Sunday, May 18, 2008


First published in The Jakarta Post, Sunday, May 18, 2008


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Lisse, the Netherlands

The world-famous spring garden Keukenhof, also known as the Garden of Europe, offers the visitors more than 4.5 million tulips just an hour outside of Amsterdam.

It takes about an hour to get there from the city, and with a Combi-ticket I switched from one bus to the Keukenhof shuttle bus at Schipol. Even early in the morning, flocks of young and old queued to get on the bus, evidence that Keukenhof's gorgeousness was surely arresting.

Located outside the town of Lisse in southern Haarlem, Keukenhof (which literally means "kitchen garden" and historically belonged to Joba van Beieren, the 15th century countess of Holland) features beds of tulips, daffodils, crocuses and other beautiful flowers. Some 15 kilometers of footpaths let you walk amid them all.

The huge garden, whose landscape was designed by architect Zocher in 1857, covers an area of 32 hectares with 100 varieties of tulips and some 7 million bulbs planted by hand. The matchless garden also has 2,500 trees comprising 87 species.

While Dutch politicians were still debating China's human rights violations in Tibet this year, Keukenhof defiantly opted for the theme of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, variously expressed in colorful gardens and shows.

More than 90 participants exhibited flower bulbs and the garden had utilized layered planting to ensure a permanent flow of color throughout the season.

Approximately 6,500 kilos of grass seeds are also sown annually to plow an unsullied green turf in addition to the multicolor finery of flowers.

The walking didn't tire me, as the fresh fragrance of the bulbs splashed onto my body everywhere I went. Thousands of flowers burst in bloom just before my eyes.

The park is only open during spring (March 20 to May 18 this year) since the bulbs bloom only during this season; other months are used for park maintenance and bulb planting.

Back in the 17th century the rich used to spend a lot of money on tulips. For this reason, tulip mania came into fashion everywhere. One record cites that traders could reap roughly 30,000 euros a month from this business.

The idea to utilize the park came from then mayor of Lisse Mr. Lambooy in 1949 in an effort to bolster the country's position as the world's largest flower exporter. Exhibitions were conducted with the participation of growers from throughout the Netherlands and neighboring countries.

The garden became a centerpiece for the bulb trade. Nowadays the most beautiful bulb flowers are ensured by around 90 Royal Warrant Holders to be on annual display.

A contest among planters is held within various pavilions, with the Vaste Keurings Comissie judges rating the best specimens from tulips to chrysanthemums for the Keukenhof Award.

Various garden styles, from English to the nature garden with a mix of bulbs, bushes and perennials, characterize this large estate. In particular, the Flower Forest which has a blend of bulb flowers and veranda planting in fashionable color schemes has brought about the charm of aged trees but with imposing scenery.

Exotic flowers such as orchids are also found. The 1,000-meter-square Beatirx Pavilion houses various species of flowers and plants.

The Prince Willem Alexander pavilion with an area of 6,000 meters runs an exhibition of approximately 35,000 lilies from May 8th to 18th.

However, Keukenhof is not only about flowers; it also exhibits aesthetic sculptures from some 50 artists.

There is also a 116-year-old mill on the far side of the garden, which was brought from the province of Groningen 51 years ago. And for chess enthusiasts, the garden provides a giant chess game for you to play.

Kids will love the park's vast playground with a labyrinth and an educational animal enclosure. Children could be guided through the Bollebozen treasure hunt, showing them the finest spots of the garden.

Having a meal at the garden's restaurant, I watched how people endlessly admired the beauty of the bulbs.

I reflected to myself why people are so fervent in cultivating the beauty of nature, realizing it is this beauty that should add to the quality of our lives -- not the "beauty" of superficiality that we often encounter in our modern everyday life.