“Ring, ring”, goes the phone when we interview Freek and Martin van der Velden. It seems anachronistic, given that this pot plant nursery grows its Gerberas 100% automatically. Pretty cool for a family business with over 100 years on the clock.
From cut roses and vegetables to potted Gerberas
More than a century ago, in 1914, Gerard van der Velden started growing vegetables. A few decades later, he switched to cut roses. It’s clearly in the genes as the nursery has remained in the family for generation after generation. “I’ve been working here since I was sixteen,” says Freek van der Velden proudly. “I had myself declared of legal age so that when I reached 20, I could run the nursery with my father and brother Arie.”
Today, history is repeating itself and his son Martin is sitting next to him. His brother Arie has since gone into business himself. The vegetables and later also the roses made way for potted Gerberas. “It’s purely coincidental,” explains Freek. “In 1993, a new lighting technique was introduced in the cut roses sector. This required an additional investment that our company was too small for at the time. At that point, our neighbour’s nursery came up for sale and we took it over. He mainly grew potted Gerberas and so we started to specialise in this area.”
Compliments from Decorum
The second pivotal moment came in 2003. At this point, van der Velden invested in a new, future-oriented nursery. New expansions followed in 2007 and 2018. Today, the nursery is 6.5 hectares in size. “In addition to Gerberas, we now also grow seasonal plants such as Sundayz, Agapanthus and Garvinea. In the winter period, we supplement our range with Helleborus and Poinsettia.”
Things are going well for them. Together with around fifty other Dutch growers, van der Velden forms part of Decorum. A quality mark which stems from years of investing in top quality.
“We do the utmost for our clients,” explains Freek. “Would the client like a trailer or a single tray, in one colour or mixed? Do they want plants of a certain size…? We can supply anything the client asks for. Nothing is too difficult for us. We are also flexible when it comes to added value.”
Digitisation as the key to growth
This far-reaching client orientation is a trademark of the nursery, Customisation is only possible if you have a lot of hands or focus on automation. And the nursery has invested heavily in the latter.
“Our potted Gerberas are grown fully automatically and assessed for 40 different grades via a camera system. The plants then go to the packing stations in line with these subdivisions, where they can be delivered according to the client’s wishes by size, number of flowers, mixed or by colour. This is why we can supply plants in a single colour, which gives us an advantage over other nurseries. Digitisation is one thing, but it’s not easy to achieve top quality. Martin and I keep a close eye on the entire process and make adjustments if necessary.”
Minimising the environmental impact
Innovation often goes hand in hand with sustainability. So how does van der Velden nursery view this? “We try to grow everything as efficiently as possible and in an environmentally friendly way. As a result, we have all the certificates required. We also reuse all our water and don’t discharge polluted water. Everything is filtered and disinfected. Our cultivation pots are made of recycled material. We use as many paper sleeves as possible, unless the clients requests otherwise. We grow mainly organically. In the summer, this doesn’t always work out and we sometimes have to intervene chemically. But we keep looking for ways to prevent this.”
“I enjoy working with like-minded people, people who go for quality rather than the lowest price.”Freek van der Velden
A permanent fixture at each Floréac open day
The year 1993, when the nursery definitively switched to Gerberas, also marked the starting point of the cooperation with Floréac. “I greatly appreciate our cooperation. I enjoy working with like-minded people, people who go for quality rather than the lowest price. In addition, there’s an extremely good click with the team. Every year, when the open days still existed, we really looked forward to them. We had to miss out twice. Once because we were stuck in traffic for hours and once because we got the day wrong.” (he laughs)
And now, the fourth generation…
The future of van der Velden nursery is assured. We ask Martin, now the fourth generation, what he thinks the trends are these days. “Today, as a nursery, you can no longer survive on one crop alone. You have to produce all year round or you will fall by the wayside. That’s why we grow Helleborus in the autumn, Agapanthus from March to May, and Garvineas from week 15 to week 25.”