Lilac growing: a sweet-scented heritage

Lilac cultivation is a classic Dutch activity, and is part of our cultural heritage. Many lilac growers are getting on in years. And there is not always a successor ready to take over the baton. But they do exist: young growers who are continuing with this remarkable crop. Flower stylist Elize Eveleens set out with photographer Wilfried Overwater to find those who are still carrying on for a photo reportage.

Ode to the growers
The number of lilac growers is declining. Flower stylist Elize Eveleens set out with photographer Wilfried Overwater to find those who are still carrying on for a photo reportage: an ode to the men in the cold fields and the warm greenhouse. “Lilac growing is a way of life. One grower had just stopped at the age of eighty!” says Elize. “Often there is no successor. But I don’t think that lilac growing will disappear from Aalsmeer. I also came across young people who are choosing to do it. I expect that a couple of large nurseries will survive.”

Typical Aalsmeer
Lilacs have been grown in and around Aalsmeer since the 19th century as a forced shrub. The lilacs are thereby brought into bloom early. The peaty soil around Aalsmeer is very suitable for growing lilacs. The shrubs form a good root ball in the peat, and that’s important for the journey that the plants will be making.

From island to greenhouse
The lilac shrubs grow on islands in the Westeiderplassen Lakes, where they are looked after well. When it’s still the depths of winter the first shrubs – with root ball – are transferred from the field to the warm greenhouse. That transportation is by water, which results in idyllic sights. In the greenhouse the temperature is raised, as a result of which the lilacs start to bloom after about three weeks. Once the sweet-scented branches of flowers have been harvested, the shrubs are taken back to the field (where they re-establish themselves in the soil). It’s physically hard work, even though tools such as carts and hydraulic lifts are used.

Tip

The shrubs can survive over a hundred years. Lilac flowers grow on second year growth, as a result of which they can be harvested once every two years.

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