The sight of ribbons of color stretching as far as the eye can see is thrilling. Someone used to expanses of green (corn, grain) or maybe yellow (rape seed, ripe wheat) might wonder “could these be fields?” The sight is indeed unusual. And yes, these are fields. Fields filled with blooming tulips. Red, pink, purple, and yellow blooms, neatly planted in rows, forming a mass of color as far as the eye can see. Where ? Only in Holland.
Everybody knows the tulip is the symbol of Holland. And for good reason: this is where Carolus Clusius planted the first tulip bulb at Leiden in 1594. This first tulip went on to spark the speculative Tulipmania in the 17th century and established Holland as the world producer it is today. Tulips grow so well in Holland for two reasons. First because of the climate: winters are just cold and long enough. Secondly because of the soil: the sandy loam of the polders provides good drainage, ensuring healthy growing conditions. The Netherlands is the world’s largest supplier of commercial tulip plants, producing approximately 3 billion tulip bulbs each year. Of these about two thirds are exported worldwide, primarily to the United States and Germany.
WHY TULIP FIELDS?
The tulips you see in the fields are not cultivated for the flowers but rather for the bulbs. Remember, the Dutch produce 3 billion bulbs per year. The process runs from October to July and the blooms are only a step in the process. As they would in
the garden, tulip bulbs go in the ground in October, when the soil temperature has gone down to about 12° C (54°F). The winter cold is necessary for the bulb to develop. By the end of March, the leaves begin to emerge, followed by the flowers, usually in April. That is when you can catch the ribbons of colour in the fields. After about three weeks, growers cut the flowers so the plant can use all its energy to produce a large and healthy bulb. The bulbs are ready for harvesting at the end of July. The large ones are sold and the smaller ones kept for seed and planted the following season.
WHERE and HOW TO SEE TULIP FIELDS?
There are many areas with tulip fields in Holland proper and also some in other provinces. Best known is perhaps the region around Alkmaar, that around Leiden as well as the Nordoostpolder to the East. They are best visited by car or bike (weather permitting). Public transportation is not really an option as the fields are, as one would expect, located in rural areas and there is no station or public bus route in the vicinity. Thankfully, nothing is very far in the Netherlands so most of this is doable within a day from Amsterdam. By the way, tulips grow in a different field each year. The same field will not see another tulip for 3-6 years. This helps control disease and preserve the soil.
WHEN TO GO?
You want to catch that window where the bulbs are in flower and before the blooms are headed. So you have about three weeks. When is the best time? Exact dates will vary as it all depends on the length and severity of the winter, on how quickly the soil warms up, how much the sun shines, and how much it rains. In general it is safe to say that the best time for tulip fields is the latter half of April and perhaps the first week of May. However, if you’ve planed your trip months in advance and mother Nature does not cooperate, ie you arrive too late or too early, don’t worry! There are other places to get your fill of tulips!
WHAT ELSE ? KEUKENHOF, of course!
With over 20 Million bulbs (of which 7 million tulips) planted each year, Keukenhof is the show garden of the Dutch bulb industry. From mid-March to mid-May the visitor can admire spring flowering bulbs, from crocuses to late flowering tulips. About 100 growers plant 800 varieties of tulips, including their newest selections. Think of Keukenhof as a live catalogue! Originally the kitchen garden to a royal estate, Keukenhof stretches over 34 hectares.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION ABOUT KEUKENHOF
- Count 90 minutes to two hours to take it all in.
- Definitely buy your ticket online to avoid queuing.
- The best time to visit is either early in the morning, before most visitors have arrived, or after 5:00PM when most of the tourist buses have left.
2019 opening times: March 21-May19 2019 8:00AM-7:30pm.
AND PRIVATE GARDENS with ToursByMarie
We visit tulip fields, of course. But also Keukenhof and, best of all, lots of private gardens where you'll meet the owner and be inspired. We also take a look at the world's largest wholesale flower market at Aalsmeer and attend a flower arranging workshop with a renowned local florist. Here is our TULIP TOUR ITINERARY .
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