Growing up in the famous Westland greenhouse district of Holland, Jan Prins began working in his family’s flower greenhouses at a young age. When he and his wife Fabiola emigrated to Canada 14 years ago, there was no question that they were going to continue in the family tradition.
Today, the couple runs North America’s only commercial amaryllis greenhouse business near Jordan Station, Ontario. While most Canadians know amaryllis as a potted plant, the Prins grow them as cut flowers. During the busy holiday season, they’ll provide up to 200,000 majestic amaryllis stalks (from 120,000 bulbs) to grocery stores, wholesalers and florist shops for Christmas bouquets and décor.
The amaryllis was added to their business ten years ago as a compliment to their other crop, statice, a small decorative flower used in bouquets. At the time, they were looking to expand by finding a flower that would grow in a different season to the statice as well as one that wasn’t commonly grown in Ontario.
They grow seven varieties including three shades of red, white, a two-tone and a salmon coloured plant. Red Lion continues to be the most popular variety but they’re experimenting with new kinds all of the time including a mini version that’s ready for Valentine’s Day arrangements.
It’s taken a while for Canadians to catch on to the concept of amaryllis as a cut flower but its popularity is increasing. “It’s hard to introduce a new flower to Canada but once people buy it once and see its beauty, they’re quick to repurchase it,” Fabiola said.
Lynda Reeves, host of the popular House and Home television show, is one such fan. After meeting Reeves a few years ago, Fabiola sent her a bouquet. Reeves now orders flowers from the couple for her show and to give as gifts.
Like all crops, it takes a great deal of effort and close attention to grow amaryllis. The bulbs must be carefully watered and fertilized throughout the year with specific cooling and warming periods so that they’re primed to bloom during the festive season.
The bulbs are grown in pots filled with clay pellets. Every four years, all of the beds are sterilized and all of the bulbs boiled and disinfected before being reused. At that time, Jan and his staff check the size and root structure of each bulb carefully before deciding whether to reuse it.
Replacement bulbs are sourced in Holland which is also the location of the world’s foremost amaryllis crop consultant. With the help of modern technology, this consultant monitors the Prins’ greenhouse online and will contact them if he thinks the beds are too wet, too dry or if the temperature in the greenhouse needs adjusted.
The Prins have also adopted a Dutch hydroponic system and have modified it to work with Ontario’s climate. Since introducing the system, they’re losing fewer bulbs to disease and have seen an increase in flower size and quality. This innovation recently won them a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence, given by the Ontario government.
Seven days a week in November and December, the Prins and their staff start harvest by 7 a.m., documenting every flower cut from each bed. This helps them to monitor for problems. “If they’re not producing well, there’s something wrong,” explained Jan. When their daughters Fay (10) and Sarah (12) aren’t in school, they enjoy working alongside their parents in the family business.
Fabiola and Jan get a great deal of satisfaction from growing a crop as beautiful as theirs and knowing they’re helping Canadians to decorate their homes for Christmas. “They’re an amazing flower,” Fabiola said. “It’s so easy to make an amazing arrangement from something as simple as a few stalks.”