Meet Ben, our flower bulb specialist.

DutchGrown is runned and operated by Ben & Pete Rotteveel. Please meet Ben by reading this interview he had with Tom Castronovo from The Gardener News Magazine.

I had a very nice introduction to Ben Rotteveel recently. He and his family members have been supplying and growing flowering bulbs for over 134 years. Right out of the gate he said to me, “there's nothing easier to grow or more rewarding to grow then beautiful bulbs from Holland.” I liked this guy already.

As an avid gardener myself and a former landscape professional by trade, I know that flowering bulbs require little garden area and can be planted in annual or perennial flower beds, among shrubs, under trees, and in practically every area of the landscape. And that flowering bulbs offer a multitude of opportunities for brightening a home or an office building landscape.

Most flowering bulbs prefer a well-drained, sandy loam soil, ideally with moderate amounts of organic matter. Nothing will cause flowering bulbs to deteriorate as quickly as poorly drained soil.

The most important environmental factor to consider in locating flowering bulb plantings in the landscape is light level. Make sure you provide full sun or partial shade as the particular species requires.

Flowering bulbs can be typically planted as either formal or informal garden beds, or they may be naturalized. As a general rule, bedded flowering bulbs look best in informal groups, unless the overall landscape character demands a formal treatment. Try to avoid a small number of bulbs planted individually or in straight rows. Mass plantings are far superior, visually. An exception to this rule of thumb is in a rock garden setting.

I’ve always been told that the best bulbs come from reputable businesses. And since Ben’s family business, DutchGrown has one of the best reputations in the industry and he’s the guy who supplies the flowering bulbs to the Vatican in Rome for the Easter celebration, I was honored to meet him. So, in my own stylish fashion, I introduced the Gardener News to him and asked if it was ok to interview him.

Below are some of the questions I presented.

How did you get into the flowering bulb industry?
I was more or less born and bred into it! My family has been growing and exporting flowering bulbs for four generations and I grew up helping out on the family farm. I still remember working in the tulip fields as a child, cutting off the bloom heads so that the bulbs energy goes back into the bulb, not the flower head, so a larger bulb can be harvested later. Even though I learned about the flowering bulb industry from my studies at school, a great deal of knowledge came through hands on experience. My families company was founded 1882 and we are one of the oldest most respected, wholesale flower bulb exporters in the Netherlands, supplying to greenhouse growers, landscapers, botanical gardens, garden centers and independent gardeners worldwide.

Who works alongside you?
The company is runned by myself and my brother Pete. We joke about our children being old enough to help out in the warehouse in the near future!

Where is your location in Holland?
We’re located right in the middle of what is called the "flower bulb district” in Holland. Our family farm is in the middle of the famous flower bulb fields that are visited and photographed by tourists from all over the world each spring. In the summer, it’s digging time and by August we have inspected and packed our entire flower bulb harvest for shipment to the USA. We distribute our bulbs in the USA from our warehouse in West Chester, PA.

How long is the journey from Holland to the USA for the bulbs?
It takes approximately 2 weeks by boat from the harbor located in the city of Rotterdam in Holland to the New York City harbor.

How are they packaged?
In temperature controlled containers.

How do you force flowering bulbs?
Most flowering bulbs need a winter cold period. If you want to force bulbs you have to trick the bulbs into thinking that they have spent a winter in the cold, hard ground. Store them for a minimum of 12 weeks at around 40 degrees F. When you take them out of cold storage, the flowering bulbs will think that winter is over and will start to bloom.

When is the best time to plant flowering bulbs?
The best time to plant flowering bulbs is in the fall. Be sure to plant your flowering bulbs before frost sets in because it’s hard to plant them once the ground is frozen solid! In the southern states you can plant your flowering bulbs through January.

What is the most important piece of advice you can give me for growing flowering bulbs?
The most important thing is to plant them in soil that has good drainage.

What determines the level of quality of a flowering bulb and does it really matter?
Flowering bulb quality is determined by its size. And when it comes to flowering bulbs, size really does matter. The bigger it is, the better the quality, the bigger the flowers, and the more chance it has of flowering year after year.

Do tulips come back every year, and what about the other types of bulbs?
Tulips are not perennials. They tend to come back some years but every year the energy of the bulb gets less and less. So the flower gets tinier every year. If you are looking for flowering bulbs that are easy to naturalize, you’ve got to go for daffodils, muscari, allium, snowdrops or crocus.

Do all flowering bulbs grow in the spring?
Most of them, yes. There are some exceptions like the famous Saffron crocus (crocus sativus).

Which type of bulbs attract butterflies?
Butterflies like the nectar of flowers and some in particular more than others. If you like butterflies in your garden go for alliums, which produce a lot of nectar. Allium ‘Globemaster’, for example, it produces big round flowers which are really a feast for butterflies. The little brother of the Globemaster is Allium ‘Purple Sensation’. Although Purple Sensation produces smaller flowers than Globemaster, butterflies still like it as a good snack. Also a very affordable butterfly attractor is Allium ‘Sphaerocephalon’, also known as the drumstick allium.

Which flowering bulbs have the most fragrance?
All hyacinths give you the great smell of spring and in winter time the famous indoor narcissus paperwhites will fill your holiday season with a lots of scent. But be warned that the fragrance of paperwhites is typically something people either love or hate!

Can you offer me some of your secret flowering bulb planting tips?
For a dramatic effect, try planting only one single variety. To elongate the flowering period you can plant early, midseason, and late-season varieties of the same type of flowering bulb and group them by bloom season. After flowering is finished, let the foliage yellow naturally before cutting it back, and plant annual flowers such as vinca flower or sunpatiens in the bed to provide summer color. Be careful digging in the flowerbed so not to disturb the flowering bulbs that may already be in there. For a longer show, you can plant two types of flowering bulbs on top of each other in the same bed. For example crocus on top of daffodils.

I understand that your family supplies the flowering bulbs to the Vatican for Easter. Are you personally involved?
Yes. My family and I travel each year to Vatican City, the papal enclave inside Rome to assist with the setup in St Peter’s Square. It’s a special experience for us every year.

Have you ever met the Pope?
Yes. I had had the honor to meet Pope Francis last year.

Do you grow all your flowering bulbs yourself in the Netherlands?
No, it's impossible to grow all the many different varieties that our customers request on one single farm! We do grow some varieties ourselves but we also buy our flowering bulbs from other growers in Holland. There are hundreds of specialty flowering bulb growers in Holland. For example: We get our fritillaria bulbs from a small scale family farm in Holland who only grows fritillaria and has so much love and dedication to just this particular species. In this way we make sure to get the best quality for every item our families business handles.

Are there deer and rodent resistant flowering bulbs?
Luckily there are a lot of bulbs that deer and rodents don’t prefer to eat. All members of the amaryllis family (including daffodils, snowdrops and snowflakes). These bulbs and flowers contain a bitter and poisonous substance called lycorine. Deer will generally leave alliums alone as well. Crocuses, grape hyacinth and chiondoxa are other safe bets when it comes to deer cuisine. If you live in an area with pesky critters, place a layer of chick wire on top of the bulbs before covering them over with soil. This should help protect them from being dug up.

Do you see a change in the way gardeners are bulb gardening?
Yes. There is a big change going on. People are now a days much more aware of the environment.

Ben also told me that his family offers unusual, exclusive, hard to get, newly introduced and rare flowering bulb varieties. And that their flowering bulbs are meticulously inspected at every stage, from diligent disease control during the growing stage through to careful handling during packaging. He also stressed to me that the quality of all their flowering bulbs far exceeds industry standards.

(Interview by Tom Castronovo - The Gardener News)

Click here to read to original interview.