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The village of Boskoop is the nursery center of Holland. It is a place that is unique in the world.

The soil of Boskoop is a fertile humus of fen soil bounded by dune sand along the North Sea and clay along the Old Rhine, Dutch Yessel, and New Maas Rivers. The soil was derived from the vegetation remains of the old lagoon of the Rhine and Maas Rivers.

bfrmair.jpg (44582 bytes)Five hundred years ago this forested land was developed and civilized bywml1911.jpg (17939 bytes) a method practiced throughout much of Holland. A section of land was purchased from the crown as an estate. The trees were removed, and a raised road was built with soil removed from a ditch along each side of the road. The land along each side of the road was divided into fifty acre parcels, then sold, and drained with ditches at right angles to the road. Houses were built from the cut down trees, and dikes were constructed to prevent flooding. Since the land was at different elevations, each level was designated a polder, and wind driven pumps (windmills) raised the water from one polder to another until it finally flowed into the ocean.

alock.jpg (18948 bytes)Much of Holland is below sea level, and an elaborate system of canals, dikes,turnbrdg.jpg (24083 bytes) and pumps are constantly at work draining the land and maintaining lock.jpg (19401 bytes)the water table at a constant level. Travel along the canals by boat is still fairly common, and locks are utilized to go from one polder to another.


If a line is drawn from Amsterdam to Rotterdam and another is drawn from The Hague to Utrecht, Boskoop is located at their intersection, along both sides of the River Gouwe. In 1515 Boskoop consisted of 40 houses constructed of wood and thatch. Its location on major land and water routes, its fertile soil, and its enterprising people enabled Boskoop to become boskgdn.jpg (28062 bytes)a commercial center of some prominence. Its development as a nursery center can be traced back to the 1740's when the production and shipment ofboskgdn2.jpg (30256 bytes) strawberries proved so successful that the development of nurseries producing fruit trees and berry plants became the natural next step. By the late 1700's Boskoop was a fruit tree production center of Europe. As time passed, the nurseries expanded into the production of street trees and then hedge type plants.

Export was always very important to Boskoop nurseries since the local demand for nursery products was never very high. Subsequently, Boskoop has two basic types of nurserymen: the Grower and the Grower/Exporter. The nurserymen of Boskoop have formed some rather unique organizations and have exhibited a high degree of trust in their dealings with eachpayday.jpg (27878 bytes) other. For example, until the Second World War, July 1 was a very special day- Annual Pay Day. All of the nurserymen would spend this day in Boskoop paying bills that they had accumulated during the year with other nurserymen or with local tradesmen. The village was very crowded, and all debts were cleared from the books.

Over the past 100 years, Boskoop nurseries have been growing ornamental trees and shrubs. There are about 1000 nurseries in Boskoop on approximately 2,200 acres. Some 900 of these typnsry.jpg (20495 bytes)are growers, and the other 100 are grower/exporters. Almost half of the growers own a nursery of 1-2 acres and are a 1-2 person operation. Many of the bbonboat.jpg (20652 bytes)nurseries are less than one acre, and the owner works it part time while working full time at a larger nursery. Most of the production is sold to the exporter/growers from these small operations.

All exporter/growers have larger nurseries and provide year-round employment in both kortmlnr.jpg (24885 bytes)enterprises, a necessity since seasonal labor is almost non-existent in Boskoop. Each exporter specializes in a certain language or geographical country or region of the world. About 75% of the nursery stock grown in Boskoop is exported from Holland by these companies.

The canals have always been important to these nurserymen. Until recently they were usedlnrsgroot.jpg (23410 bytes) for the transportation of nursery stock. Each nursery is long and narrow, bounded by canals with a narrow path through the center that is just wide enough for a wheelbarrow. The bbboats.jpg (16134 bytes)nursery stock was dug, loaded onto boats, and taken to a temporary storage house. Assembled orders were also loaded onto boats and taken to the train station for shipment to the foreign buyer. Today a number of the canals have been filled in and paved, and trucks have replaced the canal boats.loadrr.jpg (24772 bytes)

weeds.jpg (22845 bytes)The canals still provide drainage for the nurseries and maintain a constant water table. They also help moderate the climate by providing considerable exposed water surface to the atmosphere. Weeds can be collected from the canals and used for fertilizing the fields.

house.jpg (26524 bytes)Until recently, nurserymen dredged soil from the canals to replace soil removed by digging and selling plants from the nursery. A nurseryman was allowed to dredge only from his half of the canal and was not supposed to dig from thedrawbridge.jpg (31474 bytes) neighbor's half. Of course, each nurseryman wanted to dredge as far away from his own land as possible since digging into the base of his ground would remove what is called its toe and cause some of his property to slide into the canal. Today, nurserymen purchase soil from commercial suppliers and have it trucked onto their nurseries.

Construction in Boskoop is very expensive because Boskoop sits on an ancient bog. Construction must either be anchored into the ancient sea bed, which is about 60 feet deep in this area, or "float" in place on the bog on a special kind of raft. Until fairly recently, heavy structures were built on the top of alternating layers of logs (which float) and cow hidespilings.jpg (15944 bytes) (which seal out the water). Even some old cathedrals were built in this manner. Gouda Cathedral is an example. Modern pilingstop.jpg (23377 bytes)structures are built on pilings driven into the old sea floor which is good, hard sand. There is no fear of the structure gradually sinking or twisting. Some of the newest structures are built on a thick layer of light concrete, which keeps it afloat. Even greenhouses need to be built in this manner, making them very costly.

Before I mention anything about the techniques of nursery production, I want to describe a few of the interesting and unique organizations of the Boskoop nurseries.

The small growers (1 or 2 person nurseries) have a member Auxiliary Help Association. All members commit to help any fellow member in time of need. The members will provide labor on a rotating basis to any member who exhibits such a need. If a person cannot work his nursery, three days of work per week will be provided by two members of the Association until the owner can resume his own duties. If the owner of a nursery dies, the Association will provide up to 35 weeks of assistance while also helping to sell the nursery.

The Nursery Exchange is very fascinating and would probably only ever work in Boskoop. The Exchange is a division of the Boskoop Nurserymen's Association and owns a restaurantbuyers.jpg (22215 bytes) and exhibition hall. The hall is used as the Nursery Exchange, meeting the First Tuesday in December and continuing every Tuesday morning until the end of April. Thursday afternoons are added during March and April.

Exporters and growers who belong to the Association make extensive use of the Exchange. Large boards are set up in the hall. Exporters purchase board space and one or two tables. nrsexchng.jpg (23877 bytes)The exporter posts a computer list of plants he needs to fill orders. A pink paper on the board indicates an immediate need for material. Growers come to the exchange, study the lists on the boards, and go to the exporter's table to sell him the needed plants. Agreement is reached about price, quality, and delivery dates. The Association also mediates any disputes that may later arise as a result of any dealings made in the Exchange.

Grower/exporters will have buyers working the tables while the owner, who is also a grower, will be reading the boards to sell any excess stock he has produced to the buyers of other exporter/growers. The catalog of an exporter/grower will include many items he does not grow himself but which he knows he can obtain at the Exchange.

The Exchange allows exporters to be very efficient at filling and shipping orders. Many English buyers purchase stock from Boskoop because delivery is so much faster. The Boskoop exporter can obtain the needed material from a number of growers at the Exchange and have it delivered to his packing house the next day, with the shipment sent out that same day.

boat.jpg (13176 bytes)The exporter notifies the grower as to the date the plants are to be brought to the packing house and exactly where to put them in the packing house. A packing house has a number of bins for assembling orders. Each bin is numbered to coincide with a specific customer. The grower delivers plants and places them in the appropriately numbered bin. In a larger packing house with several entrances, thepkghouse.jpg (26613 bytes) grower is even told which number door to use for easiest access to the proper bin. When a customer comes to Boskoop for his order, he simply drives up to the bin and his truck is loaded. If he has purchased items from several exporters, he must go from one to another until he has picked up all of his plants. During shipping season, trucks fill the narrow streets of Boskoop.

The Nursery Exchange also maintains a computer list of plant availabilities that is updated by members every ten days, either via modem directly to the computer or via a completed questionnaire. Periodically copies are sent to all members.

The International Trade Center was recently constructed on the outskirts of Boskoop. It consists of two major sections. A very large building at the center of the complex contains space for exporters to assemble orders. Each exporter has his packing facilities in his area of this building, and growers deliver plants here for the exporters to assemble into shipments. The system of bins is utilized, and growers do not have to drive to various parts of Boskoop when making multiple deliveries. When the customer comes to pick up his order, he too can visit several exporters without driving all over Boskoop.

Along the roads surrounding the main building are a considerable number of businesses selling plants and horticultural supplies. These businesses deal with landscapersedobonsai.jpg (36565 bytes) and local nurserymen. One shop is Edo Bonsai, with plants ranging in price from $10.00 to several thousand dollars. Statuary for Japanese gardens and Bonsai containers in the thousands were found throughout the store.

There are mixed feelings about the Trade Center among the local exporters and growers. The main concern seems to be about the costs to the exporters who utilize the main building for assembling plant shipments. The village of Boskoop, however, is hopeful that the Center will be a success and will greatly reduce spring truck traffic in the community.

In 1916 a number of Boskoop growers came together to sell a portion of their product by the auction system, following the procedures initiated by the flower and vegetable growers. They formed The Boskoop Horticultural Auction Association and utilized the auction clock system for selling their products. Today the organization has over 240 members who are all independent growers marketing produce through a Cash and Carry System, strictly on a wholesale basis to landscapers, garden centers, and nursery product buyers from throughout Europe.

The Cash and Carry Center is in Boskoop on a large, flat section or ground. The sales area is divided into more than 200 plots, with each member having a plot to display his product. nrscoop.jpg (17896 bytes)Everything in a plot is named, labeled, and priced. The plots are located along wide walkways, which are separated by paved roads. Some of the plots are set up for B&B plants while others are for containerized material. A buyer can walk along the plots and choose plants and pull them out onto the walkway. When he has made his selections, a clerk, using an off-line computer, tallies the plants and prepares an invoice. Sold plants are automatically credited to the proper accounts.

A buyer with good credit will have up to two weeks to pay for his plants. The members of the co-op receive a statement about every two weeks with receipts for plants that have been sold from their plots. Members are expected to check their plots regularly and keep them well stocked with good quality material. Members pay a 12 1/2% sales commission and are expected to do a minimum of about $15,000 in sales.

coop2.jpg (29530 bytes)Anyone visiting Boskoop can receive an excellent education about the wide range of plant materials produced in this area by visiting this Cash and Carry Center. Even though the busy spring season was still a few weeks away when I first visited, there was a nice selection of material on display. When the plots are filled, this place becomes a virtual candy store to the visiting buyers.

restat.jpg (30519 bytes)The Agricultural Research Station is a vital facility for the Boskoop growers.jchaurears.jpg (31897 bytes) It is a constant source of new plants for the local nursery trade. New plants are developed at the station or are brought into the station from other parts of the world. These new plants are grown on a trial basis at the station and are constantly evaluated by a committee made up of growers and researchers. When a plant is deemed to have sufficient merit for introduction into the nursery trade, it is propagated and sold to interested growers on an apportioned basis.

A visit to Boskoop is a treat for any serious nurseryman. The canals add a distinct charm to lrgcanal.jpg (19213 bytes)the village and a uniqueness to the many nurseries. The nurseries are small in acreage, the plants are small in size, but the people are generous in their willingness to share their time and nursery practices with a visitor from America.

salix.jpg (25988 bytes)The first nursery I visited, van Vliet Brothers, had thousands of long, thin willow branchesneighbgroot.jpg (21559 bytes) tied into bundles of one hundred, ten feet long, leaning against a large warehouse. Upon inquiry I discovered that they were being used as understocks for Salix cuprea 'Pendula'. A branch would be cut to a specific length of 3' to 10' with the scion grafted at the top. The branch would be put in a pot and the whole thing put into a greenhouse, where the branch would root while the scion knits to it. The success rate is always near 100%.

My host, Arie van Vliet (no relation to the van Vliet brothers), and I then accompanied one of the brothers to his stock block location to see some parent plants. It is interesting to note thatbros.jpg (21225 bytes) this nursery's major business is selling scion wood to other nurseries. The market is quite good for this product. For example, they sold over 60,000 unrooted cuttings of Salix cuprea 'Pendula' this past season, and it is only one of many different items that they offer.

outhouse.jpg (32113 bytes)In their stock blocks was a large planting of Corylus avellana 'Contorta'. About half of the plants were heavily suckered while the others had few basal suckers. The difference was due to the understock. Corylus calluna, the Turkish hazel, does very little suckering. Its only drawback appears to be its higher price.

At the nursery of Mr. Koemans, I observed the grafting of Japanese maples. In fact, I saw Japanese maples being grafted at a number of nurseries, all by the same method.

Understocks are imported from Japan. Even though they are more expensive, they are superior to the ones grown locally. The wood is considerably harder, apparently due to a deeper dormancy during the winter. The caliper is about the same as a person's little finger. This understock arrives about mid-February. It is potted into clay pots with a peat-richacergraft.jpg (20285 bytes) potting soil. The understock is cut off about 2 to 3 inches above the pot, and a scion is immediately attached with a veneer graft. (The propagators I talked to like to have both the understock and scion at the same stage of dormancy.) The narrow, blue band is tightly wrapped with many gaps and the wound is not sealed.

acertent.jpg (22522 bytes)The pots are laid in a bed at about a 30 degree angle and covered with peat moss. They are covered with plastic that is supported with curved wires. The house is heated to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. About three weeks later, the grafts are moved to a cooler greenhouse to slow the growth of the new foliage (which starts in about two weeks). 2wkacer.jpg (17106 bytes)The new foliage grows from both the scion and the understock at the same time. If the success rate is less than 95%, the grower becomes very upset. I looked under the poly in several different houses and could not find a bad graft.

European beech, Fagus sylvatica is grafted much the same way as Acer palmatum with onebechgft.jpg (30783 bytes) exception. The graft is made first and then the plant is potted into a clay pot and tented. The scions are about one foot long, and the understock is almost the thickness of a thumb. I observed this process at several nurseries.

It is interesting to note that the Dutch nurserymen pot conifer understocks a cnfgft.jpg (29531 bytes)year in advance and tent them like the maples and beeches after grafting. But the success rate seems to run only a little better than fifty per cent. Perhaps the same factors that aid in successful deciduous grafts work against winter grafted conifers.

Mr. Koemans also showed me a number of Picea pungens grafts that were done the past summer. He likes to do most of his spruce and fir grafts in August since it spreads the grafting season out over a longer period of time, and the success rate is higher than for winter grafts.

A nursery next door to Koeman's nursery is Firma C. Esveld, famous for theesveldplts.jpg (33014 bytes) esveld.jpg (26761 bytes)aceretum of its owners, Dick and Hildie van Gelderen. Esveld sells wholesale internationally and retail to local customers. A wide range of Boskoop grown nursery stock may be seen and purchased at this nursery.

Boskoop is well worth a visit by any plant lover who is travelling through Holland. The nurseries are unique and the industrious people are friendly.


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