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Gardens of Earthly Delight: Keukenhof

By Pamela Robin Brandt

About 18 kilometres from Amsterdam (south of Haarlem, between Hillegom and Lisse), the Keukenhof is essentially the world's biggest bulb garden.

Fully open only for about two months every year (April and May), the Keukenhof requires the other 10 months for its roughly 100 registered suppliers to prepare its flamboyant 70-acre display of over six million multicoloured tulips -- plus hyacinths, daffodils, and other spring-blooming bulbs -- against a background of green lawns, trees, canals, a man-made lake with swans, and a beech-lined promenade.

At the end of May, all bulbs are pulled up, the gardens are redesigned, new bulbs are planted, and even the lawn is re-sown.

Peak period for tulip viewing is the end of April, which conveniently coincides with the region's annual grand flower procession on the road from Haarlem to Noordwijk aan Zee. Avoid weekends, if possible, which bring maximum crowds; the Keukenhof draws 900,000 visitors each spring.

Historically, the Keukenhof was, from 1401 to 1436, the hunting preserve of Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria. The countess also grew fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs here for use in her nearby castle, hence its name 'kitchen garden'.

In 1830, the preserve was transformed into a landscaped park in the 'English style', i.e. imitating nature. This explains the Keukenhof's irregular bed shapes, contrasting with the strict geometry of the area's many commercial flower fields (A windmill constructed in 1957 has a viewing platform that's well worth the climb for its view of these vast carpets of colour separated by irrigation canals).

In 1949, a bulb-growing consortium acquired the site, and the Keukenhof's main purpose today is still bulb growing, with tourism secondary. Bulbs sold for export are guaranteed to be flawless and virus-free.

The Keukenhof is accessible by coach or train from Amsterdam, Haarlem and Lisse. But since the area is Holland's main bulb-producing region, perhaps the best transport is an easy bike ride along flat back roads, providing the opportunity to smell as well as see the surroundings.

Information:

Where:

The Keukenhof
Stationsweg 166A
2161 AM Lisse
The Netherlands

Hours:

8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily from the end of March to the end of May; dates vary slightly each year depending on tulip-blooming times. In 2000, the Spring Garden show is from March 23 through May 21.

A limited Zomerhof (Summerhouse) garden display, from August 3 to September 17, focuses on later-blooming gladioli and irises.

Price:

Adults, 19 fl.; children 4-12, 9.50 fl.

Getting There:

From Amsterdam (18 kilometres northwest of Keukenhof) by train and bus, via Lisse; combo Amsterdam-Lisse train/Lisse-Keukenhof bus/Keukenhof admission tickets available at Amsterdam Centraal Station. (Combo ticket info: tel. 31 900 9292). From Schipol Airport (Amsterdam), bus 92 to Lisse, then bus 54 to Keukenhof.

Driving from Amsterdam: Take the A4 west towards the Hague, then the N207 south through Lisse to the Keukenhof.

From Haarlem station, buses 50 and 51; or, Sundays and holidays, express bus 54. From Leiden train station during season, an NZH 'Keukenhof Express' bus to park entrance.

Further Info:

31 252 46 55 55 - phone
Website: www.keukenhof.nl

For Flights and Airfares to the Netherlands - click here for the Travel Homepage.

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