Header photo – mountains surrounding Lake Bohinj, Slovenia / Border photo – WWI headstones, Tyne Cot Commonwealth cemetery, Belgium
“Travel teaches toleration.” – Benjamin Disraeli
The almost 80 acres of vast green grounds are dotted with huge, mature trees providing shade to keep the plants cool. I imagine Central Park would look like this if hundreds of thousands of spring bulbs were planted among the trees, rocks and pathways. Keukenhof has greenhouses for some plants such as orchids and for flower competitions.
Small sheds where you can order bulbs for your own garden are all around the grounds. If you want to bring bulbs back to the U.S., however, make sure they are packaged with an inspection sticker that shows they are approved for export. You want them in your garden, not in the ‘confiscated items’ bin at U.S. Customs.
Sculptures of all kinds are scattered around the grounds. Some nestle coyly in the flower beds, others are centers of attention. The largest of these artworks, including a scaled-down windmill, beg for interaction. A pair of oversized tulip bulbs are too slick to climb on, but are a perfect place to perch children for a photo. A path of stepping stones leading across a stream is an engaging detour.
Keukenhof runs from mid-March to mid-May each year (March 22 thru May 20 in 2012). To ensure the gardens are filled with flowers whenever you visit, a small army of gardeners is constantly digging up spent bulbs and replacing them with others on the verge of bursting open. Other beds are at their peak and all come with a varietal nameplate so you can order them for your garden. Bulbs are planted not in dozens but in hundreds, even thousands. Some beds are laid out in regimented squares or rectangles; in others, bulbs huddle together in naturalized clumps. Patterns are easier to see when you squint at a seemingly random mix of colors and see that they intertwine, forming a huge braid that borders the stream for several yards. The designs are stunning and if there is duplication, it’s hard to pick out.
You might think tiptoeing through so many tulips would feel repetitive. Not so; you’ll want to make a day of it here. When it’s time to eat, you can choose among several restaurants with table service or assemble your own tray of delicacies at one of the self-service cafeterias and sit inside or out. There are several snack kiosks with picnic tables for a really quick bite. Of course, there is herring; all kinds of herring – raw, pickled, herring in a variety of sauces. And plenty of Dutch beer. If you don’t see an empty table, find a spot at an occupied table, ask to sit down and make some new friends. On that first visit, I decided to ‘go local’ and had herring for lunch. Now, I’m not crazy about fishy-tasting fish but the herring was very good, slightly pickled and covered with raw onion. Washing it down with some Oranjeboom beer made it perfect, though I suspect I gave away my tourist status by drinking out of the bottle. Make a note for next time.
Keukenhof was a terrific day trip from Amsterdam each time. A glorious garden that belongs on everyone’s list of spring to-dos. I can’t wait to go back!