Monday, April 20, 2015

Everything Is Blooming At Keukenhof Gardens

My last post provided a peek of the flowers at Keukenhof Gardens. But no matter how good the pictures, they simply can't do justice to the acres upon acres of intricately planted blooming gardens, meticulously manicured lawns and whimsical displays that are Keukenhof. And it is their beauty that draws millions of visitors for eight short weeks each spring.

Keukenhof traces its roots back to the 15th century when Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria gathered fruits and vegetables from the gardens surrounding the area. Keukenhof Castle was built in 1641 and encompassed a total of 200 hectares but it wasn't until 1949 that the gardens became a permanent exhibition of spring flowering blooms. The gardens may only be open for a few short weeks each spring but maintaining the gardens is a year around operation. Starting each September, 30 gardeners spend three months hand planting over 7 million flower bulbs. But these aren't just any bulbs that are planted. Close to 100 suppliers provide their best bulbs to the garden each year and the garden designers work to create unique gardens and displays that best highlight the beauty of the flower. Additionally, new grass is planted each year as well to ensure the manicured perfection that guests see. And much to my surprise, once the garden closes for the season, each of the 7 million bulbs are dug up and destroyed before the planting cycle starts all over again.

So what do visitors to Keukenhof get to see during their visit? Flowers of course but there is so much more. Flowering bulbs bloom in three waves: early, middle and late. (I learned this during my visit to the gardens). The varied blooming seasons ensure that visitors will see flowers regardless of when they come to the gardens. We were there during the middle season when hyacinths seemed to be the predominant flower. I love hyacinths---particularly the purple ones--and their aroma filled the air with an unmistakable sweet fragrance. But hyacinths of all colors were everywhere. There were lots of tulips as well. Rainbow like waves, edged by perfectly green lawns, filled just about every open expanse of the garden. It was breathtaking and beautiful and as someone who can only get weeds to flourish, it left me spellbound. There are water features as well; canals, fountains and ponds complete with swimming swans lend a tranquil atmosphere even when the gardens are crowded. Portions of the gardens are shaded by towering trees and a stroll through the Japanese inspired garden provides not only shade but an array of yellow daffodils. Kids of all ages can wander through a boxwood maze to make their way up to a viewing platform where you can take in the fields of tulips surrounding the gardens. And best of all there are plenty of places to sit and take it all in. And even on a crowded day, it was easy to find a quiet spot to sit and contemplate the flowers. (And for the more energetic younger set there are two age appropriate playgrounds and a petting zoo).

Waves of flowers (and crowds)

Shades of purple
In addition to the seemingly endless color filled gardens, there are indoor pavilions hosting revolving flower shows ranging from orchids, lilies and gerbera daisies to anthuriums, roses and daffodils. Each week features different flowers so you can visit more than once, seeing new flowers each time. My favorite area, however, was the inspirational gardens paying homage to the canals of Amsterdam. This year's gardens recreated the tiny patio, rooftop or canal side gardens that fill Amsterdam's residential neighborhoods. At Keukenhof, we could pull up chairs and sit along the canal amongst potted plants, climb up to the rooftops to enjoy the flowers and the views or pop into makeshift patios and guest cottages that were beautifully adorned with flowering plants. To me, these miniature gardens with their window boxes, potted plants and beautifully painted accessories truly were inspirations making me want to go home and recreate my own little piece of heaven in my garden.
The many faces of Van Gogh

Each year the gardens have their own theme and for the 2015 season that theme is honoring Vincent Van Gogh on the 125th anniversary of his death. Van Gogh may have begun his artistic career in Belgium, but he was born in the Netherlands in 1853 and spent much of his life living and working in various parts of the country. It was just beginning to bloom during our visit but the centerpiece of the Van Gogh tribute is an expansive 250 square meter bulb mosaic comprised of tulips and grape hyacinths. Making Van Gogh modern is a selfie garden that is inspired by Van Gogh's numerous self portraits. Here you can pose in reflective mirrors for your own selfie as well as have your picture taken alongside the artist. And if you're thirsty you can even get yourself a bottle of Van Gogh beer!

There's still time to see Van Gogh in bloom

But there really is so much to see at Keukenhof so a visit is a must. If you are fast you too can catch the last weeks of the 2015 blooms. If you miss it, mark your calendars for the 2016 season. I was there in 2015 and plan to return in 2016. In the meantime inspiration has struck me and I'm trying my hand at establishing my own little flower garden. Let's hope a green thumb prevails over black.

If you go:

Keukenhof Gardens
Stationsweg 166a
AM Lisse-Holland
+31 252 465 555

Daily 08.00-19.30
Open for the 2015 season: 20 March - 17 May
Open for the 2016 season:  24 March - 16 May
16 Euro adults, 8 Euro ages 4-11, under 4 Free
Parking 6 Euro

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