What I didn’t mention in The Perfect Palette : The Netherlands in Spring and what anyone living here would think of when you put ‘spring’ and ‘The Netherlands’ in the same sentence – the Keukenhof
The reason, dear readers, is because I’ve saved that for today.
For those of you outside the Netherlands bemused and ready to click the mouse to take you somewhere else, let me explain. The Keukenhof Gardens are world-renowned among the horticultural set, as well as regular people like me, who appreciate the glorious colours, the manicured perfection and the incredible variety of blooms from all over the world, interspersed with sculptures and other artwork, exhibitions and displays.
It’s only open to the public for a short period in the spring (24 March to 20 May 2011) the rest of the year spent planning for next. Flowers bloom continually throughout the opening period.
I won’t go into minute detail over the beauty of the place as you can read all about it at their website, but there are other considerations to take into account when you decide to visit. Which you will, if you’re in theNetherlands during spring, or if you live here and have visitors during that time.
It is a place close to the heart of the Dutch, their pièce de résistance, their showcase to the world. As the Dutch economy relies heavily on flowers it explains an awful lot.
I have been to the Keukenhof twice since we moved here. The experience was wonderful but did leave me overawed and destroyed all my self-confidence in the gardening department. I’ve just thrown out a pot of dead basil so you know where I’m placed on the garden rankings.
My first trip was shortly after our arrival here – we had friends over from the UK, the husband being an obsessive compulsive photographer. A Sunday afternoon stroll with him will result in 700-800 photographs. His conversation during the stroll is non-existent as his mind is totally absorbed in light and backdrop issues. He has produced spectacular results over the years.
They arrived with the highlight of the weekend being a trip to the Keukenhof. G came equipped with lenses, tripod, light meter and the usual works. I was concerned we’d need a trailer to transport his equipment.
In the event G went down with a very nasty stomach virus the day after they arrived which confined him to bed and the bathroom for the rest of the visit. In his dehydrated and fever induced disorientation he would try to leave his sick-bed and twice we found him ransacking his camera bag searching for some important lens, distracted and muttering about getting to the Keukenhof at first light.
This caused some concern and well as much hilarity to his wife C, a nurse who is always great to have around as I have no patience with sick people as the Captain will attest.
In an attempt to calm her spouse C decided she and I would head off to Keukenhof and take photographs in G’s stead. She thought G would be absolutely fine on his own, figuring he would sleep for most of the day having spent most of the night hugging the toilet bowl for dear life with what little strength he had left.
It would also allow us give us chance to have some girl time alone, although this was obviously not the prime motivation.
C and I were, I’m slightly ashamed to admit, excited to escape the sick bay, it’s quite difficult to keep a sympathetic and caring face in place when you want to catch up with girl time and gossip. It was obviously much easier for C than me as she’s a professional, but even she was ready for a break.
We convinced G we couldn’t be trusted with anything more elaborate than his basic camera, the risk of us dropping lenses, knocking over the tripod or losing the camera altogether were enough of a threat for G to reluctantly agree with us.
We thought we’d got off quite lightly, could take a few snap shots, admire the flowers and head for lunch at one of the various cafes and bistros, followed by a slow amble and an ice cream.
We hadn’t planned on G having studied the website and giving us a comprehensive list of blooms we needed to photograph and how to take them. Why this came as a surprise I have no idea, because this is consistent behaviour of a man we have known for over 30 years. (We were all very young when we met.)
C and I decided we could manage this and set off. We arrived early and were directed where to park by Disney-trained employees in high-visibility jackets. They were well versed in dealing with patrons likely to ignore them and head off in an undesignated direction to grab the best parking spots. They employed ropes and light sabres to make sure we did as we were told – if that failed, yelling, and the arrival of a SWAT team, seemed to resolve the problem.
We made it into the Keukenhof as ten coaches arrived, the first three off-loading Japanese tourists weighed down by every camera and accessory imaginable.
We were already ahead of them and started our tour, map in hand, alone and in total quiet. We realised later this was because we should have headed to the prize exhibits first but we had elected to explore the woodland area as we had no clue what we were doing.
It was only as we were half way round the gardens we realised we hadn’t taken any photographs. We’d been side tracked by a deep a conversation involving the intricacies of a bad marital situation her friend B was going through.
Realising our error we headed off in search of the required blooms. There was no problem finding them at all; not so much the blooms as the banks of photographers surrounding them.
For a moment we seriously thought it was the paparazzi and a Royal visitor was about to arrive, but after making discreet enquiries among the throng around us we realised our mistake and the enormity of the task ahead.
‘Not a chance in hell you’ll get anywhere near that thing, love,’ advised a man standing next to us who, it turned out, was from Bradford, in the north of England, ‘what you need to do is go over the other side of the lake and take one from there with one of them big lens things.’
He pointed vaguely to the far horizon and through the haze of distance we saw the flash of sunlight on a camera lens. We should have been mortified and would have been had we been able to stop laughing. We knew G would be devastated at our ineptness, but still we roared.
The best course of action was lunch, during which we phoned G to ask his advice. We decided that honesty (kind of) would be the best policy.
C was brilliant and didn’t falter once. She’s had practise. After inquiring about his state of health – he’d decamped from the sick bed to laying on the bathroom floor wretched and wrapped in a duvet – she broke the news.
‘Well the thing is, we seemed to have arrived at the same time as several professional photographers from Tokyo and a contingent from the British Institute of Professional Photography. Seems they’ve roped off the important areas for them to have exclusive use to take photographs.’
She was brilliant – mentioning the BIPP would throw him completely, he’d immediately understand they’d want to keep rank amateurs from spoiling the camera shots of people who knew what they were doing, but the conversation ended abruptly and I wondered how angry a sick man could get.
‘What did he say?’ I whispered, in awe at her superior guile.
‘He started to give me another list,’ she smiled mischievously, ‘but then his stomach started again, so he managed to say ‘whatever’ as he put his head down the toilet.’
We had a fabulous day, took a few shots when we felt like it, mostly on our own ‘point and shoot’ cameras, as the mood took us – G’s camera was too darned fiddly. Away from the crowds there were lots of places to sit awhile and take in the beauty that is Keukenhof.
If you go, and you should, take photos but don’t miss the point of being there.
By the time G got his camera back he couldn’t hide his disappointment at the few miserable shots we’d taken, but next time he comes he can go on his own and he’ll savour every second.
From my perspective it was a memorable day, and you’ll be glad to know B has resolved her marital issues, divorced her lawyer husband and run off with the plumber…
Hilarious! Can’t wait to visit on Wednesday. (And glad B won out in the end!)