The Bloom’s On the Tulip at Keukenhof

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Keukenhof is open until May 17, 2015.

The world’s largest flower garden opened this year on March 20 in Lisse, about 45 minutes from Amsterdam by public transport. Which leaves nearly a month for you to view seven million tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, orchids, roses, carnations, irises, lilies and other spring flowers in bloom at Keukenhof, now in its 66th season.

Translated literally as “kitchen garden,” the popular attraction has roots in the 15th century, when Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria foraged for herbs, fruit and nuts in the woods for use in the kitchen at Teylingen Castle. Keukenhof Castle was built in 1641 and its gardens redesigned in 1857, laying the foundation for the stunning seasonal display that now attracts some 800,000 visitors over just eight weeks each year.

From the Ottoman Empire to Holland

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The tulip was a cherished flower in Turkey before it traveled to Holland.

Before landing in Holland, the tulip traveled from the western Himalayas to Persia, China and Turkey, where it became a cherished flower in the Ottoman Empire. Sultans hosted spring tulip parties, and tulips bearing extraordinary colors and patterns appeared in illustrated books and on tiles and other household items. When Dutch trading with Constantinople increased in the 16th century, the tulip was introduced to Holland, where it flourished and soon became a national symbol.

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Flame-like patterns result from a non-fatal tulip virus called mosaic, transferred by aphids.

In 1592, Carolus Clusius wrote the first major book on tulips, fueling the flower’s popularity, as well as stealthy raids of Clusius’ garden. Boldly colored, flame-patterned tulips were favorites in the Netherlands. In 1931, botanists uncovered the scientific reason for the flame-like patterns: a non-fatal virus called mosaic, transferred by aphids, that caused a uniform-colored flower to develop erratic “flames” of color on its petals. The varied patterns increased the rarity of an already beloved flower that was sold at a premium in the Dutch Golden Age.

Golden Age Tulip Mania

As demand outstripped production, people began using tulips as money and speculation became rampant. By the mid-17th century, the flower was so coveted, it created Tulip Mania, widely considered the world’s first recorded economic bubble, when a single tulip bulb garnered more than a thousand Dutch guilders—an astronomic sum at the time. At the peak of Tulip Mania, a single bulb sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.

As the flower’s popularity grew in Holland, prices skyrocketed until the tulip market crashed in 1637. Tulip Mania now metaphorically refers to any large economic bubble, when the price of an asset wildly exceeds its intrinsic value. Despite the crash, the tulip’s popularity in the Netherlands continues to this day, making it the distinctive icon of Holland throughout the world.

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In its 66th season, Keukenhof honors iconic Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh.

Keukenhof Honors Van Gogh

What started as a platform for Dutch tulip developers opened to the public in 1950. This year, 125 years after the birth of Vincent Van Gogh, Keukenhof celebrates the iconic artist in numerous flower shows and a new Selfie Garden inspired by Van Gogh’s self-portraits. A spectacular flower plateau in Van Gogh’s likeness, comprised of tulips and grape hyacinths in many different hues, blooms next to Rembrandt and Jan Steen in the Walk of Fame at Keukenhof 2015. Also on display are more than a hundred thousand tulips in the Willem-Alexander pavilion and historic tulip garden, as well as exhibitions about tulip history, 17th century Tulip Mania, tulip myths and modern tulip cultivation.

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Some 2,000 tulip varieties are cultivated commercially and nearly 100 new ones are added annually.

Today the Netherlands is the world’s largest producer of tulip bulbs, exporting 4.2 billion bulbs annually. Approximately half goes abroad; the remainder stays in the Netherlands, mainly for flowering in winter as cut flowers. Almost 2,000 different tulip varieties are cultivated commercially; some 100 new ones are added each year.

10 comments

  1. The history is so rich when it comes to tulips in the Netherlands. I learned about the tulip bubble in a high school economics class and never thought I would visit. I’m very excited to bike through the tulip fields and see the magnificent colors and patterns.

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  2. I liked how the article has traced the strange history of the tulip, and how at one point in its coveted history it caused the Dutch to go into Tulip Mania. It’s also very interesting to read about the reverence of different flora in specific cultures. In Vancouver, my home, the large population of Japanese who chose to settle on the west coast of Canada brought the cherry blossom along with them. Every spring, all the cherry blossom trees bloom and we have festivals to commemorate the occasion. Sad that I missed the bloom in Holland this year.

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  3. 7 million flowers, wow! I did not realize that tulips originated in the East, either. I am very sad that I will not be able to see it.

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  4. It really breaks my heart I won’t be able to see it. I can imagine how beautiful it must be when reading this description. I’m hoping someday I can go to amsterdam in the right time to see it

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  5. It is a pitty that I can not visit Keukenhof in May, it should be increadible scenery there! Fields full of tulips…I even enjoy the tulips that are scattered all over Amsterdam in suvenirs and postcards) I am a big fan of them)

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  6. When it came to tulips I can’t stop talking about them…they are so fragile and have a unique beauty and you can see from the article that everyone fall in love with them so much it effects the economy…It breaks my heart that I won’t be able to see them because I will be in Holland for Christmas, but maybe this is an opportunity to come back…For this time I will try to get enough from visiting the flower market and buy tulip bulbs for my garden….

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  7. I really enjoy reading this information about the keukenhof garden. Actually I have not visited Amsterdam but I have visited the Victoria gardens in Canada before, and it was amaizing to saw all that flowers forming beautiful images, but I could not imagine before that much art go through this amazing garden in Amsterdam, as see some landscapes Inspired by Van Gogh portraits. The history about the flowers related to the 17th century is really interesting, to think that, this flower cost high prices that brought a growth to the economy in that century.
    Hope to visit this garden soon.

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