I almost did not consider my trip to Keukenhof, the famous tulip gardens of the Netherlands, to be entirely worth it simply because of the wake up time. My friend and I were up at 7:30 am, stumbling around making a quick breakfast before taking an Uber to Europaplein to catch the bus by 8am. On a Saturday morning, no less. It was a sleepy forty minute bus ride down to Lisse, during which we mostly talked to keep ourselves awake and gazed at the misty morning countryside. Amsterdam rapidly gave way to towns and farms, then to large flat fields. Forests rose and fell along the roadside the farther south we drove, until my friend suddenly pointed past me out the window, “Tulips!”
The first field of tulips took my breath away. It was as though a sunrise had fallen face first into the ground and from it sprouted hundreds if not thousands of tulips imbued with the fiery orange essence. Beneath the still-gray, lightening sky, their miraculous color stood out even more, waves and waves of stunning orange. Once we passed the first field, many more tulip farms started to appear, livening the landscape with stretches of pink, white, purple, and yellow.
The bus turned a corner and the private tulip farms slipped away behind us. We pulled into a huge lot and parked alongside numerous other tour buses. The crowds made the entrance at first appear like a music festival, huge groups of tourists disembarking from the fleet of tour buses, all walking in the direction of the garden entrance, lining up obediently in the ticket sales line. Since my friend and I bought tickets ahead of time, we moved right past the long lines and, seemingly in the blink of an eye, found ourselves in one of the biggest flower gardens in the world.
The first thing I noticed about Keukenhof was the fragrant air. Yes, there were hundreds of varieties of tulips, but there were also cherry blossom trees whose branches appeared snow-covered, golden narcissuses bending over the pathways, and lovely hyacinths peeking out of the grass like indigo stars. The morning air, still dewy and cool, distilled the flowers fragrance and perfumed every step of the way. Certain portions of the gardens were walled off, creating more intimate displays of the flowers between large and lush topiaries. Other areas were open and vast, with groomed grassy lawns beside parades of carefully planted tulips bursting with color. A particular area, just over the bridge past the garden entrance, reminded me of the poppy fields from the Wizard of Oz. You could only look out at the smooth emerald grass, the dark trunks of the delicate willow trees, and the winding rows of purple and coral tulips and imagine you were somewhere mythical, a place hidden behind a wardrobe or far from Kansas.
I was simply amazed at the sheer beauty of the flowers, the raw natural colors and shapes. Some of the tulips were simply impressive, the size and color of a human heart. Others were textbook pretty, petals perfectly sculpted and painted deep shades of red, orange, and yellow. And some didn’t even look like what I thought most tulips looked like. In a greenhouse towards the center of the gardens, wild varieties of tulips were held in reverence. Ones that looked like the skirts of wedding dresses, ruffled and pure white. Others that looked like they belonged more in the animal kingdom, gorgeous purple and white on golden petals whose edges curled and bent with a mind of their own. I saw colors on tulips I had never seen before, a pearly, translucent pink, magnificent orange bursting into yellow, maroon giving way to a thick, lipstick red, a lavender so pale it was nearly white and glowing. I even saw tulips that were nearly black, the dark shriveled petals curled around a soft, blue center. My friend liked the tulips with teeth, as he described them. These petals, painted subtle purples and pinks, had fringed white edges. They did resemble teeth, or haphazard shards of ice.
Personally, I preferred the sections of the gardens that resembled a forest landscape. Unruly patches of wildflowers scattered here and there on the small hills. Tall grasses spotted with carefree red tulips and lilies of the valley. Untrimmed trees with mossy trunks and branches aglow with new green growth reaching into the blue sky. The curated tulip rows were picture perfect, but there was something a touch more alluring about the natural beauty of flora and fauna untouched, each tulip having its own space to breathe.
By the time we left around 11am, after spending almost two hours walking through the romantic flower patches, sharing a fruit smoothie and a basket of fresh strawberries, the crowds had swelled to amusement park levels. The paths became so crowded it took several minutes to walk a couple feet and I couldn’t see any flowers off to either side of the walkways. I was then grateful we had come so early, practically right when the gardens opened. The early morning made it so for most of the time we were there, everyone was spread out, with the space and breadth to meander and enjoy the flowers in their own way, as we did.
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My name is Emma Basco and I am originally from Sacramento, California. I am currently studying literature and writing at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. I love to read on the beach, doodle on post it notes, paint with watercolors, and unearth new cafes and restaurants. My hidden talent is that I can make an excellent pot of noodles from packaged ramen.