The Story Behind the Growing Process Of Cut Flower Lilacs

A combination of dikes, boats, and 50.000 lilac shrubs

written by: Marieke Westgeest | 13-01-2021

The Story Behind the Traditional Growing Process Of Cut Flower Lilacs - header - on thursd

During the time of Covid-19, I visit greenhouses to hear people’s stories and to admire their beautiful flowers. Arriving in Aalsmeer is a trip down memory lane for me as I recognize the village from my childhood. My family had good friends here and those friends were specialized in the growth of lilacs. I remember that at any family event they brought lilacs with them.


The Story Behind the Traditional Growing Process Of Cut Flower Lilacs - lilacs in the greenhouse - on thursd


As a child, I admired the branches with their white or purple flowers. Already long ago, the friends have deceased and I realize that I never saw lilacs again, not even in flower shops. So, when I started visiting greenhouses I very quickly started looking for a lilac grower. In May 2020 I called Jan ten Hoeve, owner of the Lilac Specialist, but he told me that the season had just ended. I should come back in January 2021, he said. So I did.


The Story Behind the Traditional Growing Process Of Cut Flower Lilacs -quote the lilac specialist - on thursd



The Lilac Specialist

I’m meeting Jan, whose greenhouse is located in the same street as one of the friends of my family used to do. That is not a coincidence, Jan explains, as Aalsmeer is the only village in the world where lilacs are grown in greenhouses and this street, being a dike, is the oldest agricultural part of the village. Also being it a dike is for a reason: the growing process involves transporting the plants from the cold ground to the greenhouse and back. This is done by boat. The location of these greenhouses is along the water.

Cut flower lilacs are deriving from shrubs. In nature, the shrubs bloom in spring. The blooming of lilacs is anticipated in greenhouses. The cut flowers are harvested between December and April.



The Harvest Process Of a Lilac Cut Flower

Entering the greenhouse we first look at the shrubs. Jan informs: ‘The shrubs we have age from 10 till 100 years’. Jan shows me the different aged shrubs: the older, the more twisted branches and roots it has. I must say that the shrubs on their own are a piece of art to me.

Then we discuss the growing process:

“Harvesting a lilac cut flower is a long and delicate process that can hardly be automized. Even today most is done manually”, Jan says. It starts with seeds that turn into shrubs. This process takes 6 up to 8 years. The shrubs grow outdoors on the cold ground. Once the branches have grown on the shrubs, the shrubs are dug up including roots, and transported by boat to the warmed greenhouse in order to accelerate the growth of the flowers. The flower production is further enhanced by cutting part of the roots. The shrub reacts to this action by creating as many flowers as possible. Jan is satisfied if a lilac branch has at least 4 heads or sprays of flowers. The branches for the sale are cut manually from the shrubs.”


The Story Behind the Traditional Growing Process Of Cut Flower Lilacs - lilac shrubs - on thursd
Dug Lilac shrubs including roots


Once the harvest is finished the shrubs go outdoors again. They are dug up in the greenhouse, transported via a belt to the boat, put on the boat, put on the belt again to enter the land, and planted in the cold ground. The shrubs will rest and 2 years later go through the same process. Throughout the year the process of outdoor creation of branches and maturing into flower branches in the greenhouse is done 7 times. Jan has 9 different departments of shrubs for this to happen. The shrubs come and go in portions of 500. In total, he owns 50.000 shrubs. They produce 30 different varieties of lilacs from dark purple to salmon pink, cream color, and white.



Lilacs in Times of Lockdown

The lilacs of the Seringen Specialist are exported via auction globally. It is also no wonder that I never saw them at the Dutch florist’s as they hardly remain in the Netherlands. Being an export product I expect that the lockdown of March 2020 was problematic. Jan confirms that it was a scary event. Jan says:

“The climax of our production is in April and thus in March still 1/3 of the turnover had to be earned. A sudden drop in demand could not be restored.”

Jan decided to start selling straight from his greenhouse and although the consumers came in big numbers, the prices were below cost price. To date, the trade is gradually restoring.



The Importance of Good Lilac Nutrition

Once we return to the barn Jan assures me to treat the lilacs well once they enter the vase. He provides flower nutrition like Chrysal in order to keep the lilacs beautiful and long-lasting. ‘It is extremely important to teach people, even flower bouquet designers, about the need for flower nutrition in the vase when it comes to lilacs. It is his mission to tell about it and provide in it. Therefore he adds a few sachets to any bunch of flowers accompanied by a leaflet describing the way of operating.


The Story Behind the Traditional Growing Process Of Cut Flower Lilacs - lilacs with chrysal - on thursd


The Story Behind the Traditional Growing Process Of Cut Flower Lilacs - lilacs in vase - on thursd


Coming home I do exactly as it says: using a clean glass vase, measuring 1-liter water and stirring 1 sachet of food nutrition through it and then pouring it in the vase, cut the flower stems 5 cm, and then arrange the flowers in the vase. I keep the remaining sachets as the flowers will drink a lot and thus will need a new potion in a few days.

I am sure I will enjoy long-lasting lilacs, being beautiful, providing old memories and last but not least…. smell tremendously well!

-Marieke Westgeest

Marieke Westgeest

Flowers make me happy. Nature does well to human beings.

In our times we lost contact with nature as we spend so much time behind our computer devices.

It is, therefore, my goal to interest people again about his part of nature, flowers.

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