By: Jay & Denise Hutchins, Managers, Brent & Becky’s
If you follow us on social media at all, chances are you’ve seen some pictures of some of our travels over the years. And one place we return to year after year is Holland. While we’re certainly happy to go back to see old friends and take in the scenery, of course, we assure you, our visits are not only for pleasure. In fact, the annual excursion is an integral part of how we operate!
The Annual Holland Trip
Years ago, we did everything here at Brent & Becky’s—we grew, we dug, we cleaned, we cured, we packaged, and we shipped everything that we got orders for. But, that was also back in the day when all we did was daffodils. As we began to add things, we began running out of land and space, and we knew we had to look elsewhere to help us with the load we had taken on. So our focus shifted to the Netherlands. You just can’t beat the climate, soil conditions, and passion for growing flower bulbs they have there, so the shift for us was only natural. If we could no longer do it all ourselves, these people had to be the ones to do it for us.
Since then, we have two brokers that handle what we need from growers based on our needs for sales. We also contract these same growers to grow and test our hybrids to have more of them created so they can become available for the consumer. And with all this going on overseas, it has become a necessity (although, not one we mind much) to go over to A) check on the quality of what we’re ordering, B) to see how quickly hybrids are expanding and coming along, and C) see what’s new. And this year, we thought we’d share our visit with you and give you a sneak peek into what our week in Holland looks like!
Our first stop off the plane, since we were already so close, was to go to a daffodil show opening at Keukenhof, which has become such a hugely popular destination in recent years. It’s only open for a handful of weeks in the spring and then it’s closed, and in that handful of weeks alone, they’ll see around 1.5 million visitors to their beautifully blooming gardens. And the weekend we went, it was even more popular than usual because it was Easter week! In fact, there were so many people there, they ended up having to turn thousands of people away because there just wasn’t enough parking (thank goodness we got there so early!).
Visiting Keukenhof is a unique experience, after all, those 1.5 million people have to be coming for a reason! Nestled in the tiny town of Lisse, Keukenhof is known as the “Gardens of Europe” and features some of the most intricately-designed gardens all put together with dutch-grown bulbs. While the little town isn’t quite built for such an attraction, we’re sure glad that it has become what it is, as it’s a perfect place for us to find inspiration for our community gardens back here in Virginia!
Visiting with Growers
On the second day of our Holland visit, we try to visit at least 3-4 growers to get our feet on the ground and walk the fields to see what’s new or what’s familiar. Each year, the growers will rotate their crops and if even one bulb gets missed, it’ll stick out like a sore thumb—just imagine a spot of red or yellow in this field of Muscari. But, if you can look out and simply bask in a sea of blue (or any one color), you know that this grower has taken great care to get an incredibly clean stock, which is always on our radar as we strive to bring you only the best.
The second thing we’ll look for are things that are different and unique, like this mutated Tulip, also known as a “sport”. As it began to appear in the fields, with its unique shape and color, it was separated into its own area where the grower will try to see how and if it holds. If it continues to grow and multiply reliably with the same new and unique appearance, it will officially earn itself its own name and become its own variety. If it tries to revert back to the original variety, though—as you can see this one is trying to do at the bottom of this photo—there’s probably no hope. No matter how they end up performing in the long run, though, we always love to see what’s new and exciting, especially when they look like this!
One of the best things about the people of Holland is just how kind they are and how they take pride in the cleanliness of their environment—just take a look at how spotless this beach was! As wonderful as they are, we’re happy to call many of the growers and brokers friends now, and it’s nice to enjoy the company of the people you are working with! The growers themselves take pride in providing a picture-perfect location to take all our wonderful imagery of what we’re going to carry each year. That way, we have the opportunity to take shots of them not just in the field, but in singular and group shots so we can get a close-up image without any wind blowing away our subjects!
Finding What's New
One of my absolute favorite things to do in Holland is to visit a trial field known as Floratuin in Julianadorp. Their fields are filled with hundreds of different varieties donated by growers and grown in these 3 to 4-foot plots with ID labels out front that tell you what it’s name is. It’s just this patchwork blanket of incredible colors and unique varieties all housed in this one area, so you can see them all without having to drive from field to field! Plus, their pick-your-own tulip area is amazing!
Another way we see how things are doing and what’s new is by visiting the company that is in charge of growing mixtures, JUB Holland. Here, we get to see all the mixtures being grown together in the trial fields to ensure they are blooming at the same time and have the same longevity for a stunning collection that works well together. We also end up seeing some pretty neat new discoveries, too, like this new hybrid which is the closest thing to a green tulip that has been grown thus far!
Checking on Our Hybrids
Of course, while we’re checking on other growers’ new varieties, we also have to check on our own. Here, we are checking on one of our very own Brent & Becky’s hybrids that have been carefully grown and monitored from seed to see how they are coming along. Each new generation will have qualities of the parent bulbs, the same as humans, but with slight differences between the “sisters”, and we watch each of them closely. We take note of their individual characteristics and how they compare to each other. The ones that aren’t different enough, not growing the way we like, have foliage that is taller than the bloom, or have weak stems, we tag for disposal. And the ones we do like, we’ll leave and keep watching to see how they continue evolving in years to come.
Then, if we end up with something special, we’ll send it to a grower to make more through a careful division process called “chipping”, so we can bring these new beauties to you! And here’s a great example of a couple of the hybrids we did keep!
These three daffodils—called Starlight Sensation, Moonlight Sensation, and Sunlight Sensation—are all sisters whose colors and the large number of blooms per stem made us just fall in love with them, and we decided wanted more of them. As you can see, they’re doing quite well, but that all comes from years and years of careful cultivation!
Taking in the Sights
If you happen to visit Holland at the right time, chances are you’ll encounter one of these towering sculptures called “Mozaïeks”. We found this one just sitting right outside our hotel! While it may look intricately carved and painted, this 15-foot sculpture is actually entirely composed of the blooms of flower bulbs!
Learning More About the Industry
One of the stops we made this time around was to Royal FloraHolland, a wholesale flower market in Alsmeer to learn more about the flower industry. Here, you can see where the workers have been going through and picking, bunching, and setting flowers into the field for the wholesale market. They’re then brought to this giant facility where they are sorted, bundled, and packaged into carts. Then, they’re taken to the HUGE wholesale auction (who’s cold storage area, ONLY the cold storage area, is about 560,000 sq. ft.!) where they are sold the same day and shipped anywhere in the world to the highest bidder overnight! And it’s not just Dutch flowers that go through this process. Cut flowers from all over the world find their way to this market for sale—a pretty incredible leap from the Pony Express, wouldn’t you say? The Royal FloraHolland facility turns over 100,000 transactions per day, all handled by their 2,636 employees from 44 different countries, shipping 12.1 billion flowers around the world for an annual revenue of 4.6 billion euros (5.13 billion dollars)! And just selling flowers! Take that, Amazon!
While there are still growers here on the East Coast and in the Pacific Northwest, we truly believe that the climate, the soil, the passion, and the amount of space is just perfect in Holland for a lot of our bulb needs. It’s a brilliant place to find new and exciting discoveries happening in the bulb world and it’s a place we think everyone needs to see at least once in their life. We hope you enjoyed a little sneak peek into our travel journeys and we hope to take you along for the ride again soon!
Share this post
- Tags: annual trip, blog, Brent and Becky's, brent and becky's blog, bulbs, fields, flower, flowers, garden, gardening, gardens, growers, holland, how to grow tulips, hybrids, industry, meeting, pictures, plants, sights, travelogue, trip, tulips, visiting, work