Searching for Flowers at the World Famous Keukenhof

Heather Tucker, donderdag 18 april 2013

It has been a cold year in the Netherlands. As I type this, less than 12 hours before the start of April, the sky outside is grey, the temperatures are chilly and there was even a spot of snow earlier. This isn’t the spring most people were imagining. It’s not the spring our flowers were expecting either.

Normally around this time of year the tourist coaches arrive in full, spotting non-Dutch license plates on the motorways becomes even easier and the major cities have more people speaking other languages than normal. So what happens when one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country relies on the warmer weather?

Keukenhof, located just 30 minutes away from Amsterdam, is a park 32 hectares wide with 15 kilometres of footpaths and usually is filled with more flowers than many people have seen in one place before. But just as the cold weather is affecting us humans, the weather has also taken its toll on the more than seven million bulbs that are planted there each year. I decided to head over to Keukenhof and see if I could find any flowers.

Usually an early start to the day is a must for enjoying Keukenhof. Getting up with the birds helps to ensure that you can get a parking place and also gives you a few minutes where the park isn’t bursting at the seams with people. So the first thing I noticed when driving to the park, slightly later than planned, was the distinct lack of cars. In fact this was the first time I was able to drive past the overflow car-park and straight into the main one.

The crowds were rather thin heading in but there were still plenty of people willing to brave the cold for some flowers. As I passed over the park threshold a lady selling food welcomed me, the street organ was in full song and crates of flowers lined the pathway. This wasn’t too bad, I remember thinking. But as I headed deeper into the park my heart sunk as I took in the distinct lack of flowers.

Flower beds that I knew from previous visits to usually be full of tulips and other flowers in all colours of the rainbow were distinctly lacking. The few flowers that had started to pop out from under the soil looked like they were having second thoughts. The sun was out, the flowers just weren’t playing along. I soon joined the rest of the visitors in an intense game of “search for the flowers” and while I did find some sections that were starting to bloom, overall there was very little that was ready.

But was a visit to Keukenhof in the days leading up to an Easter that was colder in temperature than Christmas a bad idea? That’s hard to say. To be honest, I really enjoyed the lack of crowds and the ability to wander around the park in peace. There was no pushing at the circle path that leads you out onto the lake, no line in the restaurants and I could take all the photos I liked. But then I also have the luxury of visiting Keukenhof another time, which many of its visitors do not. I tried to think about what was better, seeing the park and its potential without crowds but also without flowers or not seeing the park at all. It was a hard decision and one that I continued to ponder as I headed into one of the multiple pavilions, something I openly admit to usually skipping on previous trips.

Inside, the building was bursting with flowers. Flowers that had been warm enough to bloom and that didn’t look like they had a better and warmer place to be. As I looked around, I felt the familiar bump of someone in a hurry to get to the next section of flowers and I apologised as I walked into someone else’s photo. What Keukenhof was missing outside, had somehow been recreated inside even down to the cheesy photos being taken of people with their heads in amongst the flowers.

Did the pavilion filled with flowers make up for all those missing outside? Well no, but then Keukenhof doesn’t have much control over Mother Nature. Yes, it was disappointing to see section after section of brown and I can only imagine how it felt if this was your only chance to visit, but if you still want to see Keukenhof, go ahead and go. Just set your expectations correctly and be prepared to head inside to glimpse the full flower experience.

N.B. Keukenhof has a section on the front of their website entitled “Flowering Status”. If you want to know what the current situation is with the flowers, this is a good place to start.