Sunflowers for Van Gogh

I’ve already showed you some lovely examples of the Dutch obsession with flowers. And it goes beyond just having pretty gardens. In fact, 80% of the world trade in bulbs comes from the Netherlands (which is also the world’s top producer of onions; for the statistically minded, visit this website for more facts about the horticultural dominance of this tiny country). They also love to incorporate flowers into other events. Many of the floats at the Canal Parade were covered in flowers, and there is an annual 42 km Bulbflower Parade that we missed in a fog of jet-lag this April, but I’d like to attend next year.

When something is going to happen, one of the first things that seems to come to the Dutch mind is how to festoon it with flowers. For example, the 125th anniversary of Vincent Van Gogh’s death happened this year. Van Gogh, of course, is a sort of Dutch national treasure, and one of the most famous museums in Amsterdam is devoted entirely to his work. The museum celebrated not only by opening a new entrance hall, but also by creating a gigantic sunflower maze in the grassy plaza that is the heart of Amsterdam’s museum district.

I took the kids, and we spent a good hour wandering through the maze. Even after we had climbed up to the observation deck (where I took this panoramic shot), I didn’t find it particularly easy to navigate.

Van Gogh Maze PanoramaI also wished I’d had the kids wear their wellies, since in typical Dutch fashion it was raining. You can see how the grass is being systematically transformed into mud pits by the hordes of people. In fact, after the maze was removed, they re-sodded the entire place with new grass.

This maze was a perfect illustration of my theory for why the Dutch love flowers so much: they’re a substitute for the sun!

IMG_0158Even on a drizzly September afternoon, 125,000 sunflowers makes the world a brighter place. We kept bumping into friends in the maze, which also contained a series of random trivia questions about Van Gogh (Axa knew the answers to most of them, thanks to a much maligned–by her–visit to the museum a few months ago),

Van Gogh Triviaa small stage where various Amsterdam musicians were performing original pieces composed especially for the event (this is actually just a couple of musicians who I guess didn’t make it on the stage and wanted to perform anyway),

Van Gogh Musiciansand a display area for works inspired by Van Gogh.


I didn’t actually see my kids for most of the time we were there, since they were busily exploring the maze.

IMG_0161At the end, they were planning to give all the sunflowers away to whomever wanted them. We left about an hour before it closed, but Axa and Raj thought they’d get a jump on the flower giveaway.

Van Gogh BobblesTheir flowers were politely confiscated at the exit, although we had several friends who did stay a bit longer, and brought home flowers for us later. It was the perfect way to celebrate Van Gogh’s extraordinary life. I wish he’d been there to see it!

2 thoughts on “Sunflowers for Van Gogh

  • September 20, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    What a great family activity. I love the celebration of Van Gogh! Thanks for sharing and writing your blog again so I can live “life” in The Netherlands without actually being there.


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