When it’s spring again…

Do you like tulips? We really hope so!


Pointing out that the Dutch countryside is flat feels a little cheap, but coming from mountainous Scotland, the sheer unrelenting flatness of the place is doing something peculiar to us.

“Molen,” says my colleague Robyn, smugly, and the rest of us curse under our breath. Perhaps to give some structure to our car journey, we have invented a game in which one wins points by spotting a traditional windmill on the horizon. And with a horizon as vast as this, keen young eyes are a definite advantage. Time passes.

“MOLEN MOLEN MOLEN!” yells our designer, Adele. I’m considering deducting points for over-excitement, when I see that she’s actually spotted three windmills lined up along the banks of a canal, giving her a frankly unassailable lead.

The main reason for our diversion into the deep countryside is as quintessentially Dutch as any windmill: we want to see some tulips. And we’re in luck, since our visit has coincided with peak tulip season, and we’ve managed to bag press passes for Keukenhof, the famous botanic garden that only opens between 24 March and 15 May, drawing in coachloads of visitors from all over the world.

Considering its brief window of opening, and singular focus on the tulip, the garden itself is absolutely vast. It’s beautifully landscaped, with canals, ponds, areas of woodland and rolling banks of flowerbeds, creating scenes that use splashes of vibrant floral colour almost as brush strokes.

Get closer though, and you’ll see there’s more variety among the flowers than simply their colour. Tulips, it turns out, come in all shapes and sizes, from tightly-formed cups to blousy blooms, and from shimmering silk to petals fringed with fine lace. There are even some rogue hyacinths thrown into the mix, whose heady scent hangs heavy in the air, even in early spring.

Keeping this riot under control is an army of green-suited gardeners, who move methodically through the beds, removing damaged flowers, staking drooping hyacinths and making sure that every tiny detail is perfect for the full eight weeks. We’re told that, over this period, different varieties will come into bloom, giving the garden its own brief cycle of change each year.

Much to Adele’s delight, there’s yet another ‘molen’, hidden among the trees of the park, which we’re even allowed to climb and watch its sails swishing past. Standing on its deck, surrounded by the gaudy heads of spring flowers on every side, we find a much-needed moment of peace in our breakneck beer tour of the Netherlands, and I suddenly find the flatness isn’t so unnerving any more.

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