Having experienced the beauty of Hawaii firsthand, I often told people it was the one place everyone should go to in their lifetime since it was absolutely paradise on Earth. But after going to Keukenhof, I now say without doubt that it is the second place everyone should go. Following the disappointment of Floriade in 2002, my first visit to Keukenhof was unbelievable. And my subsequent five visits have been even more incredible than that first time.
Just a little about Keukenhof for the unfamiliar. It traces its history to the Keukenhof castle in 1641 near Lisse, about 20 miles from Amsterdam. The Keukenhof Park, which in Dutch literally means “kitchen garden”, was redesigned in 1857 but it wasn’t until 1950 that the park opened for the first time on its 200-hectare plot. And today it boasts more than 7 million bulbs in bloom with over 32 hectares of beds during the short two months that it is open from mid-March to mid-May.
My first visit was on a cold and rainy Sunday in April. But despite the less than desirable weather, I couldn’t believe the enormity of the gardens. Everywhere I looked, were flowers in bloom. And in some locations, the flowers were in beds shaped like tulips themselves.
Unfortunately for my first visit, I only had a 35 mm point and shoot camera so I couldn’t control my exposure, focus, or even see how my photos looked until I was back in the US and had the film developed. This was a deficiency I absolutely remedied before my next visit.
The gardens are situated in the middle of the bulb growing region and butte right up next to commercial fields of flowers. Unfortunately the winter had been colder that year and so many of the tulips were not yet in bloom. But the row after row of daffodils at least gave a preview of what was in store for me in the future.
Inside the large pavilion, were planted large beds of a number of different tulips. Even a fixed-focus point and shoot camera could capture more than 20 different varieties in a single shot.
Wandering back outside, the weather had improved and I strolled past enormous beds of hyacinths, giving off wonderful fragrant aromas.
I don’t know how many hours I spent at the park but I knew after that first visit, I would have to come back for more.
And more I did the very next year. For this visit, my wife accompanied me and the gardens were absolutely at their peak and the weather was perfect.
And this time, the fields of commercial flowers next to the park were in full bloom.
But inside the park, the combinations of flowers were spectacular.
There were rivers of blue…
And shapes galore.
Inside the pavilion there was a competition of flower arrangements where we were the winners as witness to such beauty.
I returned the very next year, this time alone. But the park was so crowded, I could rarely get a shot without a large number of park goers blocking my view.
The river of blue was even more spectacular…
And the combination beds even more impressive.
But the crowds were actually a blessing in disguise as they forced me to take numerous close up shots of the tulips.
And in some of these, you could almost touch the texture in the photo.
Viewing the flowers from a closer perspective rather than a broad view also ensured that I didn’t miss the floating bed of tulips.
But with enough patience, I could wait out the crowd and capture a virtually tourist free shot with a broad perspective.
On our return in 2006, my wife accompanied me to an even more crowded park.
So close up shots were the order of the day.
On what was becoming an annual pilgrimage, my wife accompanied me to yet an even more crowded park in 2007. The weather was perfect and the flowers were again at their peak.
But knowing that we could just focus more on the flowers themselves, my wife and I both got great even closer shots that were so stunning that upon our return, we had some of them professionally printed and framed to make a Keukenhof collection in our home.
In 2008, I was once again by myself but I knew my trip had to include another visit to Keukenhof.
After our success of close up shots in 2007, I was determined to out do the photos from the previous year.
But in spite of my best efforts, the photos were again great but no better than before.
For the next several years, having been to Keukenhof six years in a row, my wife and I explored other parts of Holland.
And in 2011, I couldn’t make the trip to Amsterdam at the usual time as two of our kids were getting married. Since then, my annual trips to Amsterdam have been at different parts of the year that didn’t coincide with the opening months of Keukenkof.
But that will change this year as my annual get together with my siblings—SIBSAB—is going to be in Amsterdam, our first international trip together.
And obviously our trip will include a visit to Keukenkof. The timing will be at the tail end of the park’s opening. So we are all hoping for a really cold winter in Holland this year, so that we’ll still get to see beautiful flowers.
Knowing the park as well as I do, this time, I will be the tour guide for my siblings for what will be their first trip to one of the most important places for everyone to visit in their lifetime.