The mention of Holland brings images of flowering fields to the minds of many people. This, in fact is actually true – for Holland has huge tracts of land dedicated to the cultivation of flowers. In an area approximately 5 times the size of Singapore, vast tracts of farmland dedicate to the cultivation of Tulips, Hyacinths, Narcissus and other flowers.
Contrary to popular belief, the Tulip is actually an import from Turkey. In 1593, a Dutch ambassador to the Ottoman Empire sent the bulbs to the head of the Leiden Botanical gardens. It was not a gift from the Ottomans…
Today, the flower is cultivated and exported from Holland to various parts of the world. Well, actually the flowers are traded in Holland with the vast majority of cultivation in other countries – many in Africa. Nonetheless, Holland still boasts of some of the most vibrant canvas of flower fields that you can come to savor during the period from April through to June.
Keukenhof, “Museum” of flowers
The most famous place to view flowers is the Keukenhof. It is only open between April to end May during the flowering season of spring. This is a large botanical garden that boasts of 6 million bulbs! Every year, the layout of the gardens is changed – which means the hand re-planting of these 6 million bulbs!
More information can be obtained from their site on when and how to get to the gardens.
Every year, Mel and Suan would spend a full day in the gardens. You see, this exhibition is more than just the flowers itself. Yes it is true that the design of the layout is artistically attractive. But far more important for us is the different breeds and cross breeds that is revealed to the world stage. More like a cat walk for flowers. Talk about Tulipmania!
Our recommendation is to come here in the early part of May to avoid disappointment. The weather is cooler and the flowers recently bloomed, or progressing so. If you come towards the end of the season, it is likely that you see some if not quite many of the flowers beginning to wilt.
The real fields at Hilligom and Lisse
If you really want to savour the sights of flower fields in Holland, you will need to take the road less travelled. The main flower fields are located in and around the Keukenhof, in farms not larger than 10 hectares. These farms are only accessible by single lane roads, making it very difficult for large coach tours to bring in the tourists.
Thus, the adventurous souls who trek the fields either by car or bicycle will reap a bountiful harvest of pictures with the flower fields as background! We drove from Amsterdam using the A4 highway and exited at Lisse. The same road leads to Keukenhof, but we drove on towards the village of Hillegom, bypassing the gardens.
Fields full of blooms greeted us as we drove through the Hillegom district. March is a good time to see Narcissus flowering. These yellow flowers carpet the entire area early in Spring.
This is followed in quick succession by Hyacinth and others such as Amaryllis. All this while, the Tulip bulbs will be growing and not be flowering.
Have you noted this?
You probably cannot see them all at the same time. They are just timed by the farmers to bloom at different times.
In the middle of April as the weather become warmer and the days become longer, Tulips begin to sprout flowering buds. By late April, the Tulip fields are in full bloom, providing a kaleidoscope of colours against usually grey days! Yeah, the one thing about Holland is that its weather is so similar with that of England. You’d best bring an umbrella with you at all times.
The many flower species that are cultivated here in this part of Holland are bulbs. This means that they cannot survive in waterlogged soil. As this part of Holland hugs the coast, its soil is sandy and water retention is poor. Then there is the temperature. They are not really at ease with being too hot. A good point to note for all aspiring Tulip cultivators in Singapore!
It is also a common misconception that the farmers here harvest flowers for sale. Contrary to that practice, farmers here actually cultivate the bulbs! The tulip flowers are cut at end April and sold off as a side stream. Hence, one would be able to buy a bouquet of 50 stalks for €4.50 (correct as at April 2005). The bulbs are harvested for sale, replanting and possess a far higher value to the commercial farmers.
Hence anyone visiting the fields after April would likely be disappointed, as the fields would be depopulated of flower and revert to green.
Lucky if you catch the Floriade, held once a decade
A trip to the flower fields of Holland was not only an enjoyable experience but also one in which one can learn a lot about history, botany and commercial farming. For this, you will need to put in your “hunting” equipment (cameras and note book) to begin the “safari” in the open fields. Meanwhile, the Keukenhof would be like browsing an art gallery.
If you are unable to visit the Keukenhof or the flower fields or if you do not happen to be here in the flowering season, fret not.
You can still see them – in Amsterdam! A visit to Amsterdam’s flower market could be a consolation. Although pricier than bought in the fields, the flowers in the market are no doubt a bargain compared to the airport or even back home!
The bloemenmarkt (flower market) is located along the Singel. Flower vendors line the canal along with souvenir shops. We did not quite notice it, but the market is said to be floating on the canal and not in the pathway… come to think of it, now we know why it seems as if the street extends so wide unlike other canals…