National Geographic : 1968 Apr
She showed us a table laden with small tulips growing in pots, with the bulbs resting on wire grids, the roots below them in some solution and no earth at all. What strange liquid was this, I asked, in which plants did so well? "Just water," she smiled. "We call these our housewives' tulips. Special conditioning does it." (I bought some for my wife.) Wall maps in the big reception room displayed data important to tulip-growing in countries all over the world, from the U. S. A. and Canada to South Africa, Australia, and Argentina-records of soils, temperatures, rainfall. Flags on the maps also showed where Dutch bulbs were shipped in quantity. Dutch know-how goes everywhere. Waist-high Tulips Yield Rose-size Blooms The 70-acre gardens of Keukenhof are the great show place, organized by the growers themselves. The massed tulips wait there in military precision to be admired, as if they had passed inspection an hour or two earlier-masses of them in precise plots, each plot full of perfect blooms of exactly the same color. Under glass in hothouses big enough to take half a dozen tennis courts, skilled crossbreeding had produced waist-high tulips with blooms as large as big roses. These experimental blossoms blushed in deep crimsons, as well as in colors nature probably never intended for them. "We have been growing tulips since the first bulbs reached Holland from the Middle East in the 16th century," said Mari anne Houtzager, one of the "flower hostesses" of Keukenhof. EKTACHROMES t N.G.S. Awash in a wave of color, a bulb grower piles up tulip heads, useful only for garlands and as compost. Tons of excess blos soms become cargo for barges, which dump them at sea. Tulips bloom in rainbow rows at Noordwijkerhout; a canal helps keep the water table 20 inches beneath the ground in a below-sea -level region constantly bailed by pumps. Each spring tides of color sweep a vast garden that stretches 15 miles from Haarlem to Leiden, and each summer farmers harvest three billion bulbs-tulips, gladioluses, irises, daffodils, hyacinths.