’s Lake, but you can find whole flower carpets around Lisse and Keukenhof only two months of the year. In 2018, the Keukenhof Tulip Garden was open from March 22 till May 13. Crocuses started to bloom in March, then daffodils and hyacinths joined them, and at last, tulips appeared in all their beauty. The Dutch say more than seven million tulips bloom around Lisse every year, and about half a million people from all over the word visit the area in two months to enjoy this magic. I guess that is true, because on April 18 at 9:30, we found the enormous parking of Keukenhof full of cars, buses, and bikes.
It’s reasonable to buy tickets online to avoid long lines at the entrance. Keukenhof has everything you need for comfortable visiting: benches to relax, free WCs, several cafes, and places where you can buy water, strawberries, or ice cream.
We prepared for our trip to the Netherlands in advance. Irina, my wife, wanted to stay within walking distance from Keukenhof and visit it every day to enjoy tulips. But in November, we failed to find places in appropriate hotels of Lisse for April. We found an apartment in Katwijk aan Zee, a small town on the coast of the North Sea, 15 km from Keukenhof.
It turned out that one visit to Keukenhof was more than enough to understand that enormous crowds don’t allow you to enjoy beautiful flower compositions. To find unique angles for your photo blog? Oh, don’t make me laugh. Photographing is maximally hampered by legions of tourists. If it were raining? Maybe it would be better, but I am not sure. Most visitors are from tourist groups, and are delivered there by numerous buses. If they must visit the garden according to their schedule, they will do it in any weather.
All in all, it made no sense to stay in Lisse or nearby for the sake of Keukenhof.
Tulips in Keukenhof
If you decide to stay in Katwijk, and you have a car in your disposal, what benefits will you derive?
1. It is only 15 km to Keukenhof.
2. A long bicycle/pedestrian promenade (about 60 km) along the sea goes through coastal dunes towards Noordwijk, a very nice neighboring town. You can also stroll along a huge sandy beach. Both towns are small and very clean, and the area around them is perfect for fans of hiking or jogging. Although one classic said that summer on the North Sea is a caricature of southern winter, the air is beautiful here. After two hours of strolling in dunes, we sat in a cafe in Noordwijk and drank coffee, or tea, or the stronger drinks which are so needed by residents of northern countries. We preferred cognac. Then we got back to Katwijk.
One more of Irina’s dreams came true: she visited the Keukenhof Tulip Garden and bought approximately half of a suitcase of new tulip bulbs for our garden. However, I don’t think we’ll go back there. We try to escape places where you feel like you are at a final match of NHL. Too many people.
Tulips from our garden
If you are interested not only in tulips, I’d like to give you a tip. One week a year, Chateau de Beloeil, Belgium, is decorated by 6,000 blooming amaryllis. In 2018 it was from Saturday 28 April to Sunday 6 May.
Keukenhof by a dron (2 min.)