BULBS & BLOOMS

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Published on January 12, 2017 with No Comments

The tulips and how they used to cost more than a house.

Words ABDULLAH VOON
Images NETHERLANDS BOARD OF TOURISM & CONVENTIONS

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Mid-April is best to see the tulips in bloom in their peak season.

 

Holland is famous for its beautiful flower bulb fields that give colour to the typical Dutch landscape. The best-known Dutch flower, of course, is the tulip. In 1593, the first tulip in Holland could only be admired in the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden. Fast forward to today and there are vast fields of tulips and other bulb flowers to enjoy across Holland, from the Bollenstreek to the Noordoostpolder and Kop van Noord-Holland areas.

Originally cultivated in the Pamir and Tien Shan mountain ranges of Kazakhstan, tulips were imported into Holland in the 16th Century and cultivated by obsessed horticulturists in the Ottoman Empire. The tulips’ elegant and vivid colours were considered rare and novel by Western Europeans. The famous botanist, Carolus Clusius, was credited for introducing the flower to Holland. His first major book on tulips in 1592 became so popular that his garden was raided and bulbs stolen on a regular basis. As the Dutch Golden Age grew, so did this curvaceous and colourful flower. They became popular in paintings and festivals, and remain so to this day.

In those early days, tulips were considered a luxury buy afforded only to the wealthy and noble. A trend also began where cultivars began swapping bulbs, using them as a form of money, where actual properties traded hands with rare and scarce bulb varieties. In today’s term, the trading could be called a futures market. When people started noticing the seemingly easy profits made from trading tulip bulbs, prices skyrocketed. “Tulip Mania” swept the country, peaked, then just as easily as it gained momentum, the frenzied trading came crashing down overnight resulting in what was thought to be the world’s first economic bubble. The bulbs’ value tumbled to a tenth of their former worth, speculators hurried to cover losses, but the damage was done. With demand for the bulbs disappearing, the rumblings on debts would continue for many years to come.

The Amsterdam Tulip Museum is a good place to start with details on “Tulip Mania” and the flower’s fascinating economic power in the mid-17th Century Dutch Golden Age. The museum, though founded and sponsored by a local bulb company, effectively provides some historical context to the flower’s important history in Dutch culture, such as how bulbs were used as food during various wars, the origin of the flower in Turkey, including detailing modern growing and breeding techniques of the industry.

Tulips are serious business in Holland. So embedded is this flower in the Dutch psyche that its people would bring the flowers abroad when they settled, and thus we find tulips and tulip festivals in New York (originally New Amsterdam) and Holland, Michigan today, where the connection to their Dutch roots is very strong.

In the Kop van Noord-Holland, you will find millions of tulips, hyacinths and other flowers, which transform the landscape into a sea of different hues. Each year, the Tulip Festival is organised in the Noordoostpolder. Held in the middle of the tulip fields, this flower festival runs from late April to early May. Flower markets and gardens abound and, in Aalsmeer near Amsterdam, you will also be able to witness the world’s largest flower auction.

At the Royal FloraHolland, 90 percent of Dutch flower trade takes place here, where the auction can be viewed from a special gallery. Information panels along the gallery help explain the auction process. From the buzz of activity, you will be in awe at the precision of the system that handles over 20 million flowers and plants at once and the logistical feat. Feel the tension in the auction rooms and watch the auction with dozens of tractors and flower trolleys swarming around.

Do visit Keukenhof, where over 7 million flowering bulbs can be admired every year. One of the world’s largest gardens, Keukenhof was once a hunting ground in the 15th century. Today, it’s a showcase not just for tulips (and daffodils and hyacinths), but also offers a fine example of an English garden and a historical garden that houses some lost and well-preserved plants and herbs. Just walking around Keukenhof and inhaling the fresh fragrance of the blooms is an unforgettable experience.

One of the best ways to experience the tulips is to cycle among the flower countryside. While marvelling at the unique views, most cycling routes through the fields take you from such historic towns of Leiden to the beautiful city of Haarlem and would include a visit to Keukenhof as well. Cycling route maps are readily available at bookstores, or go to www.holland.com for more information.

 

Royal Brunei Airlines flies Dubai daily for connections to Amsterdam.

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