Neskuchny Garden: how Europe's largest flower park works

Flowers are an attribute of a holiday, an addition to a gift, not a pleasure for every day. In the Netherlands, the opposite is true. They are bought just on the way home. Even the gardener of the Keukenhof park does this

Non-boring garden: how Europe's largest flower park works

Neskuchnyj garden: how the largest flower park in Europe works

Andre Bake

Born on October 29, 1954 in the city of Lisse.
After school, he worked as a painter for 12 years.
In 1981 he got a job as a gardener in the Keukenhof flower park in Lisse.
From 2000 to 2013 he was the head gardener.
Married, two sons (in 2016.  — Note by

“I was born a gardener, I was seriously angry, I was tired of all the flowers, except?..”

“…Probably tulips. And daffodils. In our park, these are the earliest flowers. Spring comes with them, including in the soul. I will definitely never get tired of snowdrops. Looking at them, I know that winter is over.

Are you sure you were born a gardener, and not a painter, say?

— I have been busy in the fields since childhood — I helped my uncle grow tulips and daffodils on his farm. I think it influenced me a lot. Parents, however, believed that you could not feed a family with bulbs. So I became a painter, painting houses and boats. But this business did not bring joy.

Once I was sent to work at Keukenhof – I had to paint the walls in a newly built building. Then I realized how much I was drawn to the garden. I began to ask local employees about the work. I was told that gardeners were needed. So after a few months I quit painting and got a job in the largest bulb garden in the world. And for 35 years now I have been doing what I really like.

Neskuchny garden: how the largest flower park in Europe works

After the death of the countess, the estate was owned by various merchant families. In the 19th century, the land went to Baron and Baroness Van Pallandt. They invited the landscape architect Jan David Zocher to ennoble the area around the castle. Created in 1857, the park forms the basis of today's Keukenhof.

In 1949, 20 growers of bulb flowers offered to organize an open-air exhibition in the park. Since then, every spring in Keukenhof, one of the largest flower parks in the world, Dutch companies showcase the best varieties of flowers.

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Flower seasons

When does the flower-creamy period begin?

— This year (2016 — Note by it lasts from March 24 to May 16. Approximately seven million flowers bloom in the garden: tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocuses, muscari … Tulips are the most – over four million pieces, about 800 varieties. In general, the tulip lives 3-4 weeks. Therefore, we alternate between early and late varieties. The early wither – the baton is picked up by the later. And so the park blooms for eight weeks.

A boring garden: how Europe's largest flower park works

But your park has more than just flowers…< /strong>

– Keukenhof is big, you can't see the whole thing in a day. You can't fill it with just flowers. If you spend even two hours in a garden where there is nothing but flowers, you will get tired of them. Therefore, the park should be full-fledged, harmonious – with trees, bushes, ponds and lawn grass where you can lie down and relax.

Neskuchnyj garden: how the work of the largest in Europe flower park

Who is responsible for all this harmony and for the arrangement of flower beds?

— Our young designer Martin Elling. He discusses with each flower supplier the design of the flower bed, based on what varieties they bring. Farmers sign each batch: name, color, serial number. Martin transfers this data to the map. And then we, gardeners, plant bulbs according to his scheme.

Many companies have been working with us for years, so the layout of the park does not change dramatically, and this is good: if you dig up the flower beds all the time, you can damage the roots of the trees. But the design of the flower beds is different every year. Every year we change flowers in places: for example, where there were tulips, we plant hyacinths – the beds are large, there is where to roam. This is how we prevent flower diseases. Diseases that affect some flowers are usually harmless to others.

A fun garden: how Europe's largest flower park works

Who do you get your bulbs from and under what conditions?< /strong>

— We work exclusively with Dutch companies, they provide bulbs for free. Among these firms there are both the oldest suppliers of the royal court, and newcomers. There are about a hundred companies in total. This is the optimal amount. If there are fewer suppliers, they must give us more bulbs, which is more expensive for them. Therefore, when someone stops working, we invite companies from a long waiting list.

Each exhibitor is allocated a flower bed. Who is big, who is small – depending on the number of bulbs they provided. On average, the area of ​​u200bu200bthe plot is 50 by 50 meters. We plant about 20-30 thousand flowers on it. This tradition is already 67 years old  – our park started as an exhibition of the best varieties bred by Dutch farmers. For them, this is an opportunity to show themselves: the more people see your flowers, the better they will be bought in the future. We make sure that after the exhibition the bulbs do not end up on the market.

Neskuchny garden: how the largest flower park in Europe works

A boring garden: how the largest flower park in Europe works

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A pragmatic approach

What happens to the bulbs after the park closes?

“We dig them up and send them to a company that composts everything. It makes no sense to return them to suppliers – the flowers are already mixed in the ground. In addition, the bulb needs to be looked after, nourished, and fertilized. For example, if a person does not eat, he loses weight, gets sick. So it is with flowers: there is always a risk that a weak tulip will grow from an old bulb. And in our park, all flowers should be strong, large. The only way to ensure good quality flowers is to plant new ones every year. No matter how cynical it may sound, faded tulips become fertilizer for the next generation of flowers. It's like a law of nature…

More like a manifestation of human indifference. Do you, a gardener, feel sorry for destroying seven million flowers?

– A person takes care of flowers, but does it not for them, but for himself. For example, he wants to decorate the house, get positive emotions. People are not enough all the time. They want more and more species. That is why we Dutch grow so many flowers and varieties of tulips. If you want pink please, blue no question.

Neskuchny garden: how Europe's largest flower park works

And black?

Almost all park visitors ask where to find it. But this is the only color that has not been achieved. There is no such gene in nature that will allow you to breed a black tulip. Anyway, if someone succeeds, that person will become the richest gardener on earth. In general, people have a consumer attitude towards flowers. We experiment with them, pluck them, transplant them, cook them…

What does it mean to cook? Are you eating them?

—Not now. Unless we feed animals. But during the war, when there was no food at all, the Dutch ate onions. Tulips saved us from hunger.

Tulip Chowder

The Dutch winter of 1944-1945 went down in history as the Hongerwinter (literally -“hungry winter”). At the end of World War II, Germany imposed an embargo on the supply of provisions to the Netherlands. In addition, 1944 was a cold and lean year. As a result, about 20 thousand people died of starvation.

A boring garden: how Europe's largest flower park works

According to the memoirs of Audrey Hepburn, who survived this hungry winter in the Netherlands, people survived by eating flower bulbs. The famine ended in the late spring of 1945, when the British and US Air Forces dropped food to the inhabitants of the Netherlands. As a sign of gratitude, the Dutch planted an inscription with tulips: “Thank you very much.”

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Growing free

Do you have flowers at home?

— Yes, my wife loves when there are flowers in the house. I buy them every week.

As a gardener of one of the largest flower gardens in the world, do you buy flowers for yourself?

— And what do you order to tear them in Keukenhof? I support the national flower industry. Like most Dutch people. If you don't buy flowers, they will stop growing them. Tulips are inexpensive – everyone can afford a couple of euros for a small bouquet.

Do you have a personal garden or is there enough work in Keukenhof?

“My house is in the middle of a field, far from the neighbors, and of course there is a garden. Large by Dutch standards: 30 by 30 meters. Trees, bushes, and flowers interspersed with weeds grow in it. Part is sown with lawn grass, part resembles a swamp – I love water. Wild flowers grow alongside tulips and daffodils. I plant a tulip, nature plants a weed. And they coexist harmoniously. It happens that guests come to me and are surprised: they say, what a wonderful flower. People are destroying such people themselves, not suspecting how beautiful they can be.

Neskuchnyj garden: how the largest flower park in Europe works

< p>A boring garden: how the largest flower park in Europe works

It turns out that you have been working with garden flowers all your life, but in fact… “Are you tired of all the flowers”, except for the wild ones?

– If we talk about my very, very favorite flowers, these are wild, untamed ones that grow in the forest and in the fields. They are real and do not need people: they just bloom, multiply, and if we were not there, they would still grow and bloom. Although they are fragile in appearance, they are strong: if nothing is done with the garden, the flowers will grow as they want. And that's what I like about them.

Photo: Getty Images,, Legion-Media, AP/East News, Legion-Media, Getty Images,, AP/East News , Legion-Media, Alexey Kudenko/RIA Novosti, AFP/East News (x2)

The material was published in the magazine “Vokrug sveta” No. 5, May 2016, partially updated in May 2023

Natalia Mayboroda

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