I was just in the Netherlands at tulip time. It was, of course, mind boggling. I’m convinced that no flower beats the tulip for being just as compelling as an individual as it is en masse.
Now you can’t visit the Netherlands in May and not visit Keukenhof. Even if you’ve never heard the name, sometime in your past you’ll have been exposed to images of Keukenhof like those below, that you can’t help but suspect to be faked.
I know this pic isn’t fake ‘cos I took it. But then I also took the image on the right below, which is disturbingly like the 35mm slides that you used to be able to buy at tourist sites in the 60’s and 70’s – with colours outrageously enhanced.
But this is how it really looked, and this is what I expected to see – great sheets of brilliant, eye-popping colour. Yes, I understand that this is wildly indiscriminate colour use, but I loved it. The trees that make up this parkland (which is closed for all but six weeks of the year) are astonishing, their fragile new leaves creating a virtual fog of fluoro lime that holds all that floral colour in a very noisy balance. So I expected all that, and my expectations were more than met.
What I really didn’t expect to see were the pockets of really careful planting, in which someone who knows these plants inside, outside and back-to-front, has created mixtures of bulbs in complementary, and sometimes deliberately challenging, colour combinations. In this I confess that I don’t know whether to trust my discernment. Coming from a climate where there’s almost no chance that I’ll ever flower a crown imperial (the tall yellow things in the above pic), there’s a danger that my taste is trumped by my plant-envy. You see the same effect when the brits garden in places like the Scilly Isles. Hand them exotica, and they suffer severe taste-fade
But what do you reckon about the above? Yellow crown imperials floating above yellow, white and burgundy tulips, carpeted beneath with pink hyacinths.
Or what about that on the left? I’m likely to be a bit star-stuck in the presence of one of these ‘black’ Fritillaria persica, which I’ve occasionally owned but have never flowered, but I loved this combo with ‘black’ tulips, white daffs and sky-blue grape hyacinths. Part of me rails against the idea of using plants whose rarity is part of their charm being used as virtual bedding plants, and part of me is just plain envious.
Both of the above were pretty easy on the eye, but this slightly less ‘staged’ combo of ‘black’, deep red and orange/red bicolour tulips amongst acid-lime Euphorbia polychroma pretty much amounted to retinal sherbet.
I looked at this pic many times before even noticing the slight fuzz of pale blue from the brunnera (middle foreground). Can’t remember seeing it at the time.
Then occasionally I saw stuff that made me suspect that whoever was doing the plating wasn’t going to be happy until they made me squirm. This almost did it, though I don’t think my camera settings did justice to the odd, slight grimace-inducing combo of crimson tulips with salmon hyacinths. I can’t help but think that were laughing to themselves when they planted these bulbs. I felt like I was being manipulated – and welcomed it.
No doubt about it, Keukenhof is more than just a spectacle.