If there is a Silicon Valley of flowers, then it is the Netherlands. The contemporary floriculture sector is a very knowledge-intensive industry. Thanks to the innovative strength of flower growers and their close cooperation with knowledge organizations and technology companies, the Netherlands has for decades been the largest flower exporter in the world. Where the emphasis is traditionally on the breeding of certain cut flowers and the continuous cultivation of new spectacular varieties, the sector has also invested a great deal in the past fifteen years in making the production process more sustainable and reducing the environmental impact.
Visual artist and designer Frank Bruggeman will research some of the latest products from the Dutch floriculture sector for a period of 30 weeks. Every week there is a different ornamental flower on show, most of which are grown under glass all year round. The vegetable setting in which these ornamental flowers are placed reflects the changing seasons and also aims to provide a space for decay and transience, processes that are carefully avoided in traditional showpiece flower arrangements.
With thanks to Mooiwatbloemendoen.nl
In the wild there are more than 50 different species of Cymbidium, mainly growing in Asian mountain forests. Some Cymbidiums are epiphytic - they grow on other plants or trees without extracting nutrients from them - while others are terrestrial or semi-terrestrial. In the 19th century, orchid hunters brought various Cymbidium species to Europe, where they were well looked after in greenhouses and plant nurseries. The fact that many Cymbidium species proved to be resistant to low temperatures greatly contributed to their advance in Europe. These days, as a Dutch cut-flower crop, Cymbidiums rank 7th in terms of turnover.
After roses and chrysanthemums, Gerberas are the third most cultivated cut flower in the Netherlands. But whereas in recent years there has been a decline in the numbers of roses and chrysanthemums grown, Gerbera cultivation is very much on the rise. The first species of this flower to be grown in Europe, at the end of the 19th century, originated from Barberton in the Transvaal, South Africa. Hence the popular English name for the Gerbera: Barberton daisy or Transvaal daisy. Dutch growers of the 19th and early 20th century regarded the Gerbera as an extremely demanding cut flower. These days, a huge variety of mini and large-flowered Gerberas is available on the market, and they often carry highly imaginative names.
The official botanical name of this bulbous plant is Hippeastrum, which is usually translated as knight’s star lily, although few people are familiar with that name. There are about 80 Hippeastrum species. They are native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas and the Caribbean. In addition, more than 600 hybrids and cultivars have been developed by growers from all over the world. Amaryllis cut-flower bulbs last for three to four years. In their annual cycle, a rest period of about eight weeks is essential. In the 1980s and 1990s, amaryllis growers switched over to substrate cultivation, making it easier to harvest the bulbs after the flowers have been cut.
The tulip is native to Central Asia, Asia Minor and parts of the Mediterranean. For centuries these regions belonged to the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman sultans wore striking turbans that resembled the form of the tulip, hence the flower takes its name from the Persian word tulipan, meaning turban. Flemish nobleman Ogier Gisleen van Busbeke was responsible for introducing the tulip to Western Europe. A keen amateur botanist, Van Busbeke conducted extensive research into plant growth in Asia Minor. He presented some tulip bulbs to his good friend Carolus Clusius, botanist to the imperial court of Vienna. When Clusius moved to Leiden in 1593, he brought his tulip bulbs with him. So the foundation was laid for large-scale tulip cultivation in the Netherlands, which continues to this day.
Dutch VOC ships brought the first Zantedeschia (popularly known as the calla or calla lily) from South Africa to Europe in the 17th century. Nowadays, the plant grows on all continents except Antarctica and is even considered a danger to the native ecosystem in some countries. In the Netherlands and other European countries, cultivated callas were available only as pot plants for a many years, whereas in the United States and Mexico they were already commonly sold as cut flowers in the 1920s and 1930s. These days, during the winter season increasing numbers of Dutch calla growers are turning to countries like Spain and Tanzania, where sunlight is free and callas can be grown in the open ground.
What most people regard as the anthurium’s ‘flower’ is actually the bract (modified leaf) of a so-called spadix (spike inflorescence). The real flowers are no more than 3 mm in size and grow on this spadix. Because of its fleshy appearance and shape, the anthurium spadix is often compared with a penis on the internet and social media. Cut-flower cultivation of anthuriums is relatively labour intensive because the foliage of the plant must be thinned out on a regular basis to prevent the development of bent stems.
The peony is an early summer flower (May-June) that, in the Netherlands, is mainly cultivated in open-ground nurseries. Because of this, the start of the peony season varies from year to year. This makes it a rather difficult product for Dutch flower-trading companies. Large retail organizations that require delivery according to a fixed calendar tend not to include the peony in their assortments. Remarkably, the market for cut-flower peonies is dominated by some very old varieties. Almost all the peonies on offer are cultivars of the species Paeonia lactiflora.
Originally appreciated as an ornamental garden plant, over the past few decades allium has been on the rise as a cut flower. Dutch breeders have succeeded in creating cultivars and hybrids that compete with one another in floral splendour and stem length. Some of these cultivars and hybrids are sterile: they have no seeds but are propagated from bulbils that grow on the base of the bulb. These bulbils are peeled off the mother bulbs by hand when they are dried.
In the Dutch cut-flower trade top ten in terms of turnover, the lily ranks fourth, after the rose, chrysanthemum and tulip. Lily cultivation for the cut -flower trade takes place entirely in greenhouses. Only the bulbs from which the lilies sprout are grown in the open ground. The lily crop acreage has grown spectacularly from 160 hectares in 1960 to over 4,500 hectares in 2017. Thanks to the efforts of Dutch breeding companies, an overwhelming variety of lily cultivars and hybrids is available. The majority of them carry genetic material that can be traced back to native Asian lilies such as Lilium longiflorum from Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, with its large white flowers.
Delphinium is a genus of about 300 species that mainly grow in the northern hemisphere. The common English name for the flower is larkspur, which refers to the resemblance of the blooms to the lark’s ‘spur’ or claw. Delphiniums began to be grown as cut flowers before the Second World War. They are traditionally propagated in greenhouses, while for the cut-flower trade they are grown outdoors. Dutch breeding companies have played a major role in the cultivation and hybridization of Delphinium species. Selection has been mainly based on stem length, flower colour, branch construction and duration of vase life.
The plant genus Gladiolus comprises about 260 species, most of which are native to sub-Saharan Africa, especially South-Africa (home to around 160 species). In the 17th century, Dutch VOC ships brought the first gladioli bulbs to Europe from the Cape. The botanical name is derived from the Latin gladius, meaning sword, and obviously refers to the shape of the foliage. Gladioli are a symbol of strength and victory. In the Netherlands, this is underlined every year in a ritual at the finish of the International Four Day Marches in Nijmegen. Participants are showered with gladioli as they head towards the finish along the St Annastraat, which is appropriately called the Via Gladiola for the duration of the event
Roses have enormous symbolic meaning. In literature, poetry and song texts roses are mentioned more often than any other flower. Of all floral girl names Rose (Rosa, Roza, Rosalie or in Chinese: Qiang) is the most common. Roses were the first cut flowers in the Netherlands that were grown especially for foreign markets. Rose export cultivation under glass started in 1923, shortly after the opening of Schiphol and the arrival of the cargo airplane. In the last twenty years, many Dutch rose growers have moved to countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia, where production conditions (sunlight, temperature) are better and labor is cheaper.
In the Netherlands and some other continental European countries Hydrangeas are more commonly known as Hortensias. Where the name Hortensia refers to is a mystery that will probably never be solved. Is this name a tribute to a certain woman, as is often claimed, or does the name refer to the garden (hortus) on the island of Mauritius where 18th century French botanist Philibert Commerson (who coined the name Hortensia) first saw these plants? As a cut flower Hydrangeas have been very much on the rise in recent years, although they have not yet penetrated the bouquets which are sold in supermarkets and at petrol stations. Cut flower Hydrangeas are harvested at three different stages according to the development of the color of the bracts: fresh, transition and antique.
After roses, chrysanthemums are the most popular cut flowers in the Netherlands, although domestic demand has shown a gradual decline in recent years. The Netherlands are the largest chrysanthemum exporter in the world and the variety of cultivars is huge. Generally speaking there are three types of chrysanthemums: large single headed varieties, multi headed spray varieties and Santini's (miniature multi headed spray varieties). Each type is further divided into different bloom forms (florets and petals), such as single bloom, double bloom, pompon and spider chrysanthemums. A strong and traditional consumer motive for buying Chrysanthemums has always been their long vase life. Chrysanthemums however deserve to be judged on aesthetic factors as well.