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Flower Ogling, part I

Sorry about not writing anything for such a long time! My best excuse is that it's been spring and the flowers needed looking at. (That, and needing to get some work done.) The spring flower season is taken very seriously around here, and I wonder if that's partly why so many of the Dutch official holidays are crammed into the two months after the vernal equinox. We get Good Friday and Easter Monday (25 and 28 March this year) and then the Queen's Birthday on 30 April. (The present Queen's birthday actually falls in January, but she kept the previous Queen's as the official holiday so that people would have nicer weather to celebrate. On Queen's Day crowns are a big theme, including orange plastic inflatable ones, and for some reason it's a traditional "yard sale" day: everyone hauls tchotchkes out to the sidewalk and sells them to neighbors and passersby.) Then there are two more specifically Christian holidays, Ascension Day and Whit Monday or Hemelsvaart and Pinksterdag, on 5 and 16 May. And that's pretty much it except for New Year's and Christmas.

The prevailing aesthetic principle of Dutch floriculture seems to be that "more is more". None of this neo-Japanesque one-gray-orchid-and-a-dead-leaf-in-a-slim-black-vase stuff. I'm sure they do have avant-garde floral designers around somewhere, but the mainstream trend seems to be a great enjoyment of flowers that are bigger, brighter, more colorful, more abundant. It's a little overwhelming at times when you go to the flower market along the old canals on Saturdays: at the end of the day, most of the bunches are half price, and you really can walk out of there with an armful of fifty or more tulips or roses for five euros, and it takes half an hour to get them all stuffed into vases when you get them home, too. I like to buy from the vendors who call their wares in the old way in a sort of loud chant to the passersby, "TULPen ROZen boKETTen, TWEE voor vijf euro (tulips roses bouquets, two for five euros)!" For some reason, though, I haven't been able to find seasonal specialties like apple blossom or lilacs in the flower stalls, which is a pity.

At the end of April, we took a drive out to the famous tulip fields around Haarlem and Lisse. It was a beautiful Saturday at the height of the bulb season, and apparently a large percentage of the populations of Germany and the Czech Republic had come out in tour buses to see it too, so the traffic was quite challenging! But it was definitely worth it to look at the tulip fields, which are truly amazing. We don't tend to think of flowers being grown agriculturally like fields of corn, so the huge streaks of glowing neon color laid out across the broad flat fields take your breath away. It was the day of the growers' Corso or flower parade, when a big procession of floats made of thousands of flowers, and flower-decorated cars, makes its way across the whole region; some of those were pretty amazing-looking too.

One thing puzzled me, though: we saw fields of yellow tulips and red tulips and orange and pink and black and variegated and purple and every kind of tulip, but no white ones. So where do all the white tulips grow? That's joined "where do people buy all the split peas" in my list of Mysteries of the Netherlands.

—— Kim Plofker
2005-06-25 03:16:53

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Created: 08 Oct 2003
Last modified: Oct 15, 2004 3:58:04 PM
Comments to: dpvc@union.edu
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