Is it worth visiting the Keukenhof early in the season? Find out what you can see and do at the Keukenhof apart from looking at tulips. Top 10 reasons for visiting the Keukenhof and photos of daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths and – of course – tulips. Scroll down for part 1 of my photos! More to come in part 2.

Red, yellow and white Kaufmanii tulips at the Keukenhof
Early tulip display at the Keukenhof

This was my first visit to the Keukenhof spring gardens for nearly 30 years. For many tourists to the Netherlands, visiting the Keukenhof gardens and the bulb fields is a must-see experience. Tulips and other spring bulbs are synonymous with the Netherlands and its image of windmills and clogs, but for some of us living on the extreme east of the country, visiting the bulb fields requires a major expedition, especially if we have to resort to public transport. There are displays of daffodils and crocuses planted by town councils in parks and at the side of the road, but nothing to rival the sheer massed power of the Dutch bulb industry on display in the bulb fields of  the Bollenstreek, the bulb district around Lisse and Hillegom in the west of the country. Personally I prefer naturalistic planting, but even though the tulip fields don’t attract me, the mixed planting of the Keukenhof is well worth a visit.

Crocosmia, or montbretia: exotic bulbs for non-exotic gardens

Our first visit to the Keukenhof was probably in the first spring that we were in the Netherlands, 1987. I remember being amazed by the incredible number of bulbs and the wide range of colours. I really had seen nothing like it before. Bulbs underplanted with bulbs, laid out in patterns. Sheets of colour. The thing that I really fell in love with was the star-shaped flowers of blue Anemone blanda that I had never seen before. As not all bulbs are spring-flowering bulbs, there were also indoor massed displays in tents. The one that was at the peak of perfection at the time we visited then were crocosmia, what I grew up knowing as montbretia. We had a huge clump of orange montbretia in our front garden when I was growing up and I loved them. So exotic, yet growing quite happily in the salty, windy position next to our drive. I’ve planted several times in our garden and they survive, but they never form clumps, they self-seed randomly then I accidentally pull them up thinking they’re rogue grass. Either that or they die off completely. So it’s particularly galling when I go to Scotland or Cumbria and find huge clumps on every corner, even in roadside verges. I’m obviously going wrong somewhere. We’ve planted fresh bulbs this year; fingers crossed! Gardeners have to be optimists.

Keukenhof visit 2016

We haven’t been to the Keukenhof for nearly 30 years, so has it changed? Yes, definitely, but I wasn’t as impressed by the outside flower displays themselves this time round. This may have been partly because we went earlier in the season in a cold spring when the vast majority of the tulips were not yet flowering outside. This is not to say that many of the flower beds were not stunning because they were, but the colour range of crocus, hyacinth and daffodils is limited and, let’s face it, we were hoping to see more early tulips, too. Having said that, there’s still a full day’s worth of beautifully-landscaped gardens to visit. The wooded grounds of the Keukenhof make a wonderful park to walk, even on a chilly day. We were lucky because it didn’t rain and the sun even came out briefly, but my husband was – literally – the only person wearing shorts, and I’d advise you to dress in layers and take gloves and a hat just in case because the wind does whistle across the flat surrounding landscape, even if the trees break it a bit and there are several large places to go inside to warm up. Those tents of yesteryear have been replaced by warmed pavilions. That’s where you’ll find the restaurants, but also the major displays of forced tulips if you’re there early in the season. All labelled so you can pick out your favourites and order them later. One of the pavilions is completely filled with the most amazing displays of orchids, some of which had been made into a fashion show, including a display of shoes decorated by the famous Dutch shoe designer Jan Jansen (a more Dutch name you could not find!).

10 reasons to visit the Keukenhof

  1. Woodland with naturalistic planting of daffodils – Wordsworth would have been in his element.
  2. The largest and brightest crocuses you’ve ever seen in your life, planted in swathes.
  3. Tulips! Inside if they aren’t ready outside yet.
  4. Orchids galore. Orchids as art. Don’t buy them there, though; overpriced.
  5. Get inspired to plant more bulbs. You can order your bulbs while you’re there, or buy summer bulbs from the handily-placed stands in the pavilions.
  6. Feel like a tourist. Have your photo taken with people in traditional Dutch costume and climb up the windmill. Watch a man making clogs (wooden shoes), mending fishing nets or weaving baskets. Listen to choirs and singing groups.
  7. Take photos. Lots of photos.
  8. Enjoy the spring sunshine, if there is any or the bracing outdoors if there isn’t.
  9. People watch. The Keukenhof is crowded with people from all over the world, but mostly well-distributed through the grounds with plenty of seating and facilities to cater for them.
  10. Eat the best carrot cake I’ve ever had or one of the other Dutch specialities at the restaurants. I thought the prices were very reasonable. Or take your own picnic.

Photos of the Keukenhof

Enough chatter. You know I took photos. Enjoy!

Daffodils – in all sorts, shapes and sizes

Tulips growing outside at the Keukenhof

Tulips at the Keukenhof

We visited on 3 April, so most of the tulips weren’t in flower yet. That’s why there is a pavilion with the whole range of Dutch tulips planted up indoors, labelled so you know what you want to order. Conversely, you can take a note of the ones you really don’t like.

Crocuses, hyacinths and Anemone blanda at the Keukenhof in April

This is part 1 of my photos. Coming up in my next post: photos of the people, the art, the carrot cake and the indoor pavilions.

Is the Keukenhof unique?

Have you ever visited it? What did you love, or was it a disappointment? And, finally, if you live in the Netherlands, can you recommend any other spring gardens to visit? Does your local park have a spring display to rival the Keukenhof? If you live somewhere else in the world, where else should spring flower-lovers visit? Is the Keukenhof unique? I’m not sure it is, but it certainly is worth a visit at least once in a lifetime if you live here. Even if you think you don’t like flowers, it is so beautiful and impressive, you just have to go!