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Netherlands Embassy Celebrates Dutch Tulip Days 10,000 Ways

By Amber Ebanks

The Royal Netherlands Embassy in D.C. celebrated Dutch Tulip Days with a vibrant rainbow of 10,000 tulips that transformed the Dutch ambassador’s residence into a floral wonderland in early April.

“This is our flower and we have filled our house with tulips,” said Dutch Ambassador Henne Schuwer during a press tour of his Neoclassical Revival residence built in 1929. “Nobody has ever given a bouquet of flowers in anger.”

The intricate arrangements were designed by Susanne Schrijvers, a locally based Dutch floral artist who worked with a team of a dozen volunteers to arrange more than 10,000 blooms that had been cut and shipped two days earlier from Holland.

Once the bulbs arrived, Schrijvers and her team assembled the arrangements in the residence’s garage. The 180 floral arrangements were set up in stand-alone vases, table centerpieces, ceramic tulip vases called tulipieres and grand bouquets on the table inside the residence and also on the front steps.

The tulips outside were mostly white, blue and orange to match the colors of the Dutch flag (whose red stripe was originally orange). Inside, the colors of the bouquets ranged from pastel pink to deep purple and included a variety of flowers, such as branches of flowering quince, Russian olive and fringed and parrot tulips.

“They told me we bought 10,000 tulips — do something with it!” joked Schrijvers. “I had to calculate … how many tulips each arrangement would take up. It was very funny because at the end of the day I came to almost exactly 10,000 tulips.”

Members of the media toured the residence on April 4. “We used to have Tulip Days 10 years back and I think for some reason unbeknownst to me the last one was in 2007, so I wanted to reinstate the idea again because when [people] think about tulips, they think about Holland,” said Schuwer.

The Netherlands Embassy Tulip Day

The embassy also hosted several invite-only events for lawmakers, corporate partners and others to celebrate U.S.-Dutch relations and showcase the country’s booming horticulture industry.

Many of the speakers were horticulture specialists who spoke about the importance of agriculture to the Dutch economy as well as the use of plants for medicinal purposes and as “mini vegetables.”

Schuwer said the events kicked off with a ladies lunch hosted by his wife for the spouses of members of Congress and other Washingtonians, in which “we had a presentation about horticulture in the Netherlands, but also about something we feel deeply about, which is healthy eating, healthy living and how we can even cure diseases with the right type of food.”

The Netherlands is one of the smallest countries in the European Union, but it is a global powerhouse in the agrifood and horticulture sectors. In fact, the Maryland-size nation ranks as the world’s second-largest exporter of agricultural products, eclipsed only by the United States (also see “From Tomatoes to Parkinson’s, Dutch Innovation Inspires the World” in the September 2015 issue of The Washington Diplomat).

In addition, the Netherlands ranks first in the world for greenhouse horticulture, export of fresh vegetables and production of seeds, playing a role in 50 percent of the world’s trade in floricultural products. More than half of the country’s surface area of nearly 9.9 million acres is used for farming. The Dutch export over a billion flower bulbs to the U.S. each year, half of them tulips.

The Netherlands Embassy Tulip Day

While tulips are commonly associated with the Netherlands, they are believed to have originated in the Middle East, making their way to Western Europe via Constantinople in the 1550s.

By the mid-17th century, Dutch still-life paintings and festivals had helped make the flower so popular that it sparked the first economic bubble, known as “tulip mania,” in which bulbs were treated as a form of currency.

The bubble quickly burst but tulips remain a mainstay of Dutch identity, with the country nicknamed the “flower shop of the world.”

There are some 75 wild tulip species ranging the color spectrum (although, as the ambassador pointed out, Dutch growers have yet to breed the mythical black tulip).

Dutch tulips are a hugely popular attraction throughout the U.S. The Washington celebration of Tulip Days followed the Philadelphia Flower Show in March, whose theme this year was “Holland: Flowering the World.”

In addition to highlighting Dutch innovation and sustainability, the Philadelphia Flower Show featured 10 acres of 30,000 flowers, 6,000 of which were suspended in a floral canopy. Some of the decorations were inspired by the Amsterdam cityscape, such as a brick bridge that was adorned with flower boxes and hanging baskets. The exhibition halls were filled with tulips, daffodils and hyacinths in a variety of colors. The exhibit was also decorated with several windmills and water gardens.

Before the celebration, the Dutch Embassy conducted a poll on its website inviting people to vote for the name of a new variety of tulip, whose petals are crimson red and have fringed edges. It is a result of a 19-year breeding process by Remarkable Tulips, a company in the Dutch town of Lisse.

The Netherlands Embassy Tulip Day

The three possibilities were Philly Belle,Philly Love and Pretty Philly. The winner, with more than half of the votes cast, was Philly Belle, whose name will now be permanently listed on the International Register of Tulip Names.

Schrijvers, who spearheaded the D.C. tulip display, works with the Dutch Embassy every year to create the arrangements for the Flower Mart at the Washington National Cathedral. Schrijvers, who owns a shop in France but lives and works out of her floral studio in Bethesda, Md., said her favorite flowers are seasonal flowers because she does not like flowers that bloom the entire year — she prefers to change her flowers.

To create the display at the Dutch residence, time was of the essence. Schrijvers said her team spent a day organizing the various trays on which the arrangements would be displayed. Once the flowers arrived on Monday, the volunteers had to quickly hydrate the plants because they were shipped from the Netherlands without a water source. Then they had two days to construct the eye-catching designs.

“[S]o it had to be something that was easy to make because we had a limited amount of time,” Schrijvers told the Diplomatic Pouch, noting that “the little arrangements that we had on the staircase was to reproduce the little tulip fields, so those were all over the house. We had these tulip arrangements with mixed tulips and then I created a few big arrangements … with very special, long-stemmed tulips.”

After Dutch Tulip Days, volunteers at the embassy took apart the arrangements and donated the flowers to the Children’s National Medical Center and the Veterans Medical Center of Washington.

“It was nice. Various people from the embassy went with me to talk to patients to talk about the friendship between the U.S. and the Netherlands,” said Schuwer. “One of the pillars on which that friendship is built is the fact that the United States liberated us after the Second World War … so we definitely wanted to go to the veteran’s hospital. And children are the other [special group], which is always something that we are interested in.”

Amber Ebanks is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.



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