The tulip is a terrific flower with a tumultuous history. Synonymous with Holland, a country sometimes called “The Flower Shop of the World,” it’s a showy perennial in the lily family now cultivated in nearly 2,000 varieties. Dutch growers dominate the world’s tulip industry, exporting 4.3 billion bulbs annually and cultivating new ones each year. Along with other blooms, they’re sold in Amsterdam at the Bloemenmarkt on the Singel, as well as at the world’s largest flower auction in Aalsmeer, just south of Amsterdam, near Schiphol.
From Turkey to Tulip Mania
Before landing in Holland, the tulip traveled from the western Himalayas to Persia, China and Turkey, where it was prized in the Ottoman Empire. When Dutch trading with Constantinople increased in the 16th century, it was introduced in Holland, where it flourished and became popular with the upper classes.
As demand for tulips outstripped production, people began using bulbs as currency and speculation became rampant. By the mid-17th century, tulips were so coveted, they created Tulip Mania, widely considered the world’s first recorded economic bubble, when a single bulb sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. After the market crashed in 1637, Tulip Mania became a metaphor for any unsustainable economic bubble marked by prices that wildly exceed an asset’s intrinsic value.
Return to the Golden Age at Keukenhof
The world’s largest flower garden opens this year on March 24 in Lisse, about an hour from Amsterdam by public transport. Now in its 67th season, Keukenhof will showcase seven million tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, orchids, roses, carnations, irises, lilies and other spring flowers until May 16, 2016.
Set in Holland’s Flower Strip or bollenstreek, the bulb-growing region, the name of the popular attraction means “kitchen garden,” literally. Its roots go back to 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.
Keukenhof’s 2016 theme is “The Golden Age,” when Holland grew rich through worldwide trade. The 16th–17th era is depicted in a giant flower mosaic incorporating 100,000 tulips, grape hyacinths and crocuses. New this year are a Golden Age garden paying tribute to 17th century botanists and a Delft Blue garden with flowers that recall Delft Blue pottery, another Dutch hallmark. Other displays are inspired by romance, the beach, nostalgia and the history of a flower that’s become an icon of the Netherlands over 400 years.
The Practical Stuff
Keukenhof is open daily, March 24–May 16, 2016, from 8–19:30. Adult tickets are €16. You can book a ticket with your smartphone here. Alternatively, purchase a Combi-ticket for €29 that includes transport from Amsterdam and entrance to the park. Rather than going to the cashier at Keukenhof, walk straight into the park after the bus driver drops you off. Another advantage is savings, as the Combi-ticket may be cheaper than the combined price of your journey and the entrance to Keukenhof.
If you choose to do it on your own, it’s easy to reach Keukenhof via public transport. From stops on Marnixstraat, Leidseplein, the Rijksmuseum and Museumplein, you can pick up the Airport Express (Conexxion bus #197). Take it to Schiphol Plaza, where you’ll transfer to the Keukenhof Express (bus #858). Alternatively, take the train from Central Station to Schiphol and transfer to The Keukenhof Express bus at Schiphol Plaza, near the exit by Arrivals Hall 4, next to Starbucks.