Tulips are a special passion of mine. They are inexpensive, easy to grow, endlessly colourful and, most importantly, good to look at. I am not the first to be enamoured of the tulip’s elegant, silken blooms and I certainly won’t be the last. Their appeal was first recognised by the Turks in about 1,000 AD and has endured, even become a craze at times, well into the 21st century.
I spend more on bulbs than it would be wise to admit. The expense is all part of my annual homage to that most famous of bulbs gardens, Keukenhof in The Netherlands. At Keukenhof the tulip is revered, celebrated and paraded in public with a degree of pageantry rarely afforded to any flower: the results are magnificent, technicolour and staggering in scale. I have not visited the lush landscaped park that lies half way between Amsterdam and The Hague, but there visitors can tiptoe through 7 million bulbs planted over 32 hectares. This is bulb growing as only the Dutch know how. Join me for a little giggle at the fabulous video promoting this year’s display and put a date in your diary for 2017.
The space I have for cultivating bulbs in my seaside garden can be measured in square metres rather than acres or hectares; six square metres to be precise. This is not a lot. And yet it’s possible to cram in between 800 and 1000 bulbs every year to create my own private Keukenhof. Serpentine swathes of colour are scaled down to form generous clumps. A different colour theme is explored each time I plan a scheme. To prolong the flowering season I don’t restrict myself to tulips. The year begins with early daffodils, minature irises and crocuses, before hyacinths join the party, swiftly followed by tulips. Not only do I garden in a very small space, but also with no real soil to plant in. My garden sits above vaulted cellars, so each spring I set out a collection of bulbs in pots to create a temporary ‘bulb theatre’.
I select bulb varieties that should complement one another in height, texture and colour, morphing from predominantly blue, white and yellow flowers at the start of spring to hot orange, red and plummy purple in May. This year everything is completely mixed up thanks to the chilly weather, so all my scheming has gone out of the window. Pale yellow and peach vie with bronzy-orange and bruised plum for attention. I don’t mind in the slightest: it’s spring, so anything goes. What I get up to in my own private Keukenhof is my own business. Next year I can begin again with new bulbs, new colours and new ideas. Perhaps the results will be better. If nothing else they will be wonderfully different.
One spring I hope to open the garden to share my bulb extravaganza, showing other small garden owners that it’s possible to get enormous flower power from a small group of pots and containers. The biggest challenge will be setting a date. This year flowering is late, so a March date would have been too early. In a warmer year everything might be over by April. The only solution will be to stagger my bulb planting, perhaps keeping a few pots in the greenhouse to encourage earlier flowering and protect the blooms from wild weather. For now, Him Indoors and I are just happy to be greeted by a cheerful jumble of colour and heady perfumes every time we step outside. Why go all the way to The Netherlands when we can have Keukenhof on our doorstep?
I’d love to hear what bulbs are giving you joy in your gardens right now, and if you’re in the southern hemisphere, what you’re planting in readiness for spring.
Categories: Bulbs, Container gardening, Flowers, Our Coastal Garden, Photography, Plants
26 comments On "My Own Private Keukenhof"
Full of the joys of Spring! Lovely! M
Glad you like it. Hardly understated but it makes me happy! Your new website is superb by the way 🙂
I visited keukenhof last week. It certainly creates awe and is worth visiting. Sadly they don’t have really an opportunity to order bulbs on site, just some touristy shops and a small market stall type plant stall by the car park. A trick missed! For inspiration though I prefer Pashley Manor’s tulip festival: https://visitinghousesandgardens.com/2013/07/09/pashley-manor-gardens-kent/
Thank you for reminding me about your post on Pashley. I had hoped to get to Sissinghurst this weekend but visits from our builder got in the way of making a day of it. Perhaps next weekend we might get there, or to Pashley Manor.
I am not surprised about the shopping opportunities at Keukenhof. European gardens don’t seem to embrace the commercial opportunites quite as gladly as here in the UK. Anyway, it’s easier to order the bulbs from the comfort of an armchair and have them delivered I guess. Have a good week.
I have heard that bulbs and plants are so widely available in Holland it pushes prices down, making it hard for brands or places with overheads to compete.
That sounds logical. The garden centres in Holland are vast and the prices are very keen. I will still always value a plant purchased at the garden gate or specialist nursery more than a mass produced one.
Me too! The race to the bottom usually ends in a cul-de-sac.
An exceptional display Mr. Smarty Pants!!!!!
It looks beautiful Dan and I am sure the exquisite scent is as overwhelming as the ‘show’. Totally understand the mixed up weather scenario – I will arrive home to the first bulbs in flower – Paperwhites, at the end of the week. Who would have thought that on the other side of the world we would have bulbs in flower at the same time as Old Blighty! Our weather has totally confused the trees as well. We have autumn leaves and blossom on the weeping cherries, and the wattles are also in bloom and it is not even winter yet.
Stunning pics – you should be very proud of what you have created. xx
I have just come in from the garden because it’s hailing. We have had four seasons in a day today! Last night was so cold I threw fleece over my emerging dahlias. I am sort of comforted to know it’s not just us in the UK that are experiencing weird weather. I am amazed you have paperwhites coming out already. I have just deadheaded the last of my tazettas which I grew in the greenhouse. They were really late this year. Safe travels Helen x
Beautiful! I love tulips, too, and this spring I have some special ones.
I’d love to hear which varieties you find grow best for you. Thanks for your comment Anca – have a great week.
Off to Keukenof on Thursday Dan – will be my first visit. I too have a passion for tulips, and buy for too many each year. I always order early in the year and when the bulbs arrive through the post am amazed at how many I have bought and how much money I have spent. I too always have a garden in pots on both sides of the steps up to the front door – in fact gardening in pots is becoming more and more to my liking, as long as there is a son around to move the larger pots into place. Tulips “Barcelona” and “Menton” are two favourites, the first being deepish pink but with wonderful greyish leaves and “Menton” is apricot fading to pale pink. Somehow I have planted two large pots of the yellow lily variety “West Point”, doesn’t fit in anywhere colour wise but I like its form. Will send you some pictures and let you know what I think of “Keukenof.
I know Menton (so elegant) and West Point (I love it but Alex doesn’t like yellow flowers) but not Barcelona, which on Googling looks like a complete stunner.
Have a fabulous time in Holland. I look forward to hearing all about it. Pick out some nice orange and plum tulips for me to experiment with next year.
I hope your seeds will be with you in tomorrow’s post, uncrushed! Dan.
Blow your mind… visit Keukenof..
I might just do that! Thank you Rodja.
Worthy of Great Dixter! My tulip discovery this year is Exotic Emperor – a loose white double that has been flowering for weeks – underplanted by hot pink Barcelona which is just beginning to show colour as the Emperor’s first petals start to fall.
This is my first season without Exotic Emperor. I have always though it a bit of a strange name for a white tulip, but in our London garden it lasts and lasts, looking just as graceful in old age as when it first emerges from bud. You have reminded me to reinstate it for spring 2017! https://frustratedgardener.com/2014/04/19/easter-excess/
What a fabulous display Dan…it clearly pays to go “potty” my few pots look very sad compared to your abundant blooms…I must try harder next spring! Thanks for showing us what can be achieved!
Always so understated! 😉 Me with my one pot outside the back door. Very inspiring. I must try harder!
Moi? Understated? That would be a first (he says, standing in a packed Tube carriage looking down at his pink linen jacket when all around are wearing navy, black or a variation on “sludge”). More is more in my book. It often cripples me physically and financially but I can’t help myself! As with plants, three pots of bulbs should be a minimum Gill! 😀
I have no bulbs because of the squirrels and chipmunks so I always look forward to your tulip extravaganza, and you never let me down. Beautiful. 🙂 And, now I think I’ll go look back at my photos from Holland last year. Great memories. 🙂
It’s absolutely superb, Dan! Thanks so much for sharing. I’m looking for new ways to plant tulips here … but tell me, do your clay pots spend winter in a greenhouse? That’s what always worries me in France. That the pots will freeze, be destroyed over winter … perhaps I should be braver. Really loved your show … reminded me of Dixter’s pots.
Hi Cathy. No, I have way too many pots to keep them indoors. They stay outside in all winds and weathers, but we have very little frost here. Occasionally I lose the odd pot (normally due to my own clumsiness) but they are not expensive to replace. If you are concerned about frost damage you could try wrapping the pots in bubble wrap (ugly) or covering them over with layers of old carpet. Failing that they are fine in a garage, shed or cellar until the first tips start to poke through.
Thanks for the reply Dan. I couldn’t wrap up my pots, unfortunately, because they would look too ugly in the garden over winter. Also – because the garden is so steep, with so many steps, I have to limit the numbers that I overwinter indoors. I have some nice long clays with grasses/bamboos/camellia/rhodo/cycad and so on that I bring in each year. But this gardener couldn’t struggle with much more! What I have now is just large glazed pots that stay outside. We do get winters going down to 15-20 C (or used to!), so I’ve to be careful. I’ll have to continue to enjoy your display virtuously, for which I thank you!
I love your posts thank you so much you and Beau are an inspiration to me along with my husband who continually encourages me to spend on flowers !! Our favourite tulip is a pink and white one called Peppermint Stick
I thought I went overboard but seeing your the answer is no ! Next autumn I’ll be copying you. Thank you
Well, beware, my mantra is ‘more is more’. It’s a slippery slope! I do like the sound of your husband’s attitude though 🙂