The Hortus Bulborum

The Hortus Bulborum

The Hortus Bulborum, which gives a home to the single largest collection of historic tulips on earth, is an extraordinary place. It has neither the delightful kitsch of Keukenhof, nor the astonishing breadth of tulip fields, but for tulip lovers interested in seeing the past and present gathered in a single garden, it’s an essential stop on the tulip trail.

Tulips flowers field in spring Netherlands park. Nature photography

Founded in 1924 by Pieter Boschman, a local schoolteacher who feared that history’s most beautiful tulips would be lost forever, the Hortus Bulborum stands by a small church in Limmen, not far from the city of Alkmaar in the Netherlands.   

The garden serves as a sort of gene bank for Holland’s iconic flower and holds examples of some of the oldest tulip cultivars, some dating back to the Tulipmania era.  Here you’ll find ‘Duc van Tol Red and Yellow,’ a tulip first documented in 1595, and ‘Zomerschoon,’ a 1620 flower that commanded exorbitant prices during the height of the Dutch tulip craze. Delicate bulbs, many infected with the mosaic virus that created the brilliantly striated petals so treasured during Holland’s Golden Age, stand alongside cultivars that have fallen out of fashion, or weakened to the point at which commercial production is no longer feasible.  The garden holds 18thcentury Parrot tulips and the needle-petaled tulipa acuminato, so favored by the Turks. The Hortus also includes collections of rare daffodils, double hyacinths and fritillaries.  

 For a few weeks each spring visitors can wander the neat paths between beds, noting the incredible variety within the 2600 tulip cultivars planted here, studying the difference between the inner and outer surface of the petals of a beautifully broken flower, or gazing in wonder at the Violet Duc, a purple blossoms delicately fringed in white that has survived for nearly 400 years.