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Friday, 30 April 2010

Tulip fever

Back from a very short visit to Amsterdam to see the tulips. When I went a few years ago, they were late because of a long winter - this time there was colour everywhere. Some 12,000 bulbs have been planted around the canal ring and in private gardens, which were open for the last weekend in April. These blooms were in the Begijnhof, a cluster of buildings around a 14th century courtyard, which once provided homes for women who belonged to a lay Catholic sisterhood.
To the west of Amsterdam are the bulbfields, a glorious patchwork of colour, with daffodils, hyacinths and tulips of every variety imaginable.

The big attraction there is Keukenhof, where, for eight weeks every spring, landscaped gardens are ablaze with huge drifts of colour. Some 800,000 visitors flock to see the 4.5 million bulbs, all planted by hand.
Tulipmania began back in the 17th century, when Dutch traders brought tulips back to Amsterdam from Turkey. They became a luxury item, with unusual bulbs selling for up to 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. When prices fell, some investors were reportedly ruined.
Today, there are more than 100 varieties, which come in colours and shapes that the early collectors would envy, such as Sorbet (left) and Greenstar (below)

The displays provide plenty of inspiration. Here the intense blue of Muscari Armeniacum is a perfect foil for the white of the Calgary tulip.

New at Keukenhof is a walled garden which gives the historic background to the tulip and other bulbs in the Netherlands.
Here, the Knot Garden recreates a style popular in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Keukenhof is open daily until May 16. Tour companies run full and half-day tours, or take a train from Amsterdam to Schiphol airport, and then a bus for Lisse.
And if you can't get there in time for the tulips, consider a visit during the Open Garden Days, (Friday 18 - Sunday 20 June) when some 25 - 30 private gardens hidden along the canals open to the public.

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