The brilliant blooms of tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils mark the beginning of spring around the world. Nowhere can you see so many blooms as in Holland. We’ve wanted to travel there for years to see the famous flowers in April. It is a phenomenon I didn’t want to miss. Husband Don and I packed up our camera, reserved a suite on a riverboat from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland, and took a trip to be remembered.
Before going, I read every book I could on the history of tulips in the Netherlands. Netherland, meaning “low land” is a country with 50% of its soil below sea level. Had it not been for the industrious and ingenious people of the Netherlands,their willingness to dig canals, install windmills, drive pilings by hand and build dikes to hold back the ocean, the land would have been reclaimed by the sea long ago. Now, this valuable soil produces the most beautiful flowers in the world for us to enjoy.
Tulips originated in Central Asia 1,000 years ago. Tulips were smaller than the modern varieties of today, growing only a few inches in height. Popular in Turkey, they became its botanical symbol. Introduced to Europe in the mid-16th century, tulips found the soil in the Netherlands, a mixture of peat and sand, to be a perfect growing medium.
Dutch botanist Carolus Clusis was largely responsibility for the success of tulips in the Netherlands. He developed many new strains and colors and discovered that “broken tulips”, the flower with streaks of brilliant color on pure white, popular in the 1600’s, was caused by a viral infection. Today’s “streaking” on petals are produced through purposeful breeding.
In 1636, investment speculation called “Tulip Mania” turned the tulip market up-side-down. Amateur florists became obsessed with growing, selling, and trading tulip bulbs. The Netherlands experienced an economic bubble in the trading of tulips. Tulip auctions were held and the “fever” to buy and trade new and unusual varieties broke out. The cost of a rare and sought after bulb could match that a canal-front home in Amsterdam. Some speculators mortgaged their properties to buy bulbs to resell. When the bubble broke due to lack of new and exciting varieties, many tulip enthusiasts were left bankrupt.
The Netherlands is still one of the largest producers of bulbs and cut flowers in the world. Most of the cut flowers are produced in greenhouses. People from all over the world come to see the tulips at Keukenhof in Lisse, South Holland. The garden is the world’s largest (79 acres) open-air flower showcase for the Dutch floricultural sector featuring 7 million flowering bulbs. The visit to this “living catalogue” was one of the highlights of our trip. Open from March to May each year, flower enthusiasts can get their fill of the color and fragrance of spring flowers.