Holland’s 79-acre Keukenhof gardens may be the world’s most spectacular, open-to-the-public trade show: an explosion of some 7 million flowering bulbs, showcasing the offerings of 93 Dutch bulb suppliers in a vivid, ephemeral annual spring display. For the 60th anniversary season (March 19-May 21, 2009) — which also celebrated the 400th anniversary of the Dutch ties to New Amsterdam (New York City) — the responsibility for designing and planting this cheery floral galaxy fell on the youthful shoulders of its new chief designer, 31-year-old Jasper van der Zon. — CG
Q: In 2008, your first year at Keukenhof, you and the outgoing designer of 30 years worked together. In 2009, you’re on your own. What artistic changes are you making?
A: I’m experimenting with the density of tulips and smaller bulbs so that you get not just one height, but layers in the planting. You’ll see more mixtures of bulbs and colors, rather than just groups of tulips of a single color. That’s a real trend. In some parts of the garden, I’m using all warm colors — it’s going to be sensational — and in other areas, harmonious cool colors that will be peaceful to walk through.
Q: Any favorite bulbs?
A: I like the old species. We are making a replica of the Leiden garden of Carolus Clusius, the man who brought tulips to Holland in the 16th century, with rare Fritillaria, Allium, Ornithogalum and Narcissus — all with very old species that are available only in small quantities.
Q: Keukenhof is open to the public only two months a year. What do you do the rest of the time?
A: In summer, I design the planting scheme on computer and order the bulbs. They arrive in early September, and I guide the gardeners in planting, which is all done by hand. We finish in early December. This winter, I’m making plans for new European beech trees to replace 150-year-old ones that are dying. We are a very old garden, with 2,200 solitaires [individually standing trees], so there is always a lot to do.
Q: Tell me about Keukenhof’s plans to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage to the New World.
A: The Dutch should be a little proud of what we did in New York. Breukelen, Haarlem … the history is still there in the names. We are creating a Statue of Liberty mosaic, 15 by 23 meters, made out of tulips and Muscari, and a walk devoted to tulips named after American people and things, most of them new. Did you know there were tulips called ‘Washington’, ‘Hollywood’, ‘Manhattan’ and ‘Laura Bush’?
For more information, see keukenhof.nl.