A Flowering Art Surprise!
When we drove the Bollenstreek, we had no idea of some of the events and customs surrounding the flower season. Our goal was to take in spring; its brilliant colors, its fresh aromas, its Vitamin D. We wanted to cleanse ourselves of the dreariness of winter. So, we headed north to the flower region of the Netherlands and not only did we get what we had hoped for, but boy, did we get more!
The first couple of hours–since we’d awoken before dawn to have the vistas to ourselves–we drove, we photographed, we yearned for coffee. We had a great time. We couldn’t ask for more.
Then about 8:30 we reached one charming village and immediately noticed that the walls were decorated with daffodil garlands. Yellow strings of color that really made those brick facades pop! We also noticed that there were many Dutch flags hanging on the houses as well. We wondered what the garlands stood for, took a few photos, and moved on to the next town.
As we entered the quaint town of De Zilk, we saw an older couple sitting at a table in the sun. They had the biggest smiles on their faces as they saw me magnetically drawn to their front yard. Why? Because it was like a miniature wonderland. The entire garden was bursting with flowers. Butterflies sat on top of meticulously groomed bushes, the flag was buffeting in the breeze, and a sign with the names of the two families that lived there was proudly displayed.
I don’t speak much Dutch. I learned conversational Dutch when I lived there a number of years ago, but after living in four countries since, that language has been pushed to the very back cabinets of my brain. I greeted them and gave them the only compliment I could muster, “Heel mooi!” (Very beautiful!) gesturing to the garden. They beamed.
I had to switch to English and asked what was going on. Their English was also a bit limited, but they told me that the two families worked together to decorate the garden and that there were plenty more to see around the town.
So, we wandered around De Zilk for a bit, marveling at the flower mosaics made from hyacinth petals. Each plaque is made with a wooden base, the design is printed, and the artists follow the pattern by wrapping the petals around straight pins and pushing them into place. I couldn’t believe the designs. Some were so intricate!
We had never heard of this before; but, as it turns out, many of the towns make these gorgeous hyacinth mosaics. By this point, we were completely enthralled in trying to find them. Town after town had them, and each town had a different theme, or manner in which they marked the participating houses.
In some of the larger towns, like Lisse, the VVV (visitor’s center) provided a map with the number of the mosaic, the title, the address, and who submitted it. With the map in hand, people were walking, riding bikes, and driving to each of the sites. I plan on going again next year, and we’ll definitely ride bikes.
Apart from the amazing workmanship, the best thing for me was seeing the pride and willingness to share of all the people involved. They were practically bursting. The displays were full scenes, not just the mosaic, but also a decorated table, or painting palette, or other such props to complete the idea of the mosaic. Kids were passing out cookies, and most of the contributors, like the very first couple, were sitting in front of their houses, flags boasting their participation, and so open and willing to share their experience.
This mosaic (above) was completed by the three families that live next to each other in the row house. The man on the left organized it and chose the design. It was stunning! As you can see they are flying the flag, have placards describing the art, and all of them are so happy to share what they had done. They used over 70,000 pins and hyacinth petals. What an accomplishment!
2015 marks the country’s dedication to one of their most famous artists, Vincent Van Gogh, so we did see many mosaics that highlighted him and his work. Other themes that we came across were the French culture and cuisine, technology, and Disney. There was something for young and old.
One small school had a flower arrow and path leading up to their “Frozaiek” (for the movie, “Frozen” and “mosaic”). The older students had put together the entire plaque. I met one of the younger students and his mother, who told me all about their experience.
First the little ones, like her son, practice with making mosaics using paper instead of flower petals. Then as they get older, they are allowed to work on the real thing. Talk about a happy and proud mother!
Getting there: The Dutch public transportation system is very convenient. It is not a long bus ride to Haarlem from Schiphol, so you can easily get to the area without any prior planning.
Book Early! The flower tourism is popular all over the world, but nowhere more than the Netherlands when the season hails over 800,000 visitors over a short two month period, so it’s important to really know what you want to do long before you go. We were able to book a hotel a few days before the weekend, but we have a car and were outside of any towns. All the towns are booked up months in advance.
The mosaics are done the weekend before the Corso, which is a parade that travels through all of the towns in the flower region during the last weekend of April. Of course, this can change due to weather conditions, so keep checking the dates as it gets closer. The Bloemencorso website is a good one to use, and it’s in English.
The best way to get around while you are there is by bike. The roads are flat and easy, and you don’t have to worry about the roads being closed or packed with tourists.
Have you ever been to the Netherlands and seen these wonderful flower mosaics?
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.