is a tulip…or a rose…what was that quote again?
The second largest garden in the world, and largest tulip garden, is Keukenhof in Holland. Although only open for eight weeks every year, seven million flower bulbs are planted, and over 800,000 people visit annually. If you ask a typical Dutch person, most of these visitors are tourists arriving in the multitude of buses seen outside the entrance. Although the locals may view this as a tourist trap, maybe there’s a reason people come here…maybe it really is that beautiful? I wanted to see for myself.
Keukenhof means ‘kitchen garden’ in Dutch, and got this name hundreds of years ago when the grounds were used as an herbal garden for a Countess who lived there. The gardens are technically in Lisse, not Leiden, about a twenty minute bus ride away. Leiden’s connection to Keukenhof is more than just proximity, however. In the 16th century, a botanist from Leiden named Carolus Clusius imported the first tulip bulbs to Holland, and from there things took off quickly. This resulted in a tulip craze that started in Leiden, and spread throughout the country leading to international trading and a lot of wealthy Dutch people. Keukenhof officially opened for business in 1949.
Keukenhof had an amusement park feel to it that was evident immediately upon entering…being greeted by crowds of people, a fountain, cafe, and festive music playing. The flowers were brilliant, exceeding all my expectations. In certain areas there were literally ‘flower carpets’ covering the ground. It wasn’t just the quantity of flowers, but the artistry of matching certain colors and using different placement patterns. The lake in the middle full of ducks and swans was a nice embellishment to place more flowers around. I was surprised that dogs were allowed here…I know my dog would be going nuts with all the crazy floral aromas…I also guess this place would be hell for people with allergies. Although mostly known for tulips, Keukenhof has all types of flowers…my favorite were the red and yellow ones, I absolutely love that fire-like color mix. Cheap tourist shops were selling plastic and wooden flowers, but there was also a cool store on-site that sold different flower bulbs for planting yourself. There were mobs of people here, but probably not as crowded as a few weeks before at the height of blooming season…I was actually there the last open weekend of the year. I left with a really nice picture of me ‘stopping to smell the tulips’.
Leiden wasn’t only about access to Keukenhof…this seemed to be a great city as well. I stayed in the most amazing hotel room with an antique looking bed and bathtub, coupled with a beautiful view of the canals from my window. The city was much cleaner than Amsterdam, and because of a nearby university had a young, vibrant feel to it. It wouldn’t be Holland without a windmill, and there was a nice one right in the center of town. I found a cool restaurant called ‘De La Soul’ that served Southern US style food…pretty good, and I took a picture of my mac and cheese! There was also a live outdoor music show going on…looked like a benefit for something. The best thing about Leiden is its proximity to other cities in this area – The Hague 9 miles, Delft 12 miles, Haarlem & Rotterdam 17 miles, Amsterdam 22 miles – which makes it a perfect hub for Holland day trips, in my opinion.
As nice as Leiden was, this was all about the beautiful flowers at Keukenhof, and I ended the trip in a very good mood. “Flowers are restful to look at…they have neither emotions nor conflicts.” – Sigmund Freud