Tiptoe Through the Tulips

In 1554 the Sultan of Turkey sent the first tulip bulbs to Vienna. From there they made their way to Amsterdam.

We thought that sounded pretty exotic, so we went to the Keukenhof a few weeks ago to see the blooming tulips in all their riotous, colorful splendor.

The Keukenhof, known as the Garden of Europe, is only open a few weeks a year when the bulbs blossom.  In the fifteenth century, Countess Jacoba van Beieren grew produce there in the Teylingen Castle Garden, the area Keukenhof garden would later occupy.

Because of the distance, it made sense to take the car, even though we ended up sitting in traffic and wishing for our trusty bikes. In 2017 approximately 1.4 million people visited the Keukenhof. Approaching with the car windows open, we suddenly smelled the salt air of the ocean. Then we were engulfed in a sea of color.

 A sea of red spotted outside the Keukenhof. A sea of red spotted outside the Keukenhof.

The Dutch had never seen tulips before their introduction to the Netherlands via Vienna in the sixteenth century. In their uniqueness, tulips quickly became the hot item to have.

Entering Keukenhof we could see the shape of the English garden style outlined there in the 1800’s. It was awash with color and in some places reminiscent of Monet’s Giverny. We drank in the color with our eyes, but we there to look, not to acquire.

 Giverny's Dutch cousin? Giverny’s Dutch cousin?

The Dutch have a pragmatic business sense, which must have helped fuel what we now think of as the first financial bubble, Tulipmania. As the bulbs were bred to more and more exotic colors, they were traded for more and more inflated prices. I’m not much of an economist, but in the end, a large futures market featuring tulips apparently crashed when buyers, who were selling bulbs up to ten times a day, failed to arrive at markets. This may or may not have been a consequence of an outbreak of Bubonic plague.

The air at the Keukenhof was sweet and the sun was warm, and while the mania for buying and selling bulbs has certainly receded, a passion for seeing then in bloom has remained. The garden was bright with flowers and a truly international crowd of people, and at that moment, it seemed this is how the world should be.

Mary Petiet is a reporter, writer, and storyteller. Her work is inspired by both her native Cape Cod, where she covers the local farm beat for Edible Cape Cod magazine and her experiences in the Netherlands.  Mary is the author of Minerva’s Owls, (Homebound Publications) finalist in the American Book Fest’s Best Book Awards 2017, religion and spirituality. Minerva’s Owls remembers the divine feminine to re-envision the world.  Mary is currently dividing her time between Cape Cod and the Netherlands.

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