After spending spring time in the desert, I went to the mid-west to enjoy a time honored spring tradition: the Tulip Time Festival in Holland, Michigan. The Michigan spring I experienced was lush: white farm houses sitting on green rolling pastures, vineyards budding green, and many-colored and textured tulips flooding front yards, side streets and fields. Not only did I attend a day of tulips, I also managed to sneak a visit to Frederick Meijer Gardens Park. Here are the highlights:
Holland, Michigan was unintentionally founded by a band of “60 [Dutch] men, women, and children” in 6 February 1847. Their leader Albertus C. VanRaalte had intended to settle in Wisconsin, but, due to unforeseen circumstances that included an early winter and cheap land, settled on the banks of Lake Macatawa in Michigan instead. In the 19th century the town became a tourist destination because of the dunes found along the lake and their “sugar sand beaches.” It wasn’t until 1927 that the town began to shift their focus from their town’s natural beauty to tulips. Tulips were not originally a fixture in Holland, Michigan the way they are in Holland (the Netherlands). At the suggestion of a biology teacher “the city imported tulip bulbs from the Netherlands and planted them along the street curbs and in the parks,” which “continues to this day.” This first planting was the beginning of Holland, Michigan’s Tulip Time Festival, which premiered in spring of 1930.
The Tulip Time Festival has since been a yearly event in May when the tulips are anticipated to be at their peak blooming. This year the town planted 4.5 million tulips.The cool thing about this festival is that it doesn’t occur in a fairground or simply a tulip field. It is actually spread out throughout the city of Holland with events during each day of the festival. The tulip tour starts at Neil’s Dutch Village then moves to Windmill Island Gardens and finally culminates with a market and activities in the city’s Centennial Park. You can also visit Veldheer, which is a tulip farm in Holland, Michigan, but is not officially part of the Tulip Time festivities.
I started my journey at Neil’s Dutch Village, which is a fun-park where you can learn about Holland’s Dutch heritage, see a dance or two, watch wooden clogs be carved, and where you can order your very own bulbs from actual Holland– as in tulips straight from the Netherlands. In the Dutch Village there are over 25,000 tulips and 100 varieties planted throughout the park which is designed to appear like a traditional Dutch village including a “canal” system filled with baby ducks. The park also boasts a petting zoo with animals typically found on a Dutch farm (minus the llama) as well as a Dutch store where you can buy home made cheese and butter. If walking through this little “village” inspires you to create your own tulip paradise, there is a store where you can purchase large or small batches of all the tulips growing in the garden. Unfortunately there is no option to order these tulips online, so if you visit, make sure you grab an order form!
The next stop was to Windmill Island Gardens where a traditional Dutch windmill, called “De Zwaan,” and tulip fields await. The island is situated in Lake Macatawa, and is a 20 minute walk from downtown Holland. As you enter there are buildings styled as a Dutch village as well as the crown jewel of the island De Zwaan. There are tulips of every hue ranging from deep purple to bright orange to pink and white spilling from the gardens and pathways. This year the island garden was particularly crowded, but the flowers made the trip worth it. According to the Tulip Time website, the Windmill Island Garden is planted on 36 acres and hosts fields containing 150,000 tulips. The garden also boasts an antique carousel, a street organ, a Dutch Trade Fair, and Dutch food from Tante Nellie’s Kitchen.
The festival was fun and very lively, but the market places for the Dutch trading post and the market in Centennial Park were not what I was expecting. I was looking forward to vendors selling bulbs, bouquets, and garden related wares, but sadly this was not the case. There were no plants for sale and the only bulbs to buy were the ones that would be shipped from the Netherlands. This was slightly disappointing, but the show the flowers put on was truly extravagant.
Walking through the Dutch Village, Windmill Island, and the city of Holland was nourishment for my eyes. On each corner and in front of each restaurant downtown there was always a new tulip to see. Being in a sea color was fabulous and I managed to find several favorites: Belicia, Ice Crea, Violet Beauty, and Stunning Apricot.
The Belicia and Ice Cream tulips are considered “double tulips,” which means more fully petaled. This type of tulip is also called “peony tulip” because of the full body of the flower’s petals. Belicia tulips can have multiple blooms on each stem that typically present as predominantly yellow with red, pink, or purple edges. These bloom in the early spring. The Ice Cream tulip is definitely my absolute favorite because of how layered it is. This tulip actually looks like a pink bowl overflowing with layers of white ice cream.These tulips are shorter and bloom in late spring. While Violet Beauty and Stunning Apricot are not quite as showy as the peony tulips, their simplicity is classic and refined. Both considered “single late,” which means that their flowers only grow in one row and they bloom in late spring. Both types of these tulips are tall and pair well together.
For more visitor information about Holland, Michigan, click here to see their digital visitor’s guide. To see more of my tulip frolicking scroll through the gallery.
Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park was a 158 acre delight filled with spaces that were curated to feature both sculpture and plants. Although I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing all of this garden, I managed to see enough to make me want to come back! This garden and park is home to many, many types of gardens both indoor and out. If you’re planning to see it in its entirety be prepared to spend the day in this wonderful place. You won’t be sorry you did. Take a look at their map before hand so you can pick exactly what you’d like to see then amble through the rest of the gardens and park where there is truly something new to discover along each path.
It was hard to pick my favorite parts of this garden because of how expansive it is, but there were several sections and exhibits that interested me the most. Of course, one of them was the Earl and Donnalee Holton Arid Garden, which sections off each continent of succulents with stone archways and paths. I was also taken by the carnivorous plant house, the Victoria garden parlour, and the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory. Each one of these green houses was designed on a smaller scale, but housed a great variety of plants in a way that was perfectly aesthetic. My favorite part of the tropical conservatory was being able to see the 9 species of tropical birds that make their home in the foliage. It was almost like being in the rain forest. The Japanese Garden at Meijer is jaw droppingly expansive as well as intricately done. With waterfalls, a lake, many winding stone paths, and meditative spaces this garden is a tranquility oasis. Coming across another person in the zen-garden almost feels like trespassing into their stillness and calm, but hiding places that are tucked away throughout give you the illusion that you’re alone in a very active place. Lastly, but certainly not least, is the Michigan’s Farm Garden, which is styled to look like a 1930s Michigan farm. While there are no breathing animals on this farm, there are bronze statues throughout representing the kind of animal-life found on a farm. There are veggie and flower patches throughout that are dedicated strictly to heirloom plants. Although we came too early to see the growth of these heirloom veggies, the flowers were stunning.
Do you have questions about my visit to the Tulip Time Festival or to Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park? Are you looking to plan a trip? Or do you just have questions about your indoor and outdoor plant babies? If you’d like to know more about my travel or if you have questions about your plant colony, leave a comment below or feel free to contact The Garden Generalist. I would love to hear from you!
Want to stay in touch with The Garden Generalist? Would you like to keep up with my visits to gardens across the country? Keep checking the blog for more features, and don’t forget to visit The Garden Generalist on instagram for sneak peeks of my garden visits and weekly plant baby spotlights. Keep a look out for my post detailing my adventures to 3 botanic gardens in Chicago as well as 2 gardens in Tampa, Florida!