Tulip grower Christoph Pieters was very happy with the pick-your-own garden in Antwerp

The official opening of the cut-tulip season on the third Saturday in January has gained international traction. In addition to the pick-your-own tulip garden on Dam Square in Amsterdam – the 7th edition was held last Saturday – there was special attention for the tulip in Berlin and Antwerp, too. In Germany, a mini tulip garden toured the city of Berlin on a bicycle. In Belgium, a pick-your-own garden appeared in front of the train station of Antwerp. It consisted of 100,000 tulips supplied by tulip forcer Christoph Pieters of Tuliflor.

Were you happy with this very first, pick-your-own garden in Antwerp?

“Yes, very happy. It was so nice to see people enjoying picking their flowers. It was a rainy day, but that didn’t seem to bother people. They started off very carefully, picking the most beautiful flowers from the planters. Towards the end, people were still delighted to take home whatever was leftover.”

Are you going do it again next year?

“Evaluations are still underway. But 4,500 visitors and a lot of media attention sounds like a good result to me. My job consisted of producing 100,000 tulips that could be picked. The initiative, the finances and the organisation were all in the hands of the Flemish marketing centre for agriculture and fishery (VLAM) and the Federation of floriculture and greenery (AVBS). Their aim is to promote plants and flowers from Flanders through various events. VLAM also has a website with a wealth of information: groenvanbijons.be. They might choose a different crop next time, but hopefully it will still include planters of tulips.”

What was the role of Tulip Promotion Netherlands (TPN)?

“They gave us a detailed plan for the pick-your-own garden and two people from TPN assisted all day last Saturday, which really helped for a smooth running of the event. TPN also got various Belgian florists and garden centres involved in Tulip Day by supplying POS-materials and mini pick-your-own gardens.”

National broadcasting channel VRT reported on the event. Did you feel proud?

“Of course we did. Positive attention for plants and flowers is always welcome. When it comes to promotion, the sector has to work together as one. Rudi De Kerpel, chairman of VLAM, had already suggested the idea of a pick-your-own garden a while ago. It was great to see it finally happen.”

De Kerpel said on TV that Belgian tulips are better than Dutch tulips?

“He didn’t mean it like that – his enthusiasm for Flemish flowers must have taken over. There are around 40 cut-flower growers in Flanders. Fifteen of those companies focus on tulip forcing. Our company, Tuliflor, is by far the biggest, with a production of 50 million stems per year. The second biggest has an annual production of 200,000. Most of our colleagues sell mainly to companies, individuals, traders and through the auction in Belgium. We sell 35 million of our tulips through Royal FloraHolland – 50% through the clock and the rest through a variety of intermediary services.”

Does your company also organise its own promotional activities?

“We try to introduce Tuliflor to traders with flyers and brochures. But good product quality is also a form of promotion in itself of course. The target weight for our tulips is 26-30 grams, perfect for the middle segment of the market. The fact that we sell through Royal FloraHolland means that we automatically pay the fees for TPN as well. Coming from Belgium, I’m entitled to a certain reimbursement, but all in all, I’m probably paying more towards promotion in the Netherlands than in my own country. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

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