HALLE, Belgium — Rain or shine, there is no way to keep budding flowers down.
From the world-famous Keukenhof garden in the Netherlands to the magical bluebell Hallerbos forest in Belgium, they are out there again, almost on cue to enthrall, enthuse and soothe the mind. All despite the cold and miserable early spring in this part of Western Europe.
The beauty is not lost on tens of thousands of visitors thronging the pathways through the riot of color and fragrances. And if the COVID-19 pandemic left the sights eerily deserted for a few years, the challenge now has become how to manage the masses.
At the Keukenhof, one of the most famous flower gardens in Europe nestled amid tulip fields between Amsterdam and The Hague, the gates have opened again for the spring, but this year it is letting in fewer visitors each day to give them a better experience of the manicured beds of tulips and other flowers.
“Before COVID we had some days 60,000 people here in the park. That’s too much,” said the garden’s director, Jeroen Duyster. “So, we said 40,000 in one day, that’s enough. It’s better for the waste. It’s better in the park. So you enjoy your stay here with 40 (thousand) better than with 60,000.”
Gardeners plant and nurture the staggering 7 million bulbs to ensure visitors who flock to The Keukenhof from around the world all get to see a vibrant spectacle whenever they come during the opening season from March 23-May 14.
“Our first visitor has to see the colors and our last visitor has to see the colors,” Duyster said. “We have the early tulips, we have the middle blooming tulips and the last the third, the later blooming tulips. So, every week we have a different picture of Keukenhof.”
Shirley Ludwig from Michigan visited recently with her family.
“We’re all excited to be together for one thing but just coming here is awesome. The flowers just add to the beauty, right?”
South of the Netherlands, in Belgium, the Hallerbos just outside of Brussels needs as little manicuring as possible — actually it is a wild forest that has a few walkways through it that for two weeks become an ever bigger tourist attraction.
For years, the annual show of an endless carpet of bluebells spreading under the fresh foliage of the beech trees was largely a local treat for the few in the know. Now that the internet can spread beauty at the push of a button, it has gone global and visitors come from as far as China, Argentina and South Africa to see the Hallerbos just after Easter.
“But as the crowds grew bigger, the flowers suffered since they were trampled upon or picked for bouquets,” Halle mayor Marc Snoeck said. Some recent years, when spring was warm and clear, crowds swelled close to 100,000 over the top weeks.
Ever since, parking close by is largely barred and people are shuttled in from Halle town, and venturing among the fragile bluebells is prevented, with miles of rope protecting the fragile flowers.
Even dogs have to be kept on a leash. Deer, though, still roam as they please — once the crowds have left.
Aleksandar Furtula reported from the Keukenhof. Mike Corder contributed from The Hague.