Across the Netherlands, on Saturday 20 January locals and visitors alike celebrate the arrival of National Tulip Day as the flower season starts for another year. Dam Square, in central Amsterdam, becomes a temporary themed garden with more than 200,000 tulips. The theme for 2018 is ‘Romantic’, and over 10,000 people are expected to visit the square to collect their free tulip to mark the start of spring. Over 1.7 billion Dutch tulips are expected to be taken home across the world in the 2018 tulip season which runs from January to the end of April.
History of the Tulip in Amsterdam
If you say tulips to many people they will automatically think of Amsterdam with its floating flower markets and colourful seas of blooming tulips, however, the tulip is thought to have originated in Turkey in the Ottoman Empire before being imported to the Netherlands in the 1500s.
The famous horticulturist Carolus Clusius is credited with introducing the Dutch to the tulip in 1592. His friend Ogier Ghiselin, Ambassador to the Habsburg Monarchy in the Ottoman Empire, was gifted bulbs by the Turkish Sultan, and he passed them on to Clusius who was then the prefect to the emperor’s garden in Vienna. When he left Vienna to teach at Leiden University in the Netherlands he took the bulbs with him and through his varied studies on both the bulbs and the flower he created a plan which led to the start of mass-cultivation of tulips in the Netherlands. His methods were so famous that his greenhouse was often broken in to so people could steal his tulips.
Through this mass introduction the Dutch went tulip-mad, literally creating ‘tulipomania’ and with the documentation of the flowers in paintings and books they became so popular the prices rocketed and the bulbs were used as currency, becoming more valuable than diamonds or gold, until the market crashed in 1637.
In WWII after the allies lost the Battle of Arnhem in autumn 1944, the Germans began to cut off many of the main supply routes into and out of the Netherlands. As it moved into the winter many were caught in the ‘Hongerwinter’ famine which would eventually take the lives of over 22,000 people. Throughout the war, the Dutch tulip producers had not planted any of their bulbs as the markets either not been open or their buyers could not get them out of the country. The authorities, fearing more deaths, took the move to distribute hundreds of bulbs which were being held in storage to the Dutch residents and convinced the tulip owners to grow more. The bulbs proved to be nutritious and easy to cook with a sweet, milky flavour, and they saved the lives of many Dutch people who would have otherwise starved over the winter before the allies liberated the Netherlands in May 1945.
Spring in Holland brings out more than just tulips. Millions of crocuses, hyacinths and daffodils bloom in the bulb fields between Haarlem and Leiden. An organised shore excursion takes you to the Keukenhof Flower Exhibition. An unprecedented wealth of spectacular floral displays planted in endless varieties, alternated with beautiful works of art, make Keukenhof unique, world famous and one of the most popular attractions in the Netherlands.
Spread over 79 acres, the Keukenhof has over 7 million bulbs in bloom in spring. Keukenhof Castle was built in 1641 through the dedicated work of the estate’s landscapers, Jan David Zocher and his son Louis Paul Zocher, they redesigned the castle grounds in 1857 in the English landscape style which they had previously done for their design of the Vondelpark in central Amsterdam.
1950 saw the park first open to the public, exhibiting itself as a spring park showcasing the famous Dutch blooms. The grand opening was a success with over 230,000 visitors entering in the first year alone. The theme for the park is set in advance and the tulip market in Dam Square for National Tulip Day matches the Keukenhof theme each year.
Experience Amsterdam in full bloom on a mini cruise, as well as exploring its many historic sites, world-famous museums and galleries.
Top tips for growing/caring for tulips
- Plant them later than your normal spring flowers – for the best results, it’s best to plant bulbs in November or December after your garden has experienced one or two frosts.
- It is always best to plant tulips in fresh ground which hasn’t had any tulips in it for three years, so sometimes it will be best to plant into pots which have new soil in.
- Try to ensure that the bulbs and subsequent flowers are in sunlight as this will help growth.
- Once the blooms have finally died, lift the bulbs from the pots and replant in a warm, dry place.