This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Hillegom is our objective point and to reach it we go from quaint old Amsterdam to Haarlem, through a country of wind-mills and ditches - water on every side - ditches, canals, rivers, the divisions between fields, not fences, but open ditches three to thirty feet wide, navigable for long narrow flat boats on which the farmers transport their hay, potatoes, cattle, manure, as wagons are almost unknown ; indeed they could not be used for want of bridges, - the boat is all important. The size of the fields vary from two to ten acres, seldom more, principally down in rye grass for pasturage. Another striking feature is the noble avenues of Linden trees; every farm house has its line of approach and every town its avenue - sometimes trimmed flat on both sides like a wall, the branches interlacing, at other times standing alone and trim-ed like so many columns.
Finally we reach Haarlem and put up at the Hotel Funckler, dining with a lot of gay army officers just the same kind of rollicking boys as they always are.
We find ourselves in an historic city. It gave birth to Coster who it claims was the real inventor of printing - what a lot of fellows invented printing! It gave the Spaniards trouble to take, tho' they did it after killing ten thousand in the siege and two thousand more in the massacre which followed. It was a nursery of art and to-day possesses fine pictures.
It is a town of sixty thousand inhabitants and with its suburban surroundings is the seat of residence of large numbers of wealthy merchants from Amsterdam thirty minutes distant, and here may be mentioned the refinement seen among these true Dutch people. They are courteous and sincere, they are highly educated, wealthy, always doing for themselves or others - none can be charged with idleness. None are drones, as too often is the case in this country with those who have been favored with wealth left to them by others. In Holland it is disreputable to have nothing to do - however wealthy, however high in social position.
The business communities speak English very generally, so intimate are the commercial relations with Britain ; it is taught in all the schools and in the towns English habits are more to be observed than elsewhere on the continent. Indeed the better class of people are so English in appearance as often to be mistaken as such, and this applies particularly to the young ladies - blue eyed, light haired, rosy cheeked, splendid teeth and altogether lovely. Many odd sights are to be seen in the streets and particularly in the market place. They seem to do many things by the rule of contrary ; they sell their fish alive and the dead ones they throw away. They sell, what do you think? Water! and what else? Fire! They anchor their boats by the stern, the carpenter pulls the plane and pushes the draw knife, the sawyer cuts fine wood by drawing the cord wood sticks over a fixed saw blade.
For two and a half centuries Haarlem has been celebrated for its culture of bulbs. Before Pennsylvania was settled speculation ran wild on Tulips and Hyacinths - gambling in imaginary stocks was pursued then and there as at present in our money centres.
It is recorded that six thousand dollars was paid for a single bulb, two thousand dollars being a common price; the Government finally declared such sales illegal and they were thus suppressed. To-day propagators frequently pay twenty-five to thirty dollars for bulbs of rare new varieties.
The culture is now principally pursued in the vicinity of the town of Hillegom on the edge of the reclaimed land of Haarlem Lake. To reach it we take carriage and drive over a praire-like country principally devoted to pasturage, windmills in every direction, some devoted to grind ing grain, most of them for pumping water from the lower ditches to the higher. Looking from the train yesterday we sighted seventy-five windmills at one time.
Ditches on every hand, water everywhere within two or three feet of the surface, the soil black and covered with a luxurious sod of rye grass upon which feed thousands of sheep, geese and Dutch cattle, the latter closely allied to the Holsteins now becoming such favorites with us ; 'tis odd to see the cows blanketed, a system pursued with all the milking animals. The milk is turned to butter and cheese for export to England ; there it has a famous reputation.
The roads dressed with sea gravel and sand from the neighboring dunes, well kept, and without fences. No senseless tax here or elsewhere on the continent on the farmer to keep up fences to protect his crops from road cattle - only in America is liberty confounded with licentiousness.
We drive on through hamlets and past fine country seats - long drawn out mansions set in the midst of horticultural embellishment 'neath noble trees of holly, yew, lime and oak. and in the distant vistas herds of deer ; on the lakelets flocks of swan. Nothing in comparison with the great show places of England, but occupying a middle ground, and filling the position with a quiet dignity. The Dutchman does not go beyond his means, what he does he does well, and he keeps his place in good form.
The Haarlem Meer was reclaimed in 1840 and gave up to culture five thousand acres of land, now valued at an average of four hundred dollars per acre. It now supports a population of ten thousand people. It is on the borders of this reclaimed land Hillegom is situated and we must hurry on or the bulbs will be out of flower. Every one grows them; if not an acre, a rod or so; the aggregate area annually under culture is estimated at eight hundred acres of Hyacinths, seven hundred acres of Tulips, four hundred acres of Crocus, five hundred acres of other bulbs.
The estimated value of these various bulbs is two thousand five hundred dollars per acre for Hyacinths. Nine hundred dollars per acre for Tulips. Eight hundred dollars for Crocuses.
The crops must needs bring much money, as the expenses are exceedingly heavy, the value of suitable land before preparation being five hundred to eight hundred dollars per acre. After securing the land it must be prepared and this is a very expensive business; drainage, spading, manure, hauling sea sand and other costs running up two thousand to four thousand dollars per acre and then only available for bulbs every fourth year. Thus nine to ten thousand acres are in the bulb rotation and all necessarily of this costly prepared land.
Cow manure only is used, - they say it is best, but perhaps it is because they have more of it than any other. A Hyacinth in marketable form is four years old, sometimes five, and has been handled about twenty times a year, or one hundred times in all. The various sorts and colors are classified in planting, and the bloom is only allowed to develop sufficiently to prove the variety and color. It is then cut off; the writer saw hundreds of wagon loads of blooms thrown into the ditches or piled up for manure. Large quantities of blooms are boxed and shipped to London by steamer from Flushing.
The effect during the season of blooming about the first of May is most brilliant, fields here and there of three, five, ten acres, a blaze of scarlet or a cloth of gold; everybody grows them, one sees them extending in all directions, field after field or small patches alongside the thatched cottage of the peasant, making it for the time a spot of beauty.