Page 34 - ALG Issue 4 2019
P. 34

 members articles
Roger Backhouse visits the Keukenhof Gardens
  It’s the biggest gardening event in Europe, lasts just two months, and draws over a million and half visitors. Holland’s Keukenhof is gardening’s truly international crowd puller. A much-photographed windmill is
the high spot, usually surrounded by hundreds of people, busy taking ‘selfies’.
Yet, away from the mill, Keukenhof can still feel like an intimate place. If best known for bulbs, especially tulips, these are in attractively landscaped gardens with open woodland around patterns of small lakes and streams. Many trees are 250 years old, making this a well- established garden. Besides showpiece areas, smaller gardens display the history flowering bulbs, especially
the tulip, a complex international tale. Garden teams work on an unpromising sandy soil rarely given fertiliser as the bulbs don’t need it. As the old saying has it “The best manure is the gardener’s boot” and teams provide careful attention, going to enormous trouble to keep everything immaculately neat.
Though the gardens open only in spring, Head Gardener Stefan Slobbe says it is a year-round operation with forty full time gardening staff – only one woman amongst them! He’s been at Keukenhof for four years and enjoys his job saying: “It’s always spring here. We’re either preparing for spring or opening in spring.”
Gardeners aim to have a constant succession of blooms from mid-March until the gardens close in mid-May. Usually this is done by layering, or ‘lasagne’ gardening, for example planting later flowering tulip bulbs deep down, then daffodils, and at the top crocuses. Sometimes, teams plant rows of later flowering bulbs alongside
earlier blooming types. There is some deadheading, but otherwise most are left in place.
After the park shuts, gardeners
clear beds for replanting to start in September. Detailed plans are drawn up for each area of the garden. Designs for the gardens have changed over
the years. Perhaps it is the Piet Oudolf influence, but there is far more use
of grasses now. A newer area reflects coastal Holland’s dune areas vegetation. Planning starts during the current season for next year, based around a theme. In 2019 it was ‘Flower Power’ and 2020 will be ‘A world of colours’. Bulbs come from over 100 suppliers
in the Dutch horticultural industry,
who use Keukenhof to test bed for
new varieties. It can take up to twenty years to develop a new tulip. If visitors like what they see, bulb growers produce more for sale. Though the
USA is now the main export market
for Dutch growers, the UK is not far behind with China catching up fast.
Keukenhof’s windmill must be the most photographed in the world
      If visitors like what they see, bulb growers produce more for sale
Bulb fields surround Keukenhof with electric boat trips available, so no need to “tiptoe through the tulips”.
The gardens can be very busy but are big enough to offer relative seclusion. Earlier in the week is less crowded and going early (the gardens open at 8am) helps opportunities for better pictures. Keukenhof deserves its popularity.
Planning a trip in 2020? The next opening is 21st March to 10th May 2020. Many UK travel firms run coach visits, and it is easy to reach by train from the UK with Eurostar services from London to Amsterdam. Special frequent service buses take visitors from places like Leiden and Amsterdam during the opening. Even if you are wary of going abroad, almost all Dutch people speak excellent English, though sadly have not mastered making a decent pot of tea!
Roger Backhouse
   Head Gardener Stefan Slobbe is busy with the hoe, the favourite garden tool here
    Keukenhof new tulip variety: Rimini
Attractive woodlands surround lakes and flower beds
34 Allotment and Leisure Gardener

   32   33   34   35   36