“Organic is the future” says summer flowers grower Annemieke de Haan
Annemieke de Haan (47) is an organic summer flowers grower in Hillegom. She has a pick-your-own garden covering 3.000 m2 that shares personnel and mechanisation with the summer flowers nursery of her husband, Pieter Damen (51). They cultivate an extensive assortment, from dahlia to scabiosa.
They told me I was crazy when I started a pick-your-own garden here. I didn't think it was such a bad idea. There was no pick-your-own garden for miles, but lots of tourists. What can be more fun than looking and picking? That's not allowed at Keukenhof.
I wanted a change in 2009. I had been working in psychiatric care, but it was time for something else. At first, I thought of my husband Pieter's nursery, but it ended up being my own patch of ground next to the nursery. I didn't entirely leave my old career behind, both I and my husband employ people with a disadvantage on the job market as it's called now.
At the organic market
Annemieke's Picking Garden began purely as a feel-good company. It may only occupy a corner of the nursery, but it is a serious enterprise. I cultivate organic summer flowers, and I arrange the marketing myself. Not only can people come here to pick for themselves, I also have a stand at the organic markets in Haarlem, Amsterdam and Utrecht. My supply is wide-ranging, everything that the Bulb Region has to offer in flowers can be picked here.
On the market I often hear enthusiastic reactions to the bouquets, I have my own style. It can be colourful and with stems of different lengths. I prefer flowers that are not uniform. It's quite strange, really, that the trade does not ask for them as florist shops are always looking for crooked or special flowers.
It is pioneering work
It had to be organic. That fits with my attitude towards life. To me, it's a real mission, we must take good care of the planet. It is pioneering work, I try everything out, see what cultivation method is needed, whether it flourishes, how it might be possible to force it, and how diseases and pests can be dealt with organically.
I explain to the customers who come to pick here or buy my bouquets that the sector doesn't just spray everything. And that I do use pesticide, just not chemical ones. They all have a natural basis. The Netherlands is lagging behind in terms of organic flower cultivation, while there is such a huge demand for the product. Organic is the future, sustainability is important.
Always something to do
As far as I'm concerned, everyone could start a pick-you-own garden. There is always something to do. And there is plenty of room in the market. A logo, a website, a patch of ground and seeds, and you are ready to start. But take care, it doesn't happen by itself. Fellow growers and visitors are often mistaken about the amount of work involved, certainly in organic cultivation. But… it's such an amazing feeling. It makes people happy, the staff is satisfied, and that makes me happy.