Keukenhof - A Glimpse Into the Netherlands' Tulip Mania
Updated: Aug 12, 2020
When you think of the Netherlands, what are some of the first things that come to mind? Whether that includes windmills, clogs, or canals, the flashing colors of tulip flowers are likely also what you're picturing. This is probably because ever since it was imported to the country from the Ottoman Empire during the sixteenth century, tulips have been ingrained as a part of Dutch culture. As one of the largest flower gardens on Earth, Keukenhof in Lisse, South Holland is a shining example of the Netherlands' passion for not only tulips but also countless other varieties of flowers. Here, this overwhelming love is shared with the world as over 7 million flowers are planted each year in anticipation of its equally numerous visitors.
During the spring months from March to May, the 32 hectares of landscape making up Keukenhof are transformed into a seemingly endless ocean of color. You will find your eyes squinting and straining to process the brightness of the rainbow before you. Crouch down and look a little closer, however, and you will be able to appreciate how delicate and elegant the individual flowers are. Step back again, and you will then realize the immense effort that must have been involved in planning the park's landscape and the meticulous work of Keukenhof's 40 gardeners. With millions of flower bulbs to hand-plant, it takes a bewildering 3 months starting from the September before the park's opening in March to arrange them all.
With everything that is put into making the park possible, what Keukenhof has to offer is not just a tourist attraction. The Garden of Europe is also a representation of Dutch floriculture which plays a major role in the international flower industry. Worldwide, the Netherlands dominates the floricultural product trade as the largest exporter of live trees, plants, bulbs, roots, seeds, and cut flowers. If you happen to come across a flower bulb being sold, the chances are it is Dutch, as over 77% of the world's traded flower bulbs originate from the Netherlands.
While the extent of flowers in the Netherlands today is surely impressive, they cannot possibly match what tulips meant in the 17th century. During the Dutch Golden Age which was a fruitful time for the Dutch Republic, wealthy merchants began spending their money on luxury, collectible items including a particular type of tulip, "broken" tulips. These were rare bulbs that exhibited striped and speckled patterns whose newfound popularity gave rise to its own trade. Many tulips were sold for the price of a craftsman's annual earnings and one was even found to have been worth a house. Those who could afford it attempted to take advantage of the situation and turn a profit, but the market soon crumbled when buyers began refusing to pay the high prices they had promised.
Stepping into Keukenhof immersed me into the world of flowers not only as a picturesque site that dazzled my eyes but also by opening them to the Netherlands' massive floricultural industry. Unfortunately, as COVID-19 has brought nearly all of the world to a halt, this past spring season seems to have never arrived. No one was there to see Keukenhof in full bloom as it was forced to keep its doors shut and the capital of the global flower trade fell silent as the millions of bulbs that were expected to be sold were composted. As we are all staying at home, seeing a major industry, which I must admit I had never known existed, suffer under the current circumstances truly emphasizes just how far-reaching this crisis has been.