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Growth through courage, curiosity and love of nature

Developing. Devotion. Daring. The intro on the website of The Mastergrowers might be short, but the company’s ambitions go a long way. As master Hydrangea growers, they aim to be the most innovative supplier for the top end of the indoor Hydrangea market. How they achieve this? Firstly, by working together. Secondly, by colouring outside the lines. Master grower Robin van Dijk explains.


The perfect match: Dijk van Dijk & De Bonfut

Although the name ‘The Mastergrowers’ is new, their devotion to their trade goes back generations. Because The Mastergrowers grew out of a merger between the nurseries Dijk van Dijk and De Bonfut. “A perfect fit,” according to Robin van Dijk. He takes us back to the roots of the merger. “I joined my father and uncle’s business in 2000. For many years, Dijk van Dijk specialised in growing Hydrangeas in pot size 14. Over the years, we took control of the entire process. From breeding, cuttings and young plants to flowering plants. De Bonfut nursery had been a client of ours for about eight years. They were the market leader in small pot sizes.” 

“About seven years ago, Dijk van Dijk decided to tackle the production of the starting material for small pot sizes together with De Bonfut. That’s how BD Youngplants B.V. was born.” 

The first seed of a collaboration had been sown. Still, it took a while before a real merger occurred. “An idea always needs some time to mature, but when Henny Zwinkels – Erik’s uncle and founder of De Bonfut – decided to take a step back, it became clear to us. Why not join forces? This would allow us to meet the entire range of demands for indoor Hydrangeas. You can also achieve much more in terms of marketing and digitalisation on a large scale.”


Sharing knowledge

The merger became a reality at the end of last year. But how did they come up with the new masterful name? “Dijk van Dijk had already been using the ‘master grower’ concept. For me, the name primarily refers to the craft, the profession. But also to sharing knowledge. Working together and sharing insights is what lets you move forward. And I’m not just talking about the collaboration between me and Erik, but also the collaboration with other growers, breeders, suppliers and customers. And the collaboration between colleagues. Everyone is an indispensable link in a well-oiled machine. You are each other’s master, so to speak.”

So collaboration is a must. For Robin, that’s the core of innovation.  It’s also why he finds the collaboration with Floréac so valuable. “It goes back as long as I can remember. For us, they’re the perfect match, because we want to supply the top end of the market with our range and Floréac has the right clients to do so. It’s thanks to them that our Hydrangeas are available under the prestigious French brand SILENCE, ça pousse!, for example.”


Dare to innovate

One of the strengths of The Mastergrowers is that they manage the entire process themselves. For clients, this means a wide and highly varied range that is available on a continuous basis. But what really sets them apart is their daring. Innovation is their driving force. The range can always be improved and concepts are continuously renewed. Robin uses two innovations to illustrate this point.

“We focus on breeding varieties that are so vigorous they don’t need supports. By nature, they’re strong enough to stand upright.” 

“Another innovation is reblooming. Especially for outdoor cultivation, this solves two important problems. The first is cutting them back too far, something lots of gardeners do. They don’t always know that the flower buds are formed the year before. Often, overzealous gardeners who prune their Hydrangeas in early spring will unknowingly cut off these young flower buds. Night frost is a second issue. This too reduces the flower buds’ chance of survival. The result: no flowers in summer. A reblooming Hydrangea produces its flower buds in spring, while the plant is growing. As a result, the plants are protected against overzealous gardeners and night frost.”

Patience, persistence, perfection

The results of this kind of breeding cannot be achieved in a few days. On average, it takes around 8 years, sometimes even 14. It’s a process of trial and error. That’s also why I find breeding so exciting. To me, it’s almost like a treasure hunt. Every morning, I walk among our plants with great curiosity. Which one will live up to its promise?”

The following anecdote shows that The Mastergrowers like to colour outside the lines. “Four years ago, we held an open day at Dijk van Dijk. We had invited a well-known barbecue chef for this. As a gimmick, we had created a SMOKED Hydrangea. A white hydrangea we had treated in a way that made it look charred. The reactions were so positive that we marketed it for a while.”

Sustainable mastery

A touch of frivolity they like to roll out from time to time. But in the end, the plant takes centre stage. Love of the product and respect for nature. The Mastergrowers devote a great deal of attention to sustainable cultivation. “The basis of our pest control is organic. We only intervene chemically if it really can’t be avoided. We also try to reduce our use of plastic as much as possible. We don’t wrap our products in a sleeve, for example. This also offers advantages for our clients, because they can place the plant on the presentation table just as it is. Our labels are made of paper and because we focus on sturdy species, we no longer need sticks and rings for these plants.”

Nailing their colours to the mast

Sustainability in all its forms. The nursery will be focusing even more on this in the future. So what else does van Dijk think the future will bring? “The indoor/outdoor experience trend will certainly continue. The Hydrangea is an ideal fit for it, as the plant comes into its own both indoors and outdoors. I’m also noticing that young consumers have discovered plants. I think that trend will stick around too. And even though the current trend is mostly green, you also notice that colour is gaining in popularity. I’m sure the Hydrangea will gain even more ground soon.”

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