Mother Nature didn’t have to make the world so beautiful, but that’s what she did when she sent flowers. You can see 5 million of them in Holland.
Depending on the weather from the end of April to the beginning of May, a cascade of tulips opens their vivid petals in this western Michigan city. They shimmer on street corners, along neighborhood medians, at tulip farms, and in every park, large and small.
Waving in red, yellow, orange, pink, striped, frilled, swirled, and multi-toned, from tiny to gigantic, the symphony of color peaks on its own schedule, but it’s usually in its glory during the Tulip Time Festival, this year May 7-15.
“The City of Holland and some surrounding partners plant more than half a million tulip bulbs in dozens of varieties and colors every fall so we can welcome spring with a city bursting with color and fresh blooms,” says Gwen Auwerda, executive director of Tulip Time.
With two parades, art shows, music, dancing, and examples of quaint Dutch heritage, the festival gaily welcomes spring. Avid flower lovers often can sneak a quieter peak at the tulips (if blooming) in the week before or after the festival, when crowds are fewer and photos are easier to take.
“If tulips happen to bloom early, we do have serious flower people here,” says Linda Hart, executive director of the Holland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Founded by Dutch settlers, Holland has made the most of its heritage since 1929, when the first “tulip day” was held and the tulip festival was born. This year, Tulip Time offers a few new attractions:
• Dutch horticulturist Ibo Gülsen has designed a tulip immersion garden at the Ottawa County fairgrounds to showcase 50,000 flowers in raised beds. His week-long activity also focuses on the tulip’s history and its origins.
• Dutch and American cultural values are explored in a three-part photo series art show called “Zeeland Girl (Zeeuws Meisje),” coordinated by Dutch photographer Rem van den Bosch. His photos will be showcased, some on 10-foot-tall displays, along with the 25 hand-sewn traditional dresses used in the series.
• Other notable festival attractions include the popular Kinderparade of schoolchildren and the Volksparade, with its Dutch dancers, marching bands, and traditional scrubbing of downtown streets.
Those who visit before or after the festival likely will find plenty of tulips strutting their stuff, as early bloomers make way for the late bloomers. Large fields of tulips are planted near the historic and sturdy De Zwaan windmill, and in smaller landscaped beds around the Post House.
TIP: Follow the path past the enchanting windmill to the massive tulip beds beyond. Sit on the grass and get close to the tulips for the best photos, with the windmill as a backdrop.
Take a drive west of downtown to see tulips joyfully lining Washington Street, a boulevard dotted with charming historic homes. Another colorful spot is Window on the Waterfront Park, decked out with lush, curving tulip beds and elegant designs of flowers that turn the beautiful gardens into art.
On Holland’s outskirts, these family attractions open in late April for the season and are brimming with tulips, too: Veldheer Tulip Gardens and Nelis’ Dutch Village.
Around town you can find places to buy tulip bulbs or tulips in pots, along with wooden shoes, wooden salad bowls, Delft pottery, and kitschy souvenirs — including the vintage classic button, “Wooden Shoe Rather Be Dutch?”
SOME FAVORITES: Holland is on the shores of Lake Macatawa and Lake Michigan. The scenic downtown, with its heated streets and sidewalks, has galleries, shopping, dining, and lodging. Try the famed deBoer’s Bakkerij and restaurant, now in its fourth generation, or the brand-new Bowerman’s on 8th café. Looking for lodging? Base yourself in Holland, Grand Rapids (30 miles to the northeast), or Saugatuck/Douglas, summer towns located just 12 miles away.
While the busiest tourist season in Holland is summer, spring is a fresh season for enjoying dining, hiking, and shopping, whether you make it for Tulip Time or not.
Visitors can walk the beach at Holland State Park or stand on an overlook at Mount Pisgah. Lake Michigan is frigid in spring, and the beaches are windswept and cool, but it’s still fun to see the mighty lake as it emerges from its winter sleep.
One more thing: Weather in spring can be variable, but tulips look even more vivid when it’s raining.
Tulip Time Festival
Schedules, maps, tickets, and more
More Springtime Blooms
If you like Michigan flowers, look beyond Tulip Time and check out these other blooming festivals in May and June:
• Peony Festival, Ann Arbor — About 900 heirloom plants, many of them 100 years old, erupt in pink, white, red, yellow, and violet at the University of Michigan Nichols Arboretum (free and open daily). Peak bloom is between May 31 and mid-June. Fans can check the “countdown to bloom” reports on the garden’s website. For best photos, get there early or late in the day to get the most vivid images of the lushly opulent blossoms. peony.mbgna.umich.edu
• Lilac Festival, Mackinac Island — The sweet scent of lilacs is at its peak June 3-12. The festival includes a grand parade, a queen, and other sweet activities. Look for special lodging packages at mackinacisland.org.
• Eastern Market Flower Days, Detroit — Visit on May 15 for the historic outdoor market’s kickoff of summer for gardeners in southeast Michigan. Bring your wagon and get bargains on perennials and annuals. Also check out Flower Season Tuesday Markets at easternmarket.org.
• Lavender Festival, Imlay City — Planned for the Eastern Michigan Fairgrounds June 3-4, it features artists, vendors, music, lavender crafts, treats (lavender cupcakes, anyone?), and tours of a U-pick lavender farm so you can make your own bouquet. michiganlavenderfestival.net