in Bloom is a glorious sight indeed. As a long time garden writer, I
was asked to lead a river cruise and tour that included some of
Holland’s most famous cities including Delft, the Hague, Leiden and
Amsterdam with its world-famed Keukenhof Gardens. They were in peak
profusion with more than 7 million flowers blooming in 70 acres of
River cruises have become increasingly popular over the past few
decades according to Helena Novak, VP of General Tours who had planned
this special trip. The ships are slim and trim, designed for canals and
rivers throughout Europe. The MV Casanova, an elegant 5-Star Peter
Deilmann ship had an appropriate romantic name for such a colorful
As a veteran garden writer my goal was to provide insights so
passengers could enjoy their visits to leading botanical gardens as
well as the colorful Keukenhof displays. From there participants could
transplant bulb growing ideas to their home gardens.
Our carefully planned General Tours itinerary included famed
historic sites, medieval towns and landmarks, dramatic cathedrals and
churches tracing their history back 1000 years and of course, gardens
to enjoy too.
Venice of the North
First on our 9 day agenda was a cruise of Amsterdam’s canals to view
that appealing city from its waterways. From the canals we could see
many of the charming homes while we dined leisurely on board.
With its numerous waterways, Amsterdam has become known as the "Venice of the North”.
Amsterdam is noted for its Dam Square, (its real name) which is the
very heart of the city. The square is dominated by the impressive Royal
Palace, originally used as the town hall. It has a classical façade and
fine sculptures intended to glorify the city and its government.
The Hortus Botanicus is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the
world. More than 6,000 plants from around the world grow in the gardens
and greenhouses. Historically, the City Council founded Hortus Medicus,
a medicinal herb garden in 1638 as a result of a plague epidemic. Only
pure plant species as they are found in nature are grown in the Hortus
as a resource for study and to conserve threatened species by growing
them and exchanging seeds with other botanic gardens around the world.
Our second day began with an exploration of Delft and the imposing
medieval houses, cobblestone streets, market squares and historic
buildings. This city is renowned for its classic Delft Blue pottery,
which was famous in the 17th and 18th centuries when there were 32
ceramic factories in Delft. Today, Royal Delft is the only factory
Delft citizens are especially proud of historic ties with the Dutch
royal house, dating back to William of Orange. On the Queen’s birthday
citizens enjoy donning bright orange hats and clothing to celebrate
that part of their Dutch heritage.
The Old Church with its curious leaning tower dates to 1246. The New
Church circa 1496, accommodates the mausoleum of William of Orange who
is considered the founding father of the Netherlands. This impressive
church is noted for its tall Gothic tower rising 109 meters and its set
The Hague is the seat of government of the Netherlands and home to
Clingendael Park with magnificent rhododendrons and a beautiful
Japanese garden. This charming city combines ancient architecture with
modern buildings housing foreign embassies. The Hague also is home to
the International Court of Justice, a United Nation agency which began
as the Peace Palace, endowed in 1903 by American philanthropist Andrew
is another appealing city, the birthplace of several important Dutch
painters including Rembrandt whose 400th birthday was celebrated during
2006. In the 17th century the English settlers who became known as the
Pilgrims took refuge in Leiden before leaving for North America.
The Leiden Botanic Garden is another resource garden worth visiting.
It is the oldest botanical garden in Holland, dating back to 1590. The
founder, Carolus Clusius in 1594 became the first person to cultivate
tulips in Holland. Since then, Holland has grown to become the world’s
premier source for tulips. Millions are grown every year and shipped
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, one of the most famous painters in
history, was born on July 15, 1606, in Leiden, an area that became
Holland’s famous bulb growing region. At the time of Rembrandt’s birth,
the tulip was still a recent introduction to Holland. At 31, the artist
was a witness to Tulipmania, the great Dutch speculative stock market
frenzy and crash, 1620 - 1637.
Tulip History and Heritage
first tulips were brought to Holland from Turkey in the mid-1500s and
by the early 1600 were still rare, mostly found in university botanical
gardens. Some locals, lusting after rare flowers grown at the
University of Leiden botanical garden, stole some tulip bulbs and began
cultivating them for sale. The tulips that "drove men mad” were
multi-colored flowers with distinctive mottled streaks. No two were
alike. During Tulipmania, these bulbs were traded as futures, sold
sometimes hundreds of times over a single winter, while the bulbs were
still in the ground, earning traders as much as $60,000 a month in
today’s money! Prices finally collapsed in 1637, sending Holland and
much of Europe into an economic depression. Tulipmania is still studied
today, alongside the stock crash of 1929, as a classic example of a
speculative market gone out of control.
The treasured rare bulbs actually were diseased plants. The streaks
that gave the flowers their exotic looks were caused by a mosaic virus.
Curiously, these long stemmed diseased varieties with broken colors
were grouped together and called Rembrandt tulips.
Today, thanks to Holland’s professional hybridizers, tulips with the
same exotic streaked coloration patterns are widely available. Though
often sold as "Rembrandt” tulips, they are actually disease-free,
genetically-stable look-alikes and are available from garden mail order
The most colorful feast for the eyes on a trip to Holland is the 70
acres of glorious blooming beauty of Keukenhof Gardens. For 8 weeks
each year more than 7 million tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and other
bulb flowers burst forth into the most dramatic displays of floral
beauty you can find anywhere in the world. Leading Dutch bulb firms
have created eye-catching displays of their best and newest varieties,
mostly tulips of every size, color and form. Other flowers include
various types of daffodils and fragrant hyacinths. You can easily
identify the most appealing varieties and order them for delivery to
your home at the correct planting time in the fall.
Keukenhof is an inspiration to everyone, especially avid gardeners
who wish to transplant stunning new varieties into their home grounds.
Keukenhof began in 1949 when the major of Lisse in cooperation with
several eminent bulb grower and exporters developed the idea for an
outdoor display of flowers that would give gardeners an idea of the
wide range of flower bulbs available. Eventually other perennials,
shrubs and trees were added. Today more than 100 businesses supply
bulbs for the displays.
The name Keukenhof dates back to the park that was once part of the
property of Jacoba of Bavaria, Countess of Holland, who lived from 1401
to 1436. She spent much time gathering herbs for her castle kitchen and
the name Keukenhof actually means "kitchen garden”. Today it is the
world’s most colorful, extensive and beautiful display of bulb flowers,
well worth a trip during the peak flowering period b between mid-April
Theme gardens include those devoted to color, fragrance, the
Renaissance, abstract style and borders. All are produced on small and
simple scale so home gardeners can copy ideas for their home grounds.
Many more details and exceptional pictures of these appealing gardens
are at the website: www.keukenhof.nl. The mailing address for
literature is Keukenhof, P. O. Box 66, NL 2160 AB Lisse, Holland.
you have absorbed a day or more of Keukenhof’s blooming beauty, one
other marvelous Dutch town deserves exploration. Maastricht is the
oldest town in the Netherlands, which started out as a Roman garrison
with trade routes to London, Cologne and Rome. In the 4th century a
bishopric under St. Servaas bought the town great prestige and some of
the landmarks date far back in town history. Once a rich
cloth-producing city it has had a turbulent history under Austrian,
Spanish and French control and finally under Dutch rule b y 1815.
Maasricht landmarks include the city’s Roman remains and rings of
medieval fortifications, Romanesque arches and murals, French Gothic
churches, indigenous Maasland Renaissance architecture, onion towers
imported from the East and classic 17th century buildings favored by
Dutch Calvinists. There are Baroque residences from the Louis XIV era
but later in the 18th century, symmetry gave way to frenzied Rococo
Holland offers some of the most dramatic contrasts in architecture
from all major eras of early vintage through medieval to modern times.
Whether you try a leisurely River Cruise that has shore excursions to
the key historic and photogenic sites or prefer a different style trip,
the Netherlands cities, landmarks, monuments, churches and the glorious
Keukenhof Gardens are well worth your focus as you plan future
vacations. Easy contact to the General Tours organization for Holland
and many other tours is 1-800-858-0908.
River cruising, including the ups and downs of locks from rivers to
canals and back has a distinct advantage. Holland is indeed a low
country and you get to see much of it from a River Cruise ship as the
Dutch have seen and traveled their country for centuries. Climb aboard
and enjoy this distinctive, delightful country.
Best recommended "Rembrandt” type tulips:
Tulipa ‘Beauty of Volendam’ (Triumph Tulip) - Exceptionally elegant,
a cream colored tulip with deep burgundy-rose feathering that flows
upward from the base of each petal
Tulipa ‘Carnaval de Nice’ (Double Late Tulip) - Plump and multi-petaled with white petals marked in deep red
Tulipa ‘Flaming Parrot’ (Parrot Tulip) – Primrose yellow flowers
flamed with blood red that mature to creamy white flamed with red. The
petals of Parrot Tulips are ruffled and fringed along the edges with an
exotic look reminiscent of the feathers of tropical birds
Tulipa ‘Ice Follies’ (Triumph Tulip) – A striking white tulip marked in bright red
Tulipa ‘Marilyn’ (Lily-flowered Tulip) - A bright white tulip with fuchsia flames that fan up pointed, slightly ruffled, petals
Tulipa ‘Mickey Mouse’ (Single Early Tulip) – Brilliant yellow flamed
with blood red makes for vivid coloration on a small compact
Tulipa ‘Mona Lisa’ (Lily-flowered Tulip) – Primrose yellow flamed with deep berry-red feathering
Tulipa ‘Prinses Irene’ (Single Early Tulip) – Rich orange flamed
with purple, fragrant, long blooming and resilient in the garden
Tulipa ‘Sorbet’ (Single Late Tulip) - White with raspberry-red flames.
Photo credits: Keukenhof Garden photo
courtesy of Keukenhof Gardens; Forest at Clingendael, Delft Blue
Earthenware, Hague Coat of Arms courtesy of The Hague Visitors &
Convention Bureau; Maastricht Skyline courtesy of Raymond Friederichs.
Swenson has been a nationally-syndicated garden and nature columnist
for 25+ years and is the author of more than 55 published books. He
enjoys capturing scenes from his travels to share with Senior Groups
and Congregate Housing residents as colorful slide shows and writing
about his travels.