The Bulb Fields

March in Holland is the start of the tulip season and the countryside in many places suddenly bursts into bright colours. Fly into Schiphol airport and with a little luck your final approach will take you right over the patchwork-carpet landscape at the heart of the massive Dutch bulb industry. Tulips alone account for 12,000 hectares of flowers, and a hectare can yield as many as half a million bulbs. Because it’s all about the bulbs, you see, not the flowers. The annual flower display is just the by-product of an export market worth 9.1 billion euros a year (2017).

It’s All About the Flowers!

We’re on holiday, so to us and millions of other visitors to the country, it is all about the flowers. Because it’s a uniquely wonderful experience to see the magnificent blue and white and red and purple and orange (…) fields of flowers up close, to smell them, and for that you need go no further than you can leisurely cycle from Bergen in under half an hour.

Seeger Baas, Bulb Fields at Bergen. Both paintings have been reproduced here with kind permission from the artist.

See Them and Smell Them

Closest is a farm in the Bergermeer Polder just south of Nesdijk and west of Bergerweg. You can’t miss it on the left as you approach Bergen from Alkmaar, and you can walk there from the centre. It’s a spectacular display that starts with crocuses and hyacinths, and as April approaches, sometimes features daffodils and always the star of the show, the world famous tulip in its myriad colour varieties and combinations.

Veldt’s Bulb Farm, by Seeger Baas. No flowers in bloom, but you’ll recognise the farm!

My advice, though, is to get on your bike (renting is very cheap) and follow the much quieter and more delightful, centuries-old route to Egmond aan de Hoef. It takes you first along the wooded Eeuwigelaan (Eternal Avenue, you’ll see why when you get there) and then, about a kilometre beyond the roundabout junction to Bergen aan Zee, you will roll down an incline out of the woods and suddenly see a wonderful display of colour on your left, where farmer Veldt’s flowers bloom right up to the roadside.

As you continue along Herenweg towards the Egmonds (there are three) and beyond towards either Castricum or Heiloo, you will come across more bulb fields and farms, some of which have little stalls out front where you can buy fresh flowers.


Tulip Mania

In 1637, the beautiful tulip was a recent luxury-import from Turkey and about to take centre stage in the world’s first economic bubble. The iconic flower that symbolises Holland to this day attracted speculation that drove the price of bulbs sky-high. So high, that for the price of a single Semper Augustus bulb, you could hire a skilled craftsman for ten (!) years, or buy a mansion on one of Amsterdam’s canals. Obviously, such a value was out of all proportion to a bulb’s intrinsic value, and the world’s first economic bubble duly burst. Many people lost a lot of money, that’s a fact, but historians are divided on the impact of the crash. Some say it almost ended the Dutch Golden Age, others that in the world’s richest country by capita at the time, the episode was a mere ripple on an otherwise booming economy, a wake-up call and lesson in investment at best. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Keukenhof and Hortus Bulborum

If you really want to get the full Dutch flower experience, Keukenhof in Lisse, between Amsterdam and The Hague, is the place to go. They have a huge park with millions of flowers to wander among, fantastic displays and offer a full day out. There’s a catch: It’s a three-quarter of an hour’s drive and at € 56.00 for a family of four plus car, a bit expensive. Do you want to rent a bike to cycle through the local bulb fields? That’s another € 15.00 each. But if you’re a die-hard flower lover, it’s definitely worthwhile.

Hortus Bulborum is open this year (2019) from 6 April thru 16 May, Mon – Sat from 10:00 – 17:00 and Sundays from 12:00 – 17:00. Admission: 5€, under 13s free.

Happily, there’s an equally lovely, friendly, beautiful and very informative alternative just a 55-minute cycle ride away in Limmen, and it’ll take you along the same gorgeous route as the one to the Egmonds. Hortus Bulborum is a not-for profit museum-farm where volunteers cultivate more than 4,500 different varieties of tulips and other flowers that have made a name for themselves over the years, like the Zomerschoon (Summer Beauty), a tulip first cultivated in 1620 and a very popular investment during tulip mania.