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Visiting Dutch Gardens

When you think of the Netherlands and gardens and flowers, what comes immediately to mind? I assume your answer is “tulips.” Tulips are cultivated here in huge quantity and they or the bulbs are exported all over the world.

Colorful bulb gardens at Keukenhof, in the Netherlands

Colorful bulb gardens at Keukenhof

Keukenhof and Giethoorn

One of the biggest attractions for tourists in the Netherlands is Keukenhof, a tulip park and flower show that is open every spring from mid-March to mid-May. Literally millions of tulips of about 800 different varieties are on view. If you haven’t had enough of tulips after a day wandering the paths of Keukenhof’s gardens, you can drive the Bollenstreek Route to see the brilliantly-colored tulips in the fields.

This is the kind of view you'll see if you drive the Bollenstreek route in season.

This is the kind of view you’ll see if you drive the Bollenstreek route in season.

The second place that might come to mind when you think about flowers in the Netherlands is Giethoorn. This small village in the middle of the country is laced with small canals, which are lined with lovely houses surrounded by lush flower gardens. You can stroll the paths and bridges or rent a “whisper boat” and putter around the canals admiring the stunning views.

Kwekerij Joosten and Lovely Leah

The Netherlands has a lot more going on in terms of flowers, though, than just tulips and Giethoorn. I’ll list some other events and destinations, but first I want to write about a more personal connection to a particular flower.

Kwekerij Joostens' display garden is set up in the style of English gardens.

Kwekerij Joosten’s display garden is set up in the style of English gardens.

I visited Kwekerij Joosten recently, in Flevoland province near the border with Friesland, where Marianne Joosten breeds new iris and Hemerocallis varieties.

The reason I visited is that almost exactly a year ago, Leah Nora Knot, the daughter of friends of mine, died of cancer just short of her 19th birthday. At the request of another friend, Ms. Joosten agreed to name one of her new plant varieties after Leah: the Lovely Leah iris was registered last summer.

the original Lovely Leah

the original Lovely Leah

Now, a year after Leah’s death, Ms. Joosten has enough of the rhizomes—iris bulbs are called rhizomes—to begin to sell them. And she’s selling them for 15 euros each, with five euros for each rhizome sold being passed on to the Lovely Leah Foundation, founded by her parents. The Lovely Leah Foundation’s goal is to offer support to teenage cancer patients being treated in the local academic hospital. Teenagers with cancer cannot be treated the same way as adults, yet certainly can’t be treated as children either.

My single Lovely Leah iris. I bought the rhizome last fall, just after they were registered.

My single Lovely Leah iris. I bought the rhizome last fall, just after they their registration.

For now the Lovely Leah irises are not on Kwekerij Joosten’s website but can be ordered by e-mail at info@kwekerij-joosten.nl. The supply is limited for the coming year, but more will be available next year.

Kwekerij Joosten is open every Saturday for a cup of tea and a stroll around the garden, where some of the iris varieties, along with many other flowers, are on show. Ms. Joosten grows her newer varieties in a field just behind the garden hedge.

irises in the field

irises in the field

Private gardens

Some private gardens are open for visits as well. Four gardens in Flevoland, not far from Kwekerij Joosten, have “Gardening in Flevoland” open weekends in June and August and you can visited at other times if you call first. All charge a small admission fee.

You can also visit them in the tulip season as part of a Flevoland “tulip route.” Check their websites for dates and times.

In Groningen province, a gardening magazine called “Groei & Bloei” (grow and bloom) organizes an Open Gardens Relay each year among members of their Groei & Bloei clubs. Every week or two from May until September, members in a different branch of the club open their gardens to visitors. (Their website is in Dutch, but click on kalender for the schedule and then on the area you want to see on the left. At the bottom of the list of gardens, you’ll see a map pinpointing their locations.)

I particularly liked this iris.

I particularly liked this iris in Kwekerij Joosten’s show garden.

Another Groningen gardening event takes place in the eastern part of the province, Westerwolde, in a number of towns stretching along the German border.  Westerwolde rijgt, which loosely translates as “Westerwolde laces up,” combines private gardens and art and takes place this year from June 17 to June 26.

Westerwolde rijgt involves almost 20 gardens of all shapes and sizes, all open free to the public, and all displaying artworks of various sorts. You can glimpse the gardens and examples of the art in each here by scrolling down to the bottom of the page and clicking on each one.

Unfortunately this part of Westerwolde’s website doesn’t seem to be available in English, but if you call + 31 599-650039, send an e-mail and/or click around the site you should get the main points.

(By the way, the fortress town of Bourtange is right in the middle of Westerwolde, so you could also combine a little history with your gardens and art.)

an iris in a field of irises at Kwekerij Joostens, one of the gardens that can be visited

an iris in a field of irises at Kwekerij Joosten

Paleis Het Loo

If you’re more into formal, large-scale gardens, visit Paleis Het Loo, a royal palace near Appeldoorn. Its royal garden has been restored to the same Baroque design that the original inhabitants, Willem III and Mary Stuart II, would have enjoyed. Beyond that is a large 650-hectare royal park that is open all year for strolls through the woods.

If you visit Paleis Het Loo, put aside most of the day because the palace itself is magnificent as well. Members of the Dutch royal family lived there until 1975, after which it was restored and turned into a museum.

There are undoubtedly many more private and public gardens or gardening events in the Netherlands that I don’t know about that are worth visiting, including outside the tulip season. If you know of any, please add a comment below.

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