Gardening: No cure for a desperate case of tulip fever

Tulips in Keukenhof

Tulips in Keukenhof - Credit: Archant

When I was invited to visit Holland on a press trip, you can imagine that it didn’t take me long to give my answer! Having never been to Holland before, I was really excited to see the country so closely linked to one of my favourite flowers.

Tulips in Keukenhof

Tulips in Keukenhof - Credit: Archant

In my wildest dreams, I couldn’t have imagined the three days that I spent in Amsterdam and Haarlem. Two areas close to each other - but very different in feel. As we were specifically visiting for the tulips - we got to see the various aspects of the areas which were linked to the flower industry - including a trip to a bulb barn, an exhibition in a museum about the Tulip Fever which gripped The Netherlands in the Dutch Golden Age, a visit to a lilac grower, the incredibly beautiful bulb fields (by bicycle!) and of course Keukenhof!

For anyone who loves tulips - or indeed any spring flowers; Keukenhof must be on your “to do” list. The whole park is beautifully landscaped, with great swathes of tulips, hyacinths, hellebores and narcissi - and much more. The variety of different tulips was astounding. There was some varieties which I had never seen before, and an indoor area showcasing lots of different varieties - all in absolutely picture-perfect condition. The kind of standard that you come to expect at the Chelsea Flower Show was shown throughout the park - there wasn’t a flower out of place, and the grass was all beautifully manicured. It was my idea of heaven!

Following our time at Keukenhof itself, we hired bikes from just outside the park, and rode through the surrounding bulb fields. It was fascinating to see where the tulips were growing, and to watch the farmers out picking, and tending to them. It was a very old fashioned scene, but strangely comforting to know that some things are still being done in the same way that they have been done for hundreds of years. It was a marked change from the Aalsmeer flower market, which we also visited - where the stocks are traded for the flowers - and with each trade only taking around three seconds - the trading floor was all computerised, with the traders sitting at computers and making their purchases in a split second. It was really interesting to watch, but quite a surprise to see how the flower industry is all computerised in the same way that all other industry now is - a far cry from the beautiful flowers growing in the fields close to Amsterdam.

The “Tulipomania” exhibition - currently showing at the Museum Frans Halz in Haarlem shows the way in which the Tulip Fever which gripped Holland, has impacted on the history of the Dutch people. It was wonderful to see paintings, hundreds of years old, featuring tulips, and the thing I fell most in love with were the intricately designed tulip vases - in varying different styles - but each one as beautiful as the next, in its own way. I have to admit.. I didn’t make it home without buying one for myself.

Tulips in Keukenhof

Tulips in Keukenhof - Credit: Archant

The Tulip Fever which took hold during the Golden Age has been well documented and discussed in history, but the two facts that I found most interesting, were that at one point, people were so desperate for the tulip bulbs, that just one bulb sold for the price of a house in Amsterdam, and that the tulips that people had so fallen in love with, were actually diseased - and the stripe in their petal pattern, was actually due to a tulip sickness. These days the stripes are supposed to be there - and have been bred into the tulips purposefully. I can understand the mania though - the striped varieties have always been my favourites too!

Keukenhof is open for just eight weeks of the year - for tulip season. The rest of the year is spent removing the bulbs, preparing the designs for the following year, and planting the bulbs of course!

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This year Keukenhof is open March 20 to May 17 - so there is still time to visit this year. For flights: and for information about visiting Holland: Although we were in the area for three days, I think it would be reasonable to say that you could make a very worthwhile daytrip, if you didn’t want to stay overnight or were on a restricted budget. There are easy transport links from Schipol airport to Keukenhof.

Focus on: Floral table decorations

When we were in Holland, we were lucky enough to eat in some very special locations - some of which had never been used to entertain before - such as the Bakker bulb barn, and the Museum Van Loon - which is a museum, and rarely used for dining events. Everywhere we went, the chefs had prepared meals for us heavily influenced by flowers - most of them containing edible flowers, and it was a real feast for the senses. I realised what a difference it made to my dining experience to be not only eating some of these edible flowers, but to be surrounded by them on the tables and in the venues where we were being hosted.

The tables were always filled with the most exquisite table decorations. In nearly all cases, these were not over-the-top large bouquets of flowers, they were tiny little glass vessels, with one or two flowers in each. A grouping of two or three of these dotted along the centre of the table was hugely impactful. I found my eye being constantly drawn to them throughout the meal, and you were able to appreciate the individual beauty and colour of each flower, rather than looking at a large arrangement, and struggling to see your dinner companions across the table.

I always like to have fresh flowers in the house - even if they are just ones that I have picked from the garden (actually - especially if they are ones picked from the garden!) and I will definitely be trying out the ideas that I picked up whilst on my trip!

Things to do in your garden this month:

You will have almost certainly cut your lawn for the first time this year by now - and if you haven’t - it’s definitely time. Mine is now at the stage of needing to be cut every couple of weeks to keep it tidy. For the first time ever, I now have a lawn which is big enough to allow me to mow stripes in it - the effect is hugely satisfying, and seems to give the impression of space.

Make sure you deadhead your daffodils as they go over - I still have quite a lot of daffodils out in the garden at home, and going around to deadhead those which have gone over, really keeps the garden looking at its best.

You can start to plant out your early varieties of potatoes - it won’t be long before we can enjoy those first delicious salad potatoes!