Holland trip reveals fantastic flowers

Business trips tend to be pretty enjoyable when you’re a florist.

Jeanie Meiers, co-owner of Meiers Floral in Minot, recently returned from a trip to Holland, where she saw how some of the most beautiful flowers in the world are grown, harvested and auctioned. Meiers left April 20 and returned April 27. While the flight was seven hours there and nine hours back because of time zone changes, Meiers said it was definitely worth it.

Meiers traveled with a floral design group comprised of 32 people, mostly Minnesotans, with the rest from North Dakota, Wisconsin and Louisiana. The trip was sponsored by Koehler & Dramm Wholesale Florist, the floral wholesaler in Minneapolis that Meiers Floral uses.

Meiers stayed at a hotel in the city of Aalsmeer, which is about 20 miles south of Amsterdam. It is in the region of Holland, which is in the western part of the Netherlands.

“The first day we got there we went by boat to tour a lilac farm. Because of all the canals, they go by boat a lot in and out of the canals checking the farmland,” Meiers said. “And it’s unique as far as how it’s (farmed).”

While they farm much in the same way growers in the United States do, Meiers said because of all the water small strips of farmland only a couple blocks long jut out from the main body of land, with canals running in between them.

Once the lilac shrubs in the farms bloom, the entire shrub is dug up and brought to the farm on barges. The lilac blooms are cut from the shrubs, graded and put up for auction, while the shrubs are replanted and harvested again in two years.

“Some of their lilac shrubs are up to 60 years old, and they were amazing,” Meiers said. “It almost looks like a petrified wood type of rooting system.”

Meiers noted the process was all manual labor except for a machine that automatically grades the length of each lilac bloom.

They also visited a flower auction house, which she said looked like something straight out of Las Vegas with its various TV screens showing the different grading of flower lots.

She also took several classes on European-style floral design from the Boerma Instituut, which specializes in giving professional floristry courses.

“We did buffet pieces, wedding bouquets and worked with a lot of products that we can’t get here, that Europe has,” Meiers said.

They were hard products such as forms – for a table centerpiece, for example – that simply aren’t sold in the United States. The forms are the base of the design, and are decorated with flowers to create the finished product. Meiers said their forms tend to be more minimalist than those found in the United States.

“There are a lot of different techniques used that I got to learn when I was in class those three days,” Meiers said.

One of the things that struck Meiers is just how large the flower bulbs in Holland are. She held some hyacinths in her shop Thursday and said they would be considered absolute garbage in Holland and thrown away because they were so small.

“This would be garbage to them. We pay really good money for this,” she said with a laugh. “But this is garbage to them because all they want is the bulb.”

While American florists buy the stem along with the flowering bulb, Meiers said in Holland they only care about the bulb itself. She said those bulbs are often used to decorate parade floats, much like the Rose Bowl Parade in the United States.

“So they use all of these hyacinths and daffodils and any kind of bulb flowers to design these massive parade floats,” Meiers said.

Meiers’ group was lucky enough to be able to work on some floats for a parade that was held their last day there. She said millions of bulbs were used on the floats, each of which were painstakingly decorated over the course of hundreds of man-hours.

Their class worked on a Bundt cake filled with pink hyacinths. The cake was around 12 feet high and 8 feet in diameter. It took 30 people in the class four hours to get the flowers 4 feet high on the cake. They also worked on a sneaker float for a while, and got to attend the parade and see the floats they worked on for so many hours completely covered in flowers.

One of the highlights of the trip for Meiers was a visit to Keukenhof, one of the world’s largest flower gardens with thousands of varieties.

“Basically there was many little conservatory places and you could visit them. One would be all of the bulbs, and one was just nothing but massive tulips,” Meiers said. “And they would all be in bloom, showing you what the different varieties would be.”

Meiers is still awestruck by what she saw on her trip to Holland. She said it was definitely worth the jet lag and gave her many good memories to go along with all that she learned as a florist.

“We got to see some amazing things and work with some amazing product. They grow everything there,” Meiers said. “You’re in Holland, for heaven’s sake, so we were able to use some of the highest-quality products (in the world).”