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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Bulb stars: Dutch springtime comes to Singapore

Next week's Tulipmania at Gardens by the Bay aims to bring a slice of Holland to Singapore
The Straits Times - April 12, 2014
By: Melissa Kok, In Lisse, The Netherlands
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Bulb stars: Dutch springtime comes to Singapore About 900,000 visitors from around the world check out Holland's Keukenhof from March to May each year to see the flower garden's showcase of tulips indoors and outdoors (above). -- PHOTO: KEUKENHOF

Last week, a cargo-load of 25,000 tulip bulbs from the Netherlands arrived at Changi Airport.

They were transported to the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay, where the large onion-like shapes with short, fleshy leaves sprouting were planted gingerly into a 200 sq m plot of soil.

Come Monday, visitors to the dome will get a taste of Dutch springtime when the bulbs will have blossomed into a vibrant bed of striking scarlet-hued petals of Red Princess tulips, bright pink fringed-petaled Kingston tulips, deep yellow Golden Artist tulips and more.

Another 25,000 tulips will arrive later this month.

In total, 20 varieties will be on show as part of Tulipmania, Singapore's largest tulip display held at Gardens by the Bay. It ends on May 4.

Tulipmania is part of the Gardens by the Bay Goes Around The World series of exhibitions, which highlights iconic flowers of countries and continents around the globe.

This is the second year that Tulipmania is taking place here.

At last year's edition, 40,000 tulips were on show and they attracted a 30 per cent increase in visitorship. Gardens by the Bay could not provide actual numbers, but noted that the event was a "huge success".

Ms Marziah Haji Omar, assistant director of gardens design at Gardens by the Bay, whose job is to conceptualise the theme and select the plants for Tulipmania, says most of the varieties of tulips this time around will be different from last year's.

She says the themed floral display this year "will bring a mini Holland to Singapore and enable visitors to experience the splendour of tulips without the hassle of leaving the country".

Last year, the floral display was inspired by the tulip fields of Holland. This year, visitors will get to see a miniature version of Amsterdam's city architecture and scenic canals.

The exhibition here, supported by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, offers a slice of what one would see at Keukenhof in Holland, the world's largest flower garden which showcases tulips from March to May each year.

It has been going on for 65 years and draws around 900,000 visitors from all over the world annually.

Life! got the opportunity to visit the sprawling 32ha flower park in Lisse, south of Holland, on a media trip last month.

The park boasts approximately seven million bulbous plants and it is easy to get lost along the winding paths at Keukenhof, lined with trees and flowers of every colour and variety imaginable.

I lose count of the number of flower varieties I stumble upon, although the striking currant-red Johann Strauss tulips edged with sulphur-yellow, lipstick-pink Apricot Delight tulips and the sexy, bold pink Cosmopolitan tulips, which resemble the shape and colour of a Cosmopolitan cocktail, are some of the more memorable varieties.

Perfumed hyacinths - another popular bulbous Spring flower featured in Keukenhof - in arresting hues of blue and pink are pretty to marvel at and their sweet scent carries through the park.

Nine hyacinth varieties will be on show at Tulipmania in Singapore.

Visitors to Keukenhof can explore the fields of tulips on leisurely boat rides. But I choose to experience them on foot and through several themed gardens.

These gardens are the size of an average backyard in the Netherlands - around 8 sq m - and take inspiration from themes such as love, cooking and even Dutch cows.

At the love garden, for example, there is a lovers' bench with a guitar and visitors are encouraged to write love notes that can be pinned on a wall.

Keukenhof's highlight for this year is a mosaic piece stretching 23m wide and 13m long. The mosaic is planted with 60,000 tulips and muscaris (grape hyacinths) to depict an Amsterdam canal scene with a tulip as large as a canal house.

The design symbolises the Tulip Mania period during the 17th century, when tulips were in such hot demand that they could cost as much as a grand house along the canal in Amsterdam or enough to feed a Dutch family for half a lifetime.

In Singapore, the Keukenhof experience has been condensed into the temperature-controlled confines - 16 to 18 deg C to be exact - of the Flower Dome for Tulipmania.

Normally, the temperature at the dome is kept at around 25 deg C. But it has to be lowered for the duration of Tulipmania as tulips thrive best in cool and dry conditions.

Planning for Tulipmania started about 10 months ago, when Ms Marziah and her team headed to the Netherlands to select the tulip and hyacinth varieties for the show.

The tulip bulbs that Gardens by the Bay bought come from Fluwel, a bulb supplier based in Kop van Noord-Holland, a tulip-growing province about a 90- minute drive from Amsterdam.

I get to see the bulbs bound for Singapore at this bulb farm, where I meet one of Fluwel's owners and resident "bulb whisperer" Jeroen van den Hock, 42, an expert with more than 20 years of experience in tulip- bulb rearing.

He plans how much time is needed for each flower bulb species to come to flowering, a task that is no walk in the park. For Tulipmania, the planting of the bulbs began last October.

Mr van den Hock says the bulbs spend about three weeks in a glasshouse to begin rooting and then another 15 to 16 weeks in a climate-controlled room, which is kept at a cool temperature of 9 deg C.

They then take another three weeks to flower.

Tulips are delicate plants that usually last for about a week after flowering, but because of the climate-controlled conditions at the Flower Dome, their lifespan can stretch to about 10 to 12 days.

When tulips bloom, they expend most of the energy stored within and are unlikely to flower well the following year.

Once the exhibition ends next month, Gardens by the Bay will compost the bulbs and plants and use them as fertiliser so that nothing goes to waste.

Even though Tulipmania has not yet officially started, Ms Marziah and her team are already planning for next year's flower extravaganza. She says: "We have to think of something new, how to reinvent the wheel and keep people entertained... Otherwise their photos will look exactly the same as the year before."

The writer's trip was sponsored by Gardens by the Bay and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.

10 facts about tulips

1 Tulips are bulbous plants and belong to the same family as lilies. They are available only from November to May and have a typical lifespan of about three to seven days.

2 The name tulip was derived from the shape of the flower, which resembled a turban (dulbend or tulband) of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, now known as Turkey. It was called Tulipan in Europe, which led to the English name tulip.

3 Despite its strong association with the Netherlands, the plant is not native to Europe. Tulips are believed to have originated from Central Asia and taken to Turkey by nomadic tribes.

4 Tulips arrived in the Netherlands as a gift from Sultan Suleiman of the Ottoman Empire to the Austrian ambassador Gisleeb van Busbeke, meant for King Charles V.

Famous Dutch botanist Carolus Clusius took the bulbs back from the Royal Austrian Gardens in 1593 and planted them in the Hortus Botanicus, a botanical garden in Amsterdam.

5 Tulip Mania began in the 1600s in the Netherlands, with the most expensive tulip, the Semper Augustus, selling for 10,000 Dutch guilder - the equivalent cost of a coveted grand house along the canal in Amsterdam in those days or enough to feed a Dutch family for half a lifetime.

6 Tulips continue to grow up to 2.5cm a day after being cut, unlike other flowers. Depending on the type of tulip, they can reach a height of 15 to 70cm.

7 The tulip is the third most popular flower in the world after the rose and chrysanthemum.

8 Tulips come in a variety of solid colours. To date, the only missing colour is blue, although this may be noticeable in certain hybrids, where the hue is found around the heart of the flower.

9 The colours of the tulip have different meanings. For example, red tulips signify a declaration of true love, pink symbolises affection and care while purple signifies royalty and wealth.

10 Tulips can be eaten raw or cooked, with the pink, peach and white petals of a tulip said to be the sweetest. Red and yellow ones are the most flavourful.


Bonding with neighbours the wet and wild way