Hortus Bulborum

A garden in Limmen, north of Amsterdam, where thousands of historic bulb varieties are grown

Bulb-growing is a huge trade in Holland, and gardens such as the famous Keukenhof near Amsterdam attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Half an hour’s drive north of Amsterdam is another bulb garden not quite on the same scale as the Keukenhof, but no less important. Tucked away in the middle of the small town of Limmen is the Hortus Bulborum, a relatively modest plot where some of the oldest and rarest tulip varieties are grown. In spring you can see more than 2,500 varieties of tulip, 1000 narcissus and smaller collections of fritillaries, crocus, iris and hyacinths, still grown against the picturesque backdrop of Limmen church. Run entirely by volunteers, many of them retired bulb-growers, the four-acre garden is meticulously ordered, the plants grown in neat rows with everything labeled and catalogued. The bulbs thrive in the sandy soil, planted and lifted religiously each year, and grown on a rotation system like a vegetable plot to allow areas of the garden to rest and recover. 

Tulips form the mainstay of the garden and In April and May, the fields are alight with colour, with thousands of bulbs in an amazing array of forms, from tiny species tulips to over-the-top parrots.  The oldest known cultivated tulip, the tiny, early-flowering ‘Duc van Tol Red and Yellow’, first recorded in 1595, can be seen in the garden, as well as other historic cultivars such as ‘Lac van Rijn’ (1620). The Hortus Bulborum is home to some true horticultural treasures, and while it isn’t the place to spot new varieties that can be ordered easily at the click of a button, it is fascinating to see and understand the heritage of our modern tulips, and marvel at the sheer variety that has been achieved by breeders over the last 400 years.