In this “Take a Minute to Fly”, we take a look at the wonderful colours and patterns of a flower field in the North of the Netherlands.
The beginnings of the Dutch flower fascination
This small nation’s passion for cultivating flowers really started to take on epic proportions after Tulips were introduced in the mid 16th century. These iconic “Dutch” flowers originated and were imported from, the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey and beyond). Their popularity increased noticeably, after famed Dutch gardener Carolus Clusius started experimenting with tulips, and wrote what’s considered the first major book about the flower. Recognising the flower’s potential, he began planting specialised tulip nurseries around the time he became the director of the University of Leiden’s botanical gardens, in 1593.
The rise and fall of the flower empire
In the mid-1600s, the Dutch enjoyed a period of unmatched wealth and prosperity. Newly independent from Spain, Dutch merchants grew rich in trade through the Dutch East India Company. With money to spend, art and exotica became fashionable collector’s items. That’s how the Dutch became fascinated with rare “broken” tulips, bulbs that produced striped and speckled flowers.
Carolus Clusius’ accomplishments at Leiden had eventually allowed others to replicate his work, leading to the creation of the Dutch tulip industry. By the early 17th century, tulip breeding and cultivation had developed into a highly profitable commercial sector, and the price of Dutch bulbs rapidly went sky high. At the time, tulip bulbs were worth more than gold and were sold for 10 times what a commoner made in a year! This boom eventually led to an unavoidable economic crisis in 1636, known as “Tulip Mania”, where the value of tulip bulbs suddenly collapsed, consequently bankrupting countless investors, cultivators and traders.
The flower economy today
Fortunately, the Dutch flower market survived this tumultuous period and the tulip trade eventually stabilised, despite devastating economic losses that largely went uncompensated. Since then, the Dutch have continued to grow beautiful tulips and today many parts of the Netherlands, such as de Bollenstreek in northern Noord Holland, the Noordoosterpolder, Duin- en Bollenstreek around Lisse, Flevoland, Friesland, en Drenthe partly base their economy around their floricultural capabilities.
Today the Netherlands is still one of the largest exporters of tulips in the world. However, the country actually cultivates and exports many other kinds of flowers, including daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses. Compared to other nations selling flowers, the Netherlands actually offers the widest variety of saleable trees and shrubs in the world. Roughly 60% of the country’s land is used for agriculture or horticulture, with much of that land dedicated to growing bulbs. And it’s a good thing because in 2014 the Netherlands exported more than 2 billion tulips worldwide!!!