The art of growing Dutch Lilac

Jan Ten Hoeve, a Dutch Lilac grower, welcomed us into the labor-intensive process of what it takes to bring Lilac to the market. A great personal friend of ours for about 35 years, Jan shared a lot of detailed information about the Lilac crop with us.

The journey of a Lilac starts out in the field of these little islands in Aalsmeer (Holland), where the bushes remain planted during the summer. Every year in the middle of November, when the leaves have fallen off the branches, Jan starts transporting a set number of shrubs by boat from these islands to his greenhouses. Once relocated into a greenhouse, the temperature gets turned up to make the plant believe springtime has arrived. By doing it this way, he is able to manipulate Mother Nature and trick the bushes to start blooming much earlier. With this technique, he is able to extend his harvesting season and provide the market with a steady supply for almost 5 months; from the beginning of December until around the end of April.

Jan owns 50,000 Lilac shrubs, with about 25 different varieties. Many of these plants are 60 years old! It will take almost 15 years before a shrub is even productive! Because of his cultivating method, Jan can only use half of his bushes every year, since the other half need to remain in the field, to naturally prepare them for next year’s crop. This grower has 9 different greenhouses, and each greenhouse will hold about 500 Lilac bushes. After all the Lilac has been harvested, the bushes are manually transported back to the islands, and a new batch is brought in. That process continues until April.

The reason why Dutch Lilac is predominantly being grown in the Aalsmeer area of Holland, is related to the type of soil. Aalsmeer has a unique type of peat soil and the Lilac bushes perform optimally in those conditions, so they can absorb and maintain just the right amount of moisture.

Over the years, the Dutch Lilac growers have seen a definite change in trend, as the market started to demand more of the different purple and lavender shades, versus the traditional white Lilac. Average market prices became too low on white, and growers were not able to guarantee long term sustainability. Luckily, the market is paying a lot more for the purple shades, so growers like Jan can continue with their art of growing their labor-intensive Dutch Lilac.

The other trend that is very noticeable is the fact that many of the Lilac growers are disappearing. Where 25 years ago Holland still had around 60 Lilac growers, today only 20 growers remain. As the process of growing Dutch Lilac is so unique, it has not been able to modernize itself further. Therefore, the Lilac growing business does not lend itself to be passed down from generation to generation.

As the story indicates, growing Dutch Lilac requires a great deal of manual labor. Yet the sweet scent of this product remains a favorite for everybody.

Despite the many challenges, hopefully growers like Jan will continue their art of growing, so the heritage and history of Lilac may continue for many years to come.

Enjoy the video above, showing a lot of cool time-lapse video, and please follow Jan on Instagram.

Please contact your local Wholesale Florist to obtain some great Dutch Lilac. ‘Tis the season!

Article produced with support of the following Wholesale Florists:

  • Cut Flower Wholesale, Inc. – Atlanta, GA
  • Amato Wholesale Florist – Denver, Colorado
  • Ensign Wholesale Floral – Salt Lake City, UT
  • Dreisbach Wholesale Florists, Inc.
  • Southern Floral Company
  • Kennicott Brothers / Nordlie