Monday, April 23, 2012

Five Meters Under Sea Level

We wrapped up our whirlwind week of traveling with a trip with several of my colleagues to Lisse, a town in Holland right between The Hague and Amsterdam, to see Keukenhof, "The most beautiful spring garden in the world." It really is. We've seen lots of pretty gardens before, but the flowers here were just stunning. With so much water around (it's maybe 10 km from the North Sea and it's at around 5 m below sea level), they grow feverishly, as you can see.



I'm a big fan of these rows of droopy, two-toned daffodils.


It's difficult to express how colorful and beautiful this place is. Set on 80 acres and, according to the informational guide, packed with over seven MILLION flower bulbs, Keukenhof wins the award for the highest flower density for any garden we've seen, and we've seen some gardens. (I am a little suspicious of the informational guide: it claims that all of the bulbs are dug up every year, never to be reused, and new ones are planted by 30 volunteers in just two months. I've done the math: that's about one bulb every 20 seconds per person. Gardener friends, is that a reasonable pace that can be sustained for two months?)



Being a springtime garden, the focus at Keukenhof is primarily tulips, with daffodils and hyacinths providing a colorful backdrop. On Saturday, we left Aachen at 7:00 am for the two-and-a-half hour drive, which was mostly in the rain. Upon our arrival the showers turned into an absolute downpour. Fortunately, the downpour lasted only about 20 minutes and the rest of the day was gorgeous, if a little cold. Plus, the water drops on the flowers from the morning rain added an extra "springtime effect" to the day.



The spiky tulips above were really eye-catching, both for their shape and color. I didn't remember their name when writing this post, so I decided to take the advice a Dutch woman gave me when I was photographing the signs in front of the flowers: "You put it in the Google and search for the similar images. You will find the name!" Sorry Dutch lady, Google's "similar images" include lots of red tulips, but also a woman wearing a red sweater, a red leather jacket, and some red meat, but no name for these tulips. Thanks a lot, the Google.




The above green and white tulips are called "Exotic Emperor." We spent several minutes just looking at them.  We actually spent a long time looking at everything: at 2:00 pm, after being in the park for three hours, we met my labmates for a group photo. After the photo, they said that they had already seen everything and were going to go to the sea. When they asked if we wanted to join, we said that we hadn't quite seen everything and were going to stay in the park. We met up with them four hours later, still not having seen the entire park. I suppose we lack that high-level German efficiency.

Below is one of the many arrangements in blue and gold. I believe that these arrangements were put there to make us feel at home: Go Bears!




One building housed hundreds of varieties of tulips grown in prime conditions, including these tulips with ruffly edges. (Perhaps the rain outside damages them more than other, hardier varieties?) Normally I don't like frilly-edged flowers ones, but these, called "Louvre," seem perfect: a wispy ruffle that appears to be in a contrasting color (white) with a strong contrast (blue) in the center. I love these tulips. Plus the whole flower is quite tall, which I think makes it yet more striking.



I love these super bright orange ones. They open so wide that when many of them grow next to one another, they appear as a carpet of orange. They are possibly one of the varieties of "Parrot" tulips, but again, the exact name is lost to "the Google."



Above, one of my most artistic photos, a hanging grape hyacinth. One of the few truly blue flowers we saw.



There was one building dedicated to orchids. They were apparently being judged as they all had scores between 8.80 and 9.50. I'm not sure what scale they use, but it seems like a Miss America pageant for flowers: there's no real range in the possible scores, so all the scores end up similar and nobody goes home feeling bad. Sorry, people. The orchids don't have feelings!


A view of classic swaths of tulips in The Netherlands. The color really stretches as far as the eye can see. Unless you're atop a windmill and have a bird's-eye view and the front several swaths have already been harvested. Still, you get the idea.



I call this photograph "Daffodil in Sunlight." You can see the sunshine peeking through the petals and can even make out where the petals are in two layers. The sky was partially cloudy throughout the day, so the intermittent bursts of sunshine added contrast to both the flowers and our body temperatures.





Above, a winding row of daffodils lining the water. Not only were so many individual flowers stunning, but the park as a whole was gorgeous. The park owes some of its beauty to its history: it was a 15th century hunting ground and a source of herbs for Jacquelin, Countess of Hainaut (thanks, Wikipedia). The castle at Keukenhof (today an art gallery in the park which we didn't visit) was built in the mid 17th century. The grounds started being groomed in the 19th century, explaining the abundance of old, tall trees in among the annually-renewed flowers. Keukenhof as the world's largest spring garden has been an annual event for over sixty years.

Each year Keukenhof takes a European country as its theme. This year was Poland, sadly taglined "Surprising Poland!" Frankly, there wasn't anything terribly Polish about it, just a poster about Chopin and Copernicus. (There may have been a region of bulbs planted to grow in the shape of a famous Pole, but I couldn't make out if, let alone who it was intended to be.)



The above photograph of daffodils over the water didn't stand out as terribly striking until we put it on the computer. The reflection of the flowers in the still water seems to be the focal point and came out so clearly. Plus, you can see the tall trees in the water, while they're not visible in the photograph. (And frankly, we didn't really notice them as we were so focused on the flowers.)




There was a lot of water in the park, and all of it was quite tasteful. This fountain ran in front of one of the entrances and was beautifully lined with mixed tulips and hyacinth. The smell of hyacinth was so strong everywhere in the park that I can still smell it just looking at the pictures.

Below is a photo of the funkiest tulips I've ever seen, "Fritillaria Imperialis." They have a tall central stalk from which several tulip heads hang upside-down in several colors (we saw oranges and yellows). The top of the central stalk looks, as Sara said, like me when I wake up with bed-head.



You may have guessed by now that we took a ton of photographs in Keukenhof. (Someone told me that it's the most photographed place in the world. I'd believe it, based on the number of cameras I saw.) We tried to pick just the best of the best for the blog, but we culled it to these 32 only after two rounds of selection. If you want to see more, the rest of our (413 Keukenhof) photos are on our Flickr site.

A related aside: we told several people today in church about our trip to Keukenhof. After we told them, at least two men asked quizzically, "and you liked the tulips? Tulips are so... boring." Doubting German men, I say nay. Tulips are beautiful. You just have to know where to go to see them.


  1. ... amazing.

    You could do that with bulbs, it helps if the ground is already nice and plowed up :D

  2. You took some absolutely amazing shots!

  3. Really unbelievable!! So pretty -- certainly this entry was designed just to make Pamela Bay extremely jealous.

    1. The whole time we were there we kept saying, "Our mothers should be here!"

  4. I'm a sucker for flower pictures. Gorgeous!!


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