From flower auctions to flower parades and flower museums, it is no surprise that seven million bulbs are exported every year from Holland, making it the world’s leading bulb trader, says Kevin Pilley.

We agreed on one thing. It would be a Tiny Tim Free Zone. Instead we tiptoed through the tourists. Through ‘The Greatest Flower Show on Earth’.

The 32-hectare Keukenhof (kitchen) gardens in Lisse between Amsterdam and Haarlem are one of the world’s largest flower gardens and perhaps Holland’s most famous spring garden.

Seven million bulbs are planted every year, flowering from the end of March to the end of May. The best time to see tulips – the unofficial flower of the Netherlands – is mid-April to May.

Situated in 15th-century hunting grounds, Keukenhof, a 40-minute bus ride from the capital, was originally the source of herbs for the local castle. The garden was established in 1949. Surrounded by commercial bulbfields, it’s a showroom for the queen of bulbs and a peaceful place. Which means you aren’t continually dodging cyclists or trams. Only selfie sticks.

There are 800 varieties of tulips on show. And probably more nationalities than cultivators. It is a bulb zoo. As well as daffs  and hyacinths you walk through beds of single earlies like Princess Irene, double earlies like Monte Carlo, Darwin Hybrids, single lates, lily-flowered tulips such as Ballade and Ballerina, fringed Blue Herons, Red Hats, green viridflora, flamed or broken tulips like Zomerschoon, twisted parrots, bi-coloureds and low-growing striped Greigii like Red Riding Hood and Pinocchio.

You must visit the city’s Tulip Museum for a preliminary history lesson. Says curator Sjoerd van Eeden: “The tulip is native to the northern foothills of the Himalaya mountains. Not Holland or Tur­key. Countries like Kazakhstan and Kirghistan are the origin of the tulip and they still grow there by the thousands each spring. The tulip is a cold weather plant. It needs a serious winter to feel happy. We are usually busy all day explaining to people what and when not to buy!”

In the 16th century, Ottoman sultans wore a tulip on their turbans. The Latin word, tulipa, is derived from the Persian word, Tulipan, meaning turban.

Tulips grow best in maritime areas. The best soil are the sandy-clay grounds in the provinces of south and north Holland, Flevo­land and the Noordoostpolder. Holland’s location on the 52nd degree of latitude and near sea level explains all.

The annual average temperature in the Netherlands is 9.8ºC, which is ideal to grow tulips.

Continues Sjoer: “We have fragrant tulips such as the Tulipa turkestanica (creamy white) and the Tulipa whittallii (bronze orange), which have a spicy scent. As well as Yokohama. Apeldoorn (red) and Angélique (creamy white with pink) flowering in May have a good scent too.”

The Netherlands accounts for 65 per cent of total bulb production worldwide. Seven billion bulbs are exported every year from Holland, making it the world’s leading bulb trader. Germany is the main buyer, followed by the US. There are more than 3,500 different varieties of tulip.

The first tulip was planted in Holland in 1594. Tulip mania began in the 17th century when huge sums were paid for a single bulb. After 1880, owing to im­prove­ments in water management, cultivation moved from Haarlem to Lisse and Hillegom.

Tulip mania began in the 17th century when huge sums were paid for a single bulb

Most of today’s trading takes place in the Zuid-Holland pro­vince, while cultivation is concentrated in the north.

The largest and most spectacular flower auction is in Aalsmeer, a 20-minute drive from the south of Amsterdam near Schipol Airport. Here, five billion cut flowers are sold each year.

One of the largest commercial buildings in the world, the Cooperative Verenigde Bloemenveilimngen Aalsmeer auction attracts 20,000 spectators. But you must book in advance.

Amsterdam Tulip Museum.Amsterdam Tulip Museum.

Flower parades have been very popular in Holland for centuries. In April, 800,000 people line the route from Haarlem to Nordwijk to watch the Bloemencuso flower parade and pageant with its ‘praalwagens’ floats. Royal Zundert, in the southern province of North Brabant, holds its famous flower parade on the first Sunday of September. Eight million dahlias are the stars.

One of the country’s biggest cultivators is in Vogelenzang, which is open to the public from March to May. Other bulb fields are to be found in the west between Haarlem and Den Helder and around Enkhuizen. Amsterdam has a floating market on the Singel canal.

The place to stay is the Pulitzer  on Prinsengracht (Prince’s Canal). Not far from the Anne Frank House, the canalboat and canal museums, the Van Gogh Museum and tulip museum, it comprises 25 16th and 17th century merchants’ canal houses.

You can  take a canal cruise on the hotel’s 1909 Tourist saloon boat which Churchill toured in. With its polished teak, marble and bevelled glass, it’s slightly more upmarket than a pedalo.

The hotel is in the middle of the Negen Straatjes (Nine Streets) shopping area. And near the Dam and Jordaan districts. Built by Peter Pulitzer, grandson of Hungarian-born Joseph who founded the Pulitzer literary prizes, the iconic hotel has a modern art collection (look at the plastic spoon petals in the foyer) and a piano suspended over the entrance, commemorating the annual concert on the canal.

There are trumpets in some rooms, inspired by the local record shops and the entrance to the Janaz, famous for executive chef Jereon Robbegt’s lobster risotto and hanger steak, had medicine jars harking back to its time as an apothecary.

Heas bartender Andrei Talapanescu offers 12 cocktails, like Silver Medal (Cocchi Americano, Lillet Blanc, Quinquina, tonic) inspired by Ernest Hemingway who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. So far, Hemingway hasn’t had a tulip named after him.

The hotel is unique for offering concierge walking tours which tell you all about tulips as well as the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death – the Rembrandt route, taking in Oude Kerk, where he married Saskia van Uylenburgh, his home between 1639 and 1658, ‘The Blue Bridge’ (De Blauwbrug) which he painted, Westkerk, where he is buried with his lover Hendrickje Stoffels, and the Rijsmuseum, home of The Night Watch and other works.

Along with concierge Ron, you can also visit the city’s old pubs or bruin (brown) cafes, its ‘space cake and hash brownie coffee shops’, The House Of Bols, The Heineken Experience, its flea markets, the arts and antiques district of Spiegelwartler, the Diamant Museum or sample Gouda and Edam cheeses before exploring the 19th century Plantage and luxury shopping mu­seum district around Van Baerlestraat and P.C. Hooftstraat.

Not to mention the Red Light District, where you can window shop 24/7 all year round.

The bulbfields window may be smaller. But it’s far more spectacular.

For more information, visit www.pulitzeramsterdam.com. To book a visit to the Bulb Auction visit https://www.royalfloraholland.com/en/about-floraholland/visit-the-flower-auction/aalsmeer/tickets-and-tours.

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