06/05/2012 07:11 am ET Updated Aug 05, 2012

Floriade 2012: World Horticultural Expo Returns To The Netherlands (PHOTOS)

One of the many places that's long been on my travel bucket list is Keukenhof, Holland's famous spring garden that has been visited by more than 44 million people in the past 60 years. In early April, I was able to spend a day there, just as the tulips were beginning to bloom. It's beautiful.

As the largest bulb flower park in the world, Keukenhof is spread out over nearly 80 acres, with seven million flower bulbs planted by hand. But no worries if you didn't catch the colorful rite of spring, it returns again next year for two months, March 21-May 20, 2013.

Another impressive floral event, which happens only once every decade in The Netherlands, is the Floriade Horticultural Expo. This year it's being held in the region of Venlo, made up of seven communities and located southeast of Amsterdam near the German and Belgian borders. As one of the largest horticultural producing regions within Europe, this year's edition is spread out over 163 acres known as the Venlo Green Park.

The 2012 theme, "Be part of the theatre in nature, get closer to the quality of life," acknowledges the contribution of Dutch horticulture to the quality of life. Floriade 2012 is more an experience than a showcase. When I visited shortly before its April 5 opening, they were still putting the finishing touches on the exhibition, and if I had a chance to see it in all its glory, I would. The six-month exhibition runs through Oct. 20, 2012.

Taking five years to create, at a price tag of 43.5 million Euros, there are five themes throughout the exhibition. Each area is separated by a woodland, and the five "worlds" include: Relax & Heal, Green Engine, Education & Innovation, Environment and World Show Stage. Two of the buildings on the ground are permanent, including Villa Flora, the largest indoor flower exhibition in Europe. Floriade 2012 is not so much a theme park as a place to spend a day or two, exploring and relaxing, and enjoying a meal in one of the five cafes or from the various kiosks spread throughout the grounds. It's been well thought out, with much attention to detail.

The numbers alone are impressive: 100+ gardens and pavilions; 1.8 million bulbs; 18,000 shrubs; 190,000 perennials; 15,000 hedge plants; 5,000 rose bushes; and 4,000 trees. Sustainability was key in creating the exposition, from reusing the rainwater, soil and green waste to implementing sustainable construction practices and being mindful of the post-event use of the site.

Floriade 2012 is more than flowers and greenery. Each day there's a cultural program of music, dance, literature, theater and visual art from around the world. And kids are definitely in the mix. At the entrance, families receive a free Floriade Kids expedition guide, and there are play areas for children in each of the five theme worlds. They can even meet Willow Man, an eccentric character who lives in the woods where he built tree houses from branches and waste wood. And there are plenty of picnic areas for families.

During the summer, weekend evening programs include open air cinema, a light show and various performers. For travelers, there are plenty of tourist accommodations and other opportunities in the region, which may be found at

Floriade 2012