Bart Bostoen closed down his nursery in Oostnieuwkerke (Belgium)

Bart Bostoen (32) closed down his potted plant nursery last month as unfavourable prices meant that he was well on his way to losing all of the family’s wealth. The young, Belgian local politician wants to send a message to other growers. “Giving up can be part of entrepreneurship. It doesn’t have to mean shame and failure. If you stop before time has run out, you deserve respect.”

‘That’s it… The last flowers are ready for shipment, the nursery is totally empty… This is the end, the company will cease to exist… It’s over… A decision which was completely my own, I made it last autumn after I’d been pushed into a corner during price negotiations for the umpteenth time… Over and over again, I felt forced to accept the bare minimum and even then, I felt they still wanted to get more off…  Despite offering a quality product (proven several times in the form of various different awards), the focus always remained on the price and that can’t go on for ever.’

That’s the message that Bart Bostoen posted on Facebook on the 23rd of May. The end had come for his nursery.

Role model

We meet Bart while he’s enjoying a Dutch beer on a terrace in ‘s-Gravenzande, during the week of FlowerTrials. “Yes, closing down was hard. Absolutely”, acknowledges Bart. That’s why he thinks it’s important to share his story with others. And he feels that as a politician, he has a responsibility as a role model, to show people that giving up can also be part of entrepreneurship. No matter how tough it is, in an industry where companies have been passed on from one generation to the next. An industry characterised by people who are proud and mostly reserved. Especially in Flanders.

Bart: “Flemish growers are too emotionally involved, they’re too narrow-minded. The Flemish floriculturists should have more of the down-to-earthness of the Dutch and the chauvinism of the French. The Flemish aren’t proud people, we’ve always felt oppressed. We’re very much doers. We’ve got a real get-up-and-go mentality. We work until we drop and at the end of the day, we’d rather stay out in the field than sit down to count our money. Most of us haven’t got a very broad view of the world, we tend to take a blinkered view. It would be good to be more rational instead of emotional. But I realise that that’s easier said than done. I’ve struggled with that myself.”

Time has run out

Bart is aware of the fact that his view is a bit broader than that of most floriculturists. The great merit of his work as a politician is that he’s built up a wide network. He’s got friends of all stripes. Also outside his own, liberal party. Civil servants, labourers, educational and healthcare professionals, entrepreneurs from a whole range of sectors… And people from abroad as well.

“That has helped me see that the life I’m currently living, isn’t bad at all. And that’s the story that I want to tell. Giving up doesn’t always have to be considered as a failure and something to be ashamed of, in fact it can be part of entrepreneurship. If you stop before time has run out, you deserve respect. In the United States, failure is considered the proof that you tried. They don’t see it like that in Flanders. But I don’t want to hide from everyone and feel ashamed, I think I should keep my head up high.”

Back to the message on Facebook. To the reason why Bostoen’s nursery had to close down. Bart Bostoen took over the company from his father in 2009 and only a year later, he was facing the consequences of the financial crisis which had started in 2008. Bart: “Consumers were starting to save on floricultural products.”

Potted roses

And consumers’ purchasing behaviour was changing too. Bart: “Young people have no interest in balcony and patio plants. They want everything to be trendy and easy to maintain. No potted roses that need constant watering.” He goes on to discuss another trend, which is that governments are cutting back on public green spaces. “They’re more and more opting for perennials and they want to reduce the maintenance hours.”

The crisis also hit France, an important export country for Belgian floricultural products. “France had already been in a recession for many years. Hollande’s politics pushed many companies to the edge of bankruptcy”, says Bart. “Look at Angers. One horticultural company after another is disappearing. It’s not for nothing that Le Salon du Végétal moved to Nantes and was completely revamped.”

The crisis changed the market from a demand driven into a supply driven one, explains Bart. “As a result, the competition got very tough and it all turned into something that was only about price. The market shrank and the trade tried to increase the market by offering products at lower prices. But that’s a short-term strategy. In the long term, it doesn’t help the industry at all. It just leads to ruthless restructuring.”

Towards the end of the interview, Bart recaps it like this: “We’ve kind of evolved from a warm greenhouse industry into a cold cultivation industry. Also in terms of mentality. It’s all about price. Respect and appreciation are long gone.” Quality no longer played significant role, was Bart’s experience. “I came second twice with my cyclamen in FloraHolland’s quality competition last year. In that regard, my products were certainly not inferior to those of other growers.”

Decision time

Bostoen’s nursery had already been struggling for years because of the financial crisis. The idea of giving up had already been at the back of his mind for a while. And when a breeder knocked on his door last year, it was time to give this idea some serious thought. He offered Bart a job, combining breeding and sales. “I hadn’t decided to give up yet, but his offer really made me think. Life’s got more to offer than what I was getting out of it at that time. I’ve got more skills. I can do more than just focus on cultivation technique. I am eloquent, I have a good appearance, I’ve got knowledge and know how and I have been an entrepreneur for years. And I was born and bred in the floricultural industry. He had confidence in me.”

Bart didn’t accept the job offer, but with regards to giving up the nursery, a seed had been sown now and the idea became reality in the autumn of 2016, after the umpteenth “no” from a wholesaler during contract negotiations. He harvested the last couple of plants last May. He could have continued for a few more years, but decided not to. “My parents and grandparents built up the business during prosperous times. While I was slowly losing all of the family’s wealth. If I’d continued, I would have ended as a completely shattered and poor man.”

Another aspect that played a role is the fact that Bart doesn’t have a wife or any children and no siblings either. “Who are you doing it for then?” If you’re in it with one or more partners, they can take a bit of the weight of your shoulders… But the main reason is still the financial side of things. “If my company had been flourishing, I would have continued. I would have been able to hire someone. I did have my mother helping out (my father passed away last year), but that couldn’t go on for ever, she deserves her well-earned rest. Life’s only short!”

Free market

A question that Bart was asked several times, is whether he, as a liberal, isn’t in favour of a free market? Why is a liberal complaining about the traders and about the game of supply and demand? He agrees that he’s found the limits of the free market economy.

“I’ve been politically active for sixteen years, since I was 16 years old, and I’ve become more nuanced over the years. The liberal ideology doesn’t have all the answers to all the problems in a society. With regards to the agricultural and horticultural industries, I believe that they should be heavily regulated. Especially when it comes to foods, that’s a basic need and shouldn’t be the subject of speculation.”

However, Bart indicates he doesn’t feel vindictive towards the trade, he isn’t looking for any kind of revenge. He says he’s rational about it and he believes that to a certain extent, the ‘survival of the strongest’ applies, but he would like to have an open discussion about the current ethics in the sector. “Everyone has the right to survive, but some people simply don’t have the funds to do so.”


The reactions regarding the closing down of his business were overwhelming. His message on Facebook got hundreds of likes and comments. “And that was on top of all the responses by text, Twitter, WhatsApp and email. It was really phenomenal. But I didn’t hear much from the Flemish side. They tend to be less straightforward anyway, so there might have been some talking behind my back, plus I know that some people didn’t appreciate me openly discussing the problems we’re dealing with in the floricultural industry, but I’m just someone who tends to go to the barricades. People prefer to keep up appearances and pretend that everything is fine… That doesn’t work – if you don’t argue your case, you can’t expect to get any understanding or support in the vocal, highly individualistic world that we’re living in today. Take for example the livestock sector, they know how to deal with this… My mother supported my decision for 200%. Perhaps her, as well as my own, emotions will all come out when it’s time for the demolition. Even my dad said, on his deathbed last year, that I’d better give up.”

The greenhouses, until recently filled with cyclamen, geraniums and other products, will be demolished. The property might be sold. Bart is looking forward to a new life. He doesn’t know yet what he’s going to do exactly. “I jumped and now I’m floating, I don’t know yet into which direction and where I will land”, he says with his great love for metaphors. “I’m hoping for a smooth landing, in one go, without too much turbulence. I feel like I’m discovering the world for the second time.”

Politics is most likely not going to be his choice. “That’s too uncertain”, Bart knows from experience. “Politicians live from election to election. You’ve got to be at a very high level if you want to make a living with it. And the pressure is huge. The viewpoint that seems to prevail throughout Europe is that politicians are just lining their own pockets. People don’t realise how much time and energy it takes. My motivation is based on idealism, passion and because I like being involved! I’m not the kind of guy who wants to make the world a better place while having a beer in the pub, I’m someone who wants to take action, roll up his sleeves and actually do something to make the world a better place. It would be nice if I could turn my hobby into my profession, but at the moment I don’t see any opportunities to make that happen.”

Bart feels that he’ll probably still work in the floricultural industry. “It’s too early to say anything for sure, but I do expect that that will be the case. I was born and bred in this industry, that’s not something you simply discard.”


Bart feels relieved. He feels free now. “The company really limited me in a way. Last week, I met a couple of friends for lunch in the centre of Ghent. The place was full of life. I was feeling guilty, thinking things like “I’ve got to be at the nursery, I’ve got to work.” But I could see a different world out there. I don’t mean that people shouldn’t be working, but maybe a bit of a change would be good; I sometimes feel that we, floriculturists, never get to enjoy ourselves… I did miss out on a lot of things during all those years I spent in the greenhouse!”

Bart wants to end on a positive note, because he says he’s no longer holding a grudge or feeling resentful towards the floricultural industry; he’s left the rollercoaster of emotions behind. “But the industry has been struggling for several years now. There’s no point in denying that. There will probably be more nurseries closing down and after that, things will pick up again”, is his prediction. “There’s always going to be a demand for plants and flowers. They will always be linked to life’s turning points, but perhaps in a different form or shape. Plants and flowers love people and the other way around. Plants and flowers provide people with love and a bit of colour in their lives. Just like with fashion, these things come in waves, and at the moment there’s a strong interest in authenticity and wanting to be in harmony with nature.”



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