01 September 2010
In 2006, Dutch pot lily grower Wetering Pot Lilium teamed up with breeder Mak Breeding to create pot lilies with stunning looks. Since then, the Den Hoorn-based company has evolved from a mainstream grower of greenhouse pot lilies into a company which is directly involved with the breeding process, bulb production and marketing of its pot lilies. As owner of thirty pot lily varieties, which are sold under the brand name Lily Looks, the company has not only achieved more independence in the market but has also upgraded the pot lily market with exclusive products.
It’s all about looks. You don’t have to explain that to Peter van de Wetering as a grower of Lily Looks pot lilies. “The quality standards are even higher than in cut lilies. The ideal pot lily has a good shelf life, a uniform growth habit and offers balance and proportion. This creates the perfect relationship between the blooms, the stem and the foliage. And unlike cut lilies, a pot specimen must have broad, green leaves all the way down to the base of the plant and should feature upward facing flowers.”
Tiny, Sunny and Sensation
Varieties that meet the aforementioned specifications are obviously a strong candidate to one day be integrated in the Lilly Looks family which currently consists of three members: Tiny, Sunny and Sensation.
The Tiny Series includes genetically short Asiatic hybrids in six single colours. These Asiatic hybrids have been selected for their excellent performance in patio pots and garden borders. The Sunny series comprises of genetically short, fragrant oriental hybrids with somewhat larger blooms than Tiny pot lilies, while the brand new Sensation series features bicoloured pot lilies which are a big hit in the USA. “The more exclusively looking Oriental hybrids have either pink/purple or white flowers, or are bicoloured. The Asiatic hybrids are frequently yellow or orange whereas longiflorums are generally pure white and renowned for their long, classical cup-shape. In pot lilies the latter does not even represent five percent of the market. As for the breeding work of pot lilies, this is focused on Asiatic and Oriental hybrids with some spectacular double flowered varieties set to be released within two years”, explains Peter van de Wetering, who runs a 27,000 m2 nursery in Den Hoorn, the Netherlands together with his brother Marco.
Wetering Pot Lilium is a family business in the true sense of the word. “The company was founded by our father Cees who started growing vegetables and later cut flowers in Naaldwijk. While attending a show, we spotted the famed ‘Orange Pixie’ pot lily and particularly liked its vibrant orange flowers and its compact habit. So, back in 1989 we started experimenting with pot lilies ourselves. When we took over our father’s company in 1996 we decided to specialise entirely in pot lily with the use of a new, fully automated greenhouse construction in Den Hoorn, which was completed in 2001”, says Peter.
Soon, there was a new era of pot lily growing to come for the Van de Wetering brothers. “In the year 2005 the pot lily reached its commercial peak”, recalls Peter, “It wasn’t that customers had lost interest in the product, there just wasn’t any renewal in the assortment. The varieties ‘Stargazer’ and ‘Orange Pixie’ had been dominating the pot lily market for fifteen years. Pot Phalaenopsis sales were booming at that time so we were thinking about switching to orchids or even cut lilies. We finally decided to continue growing pot lilies, but in a different way. In the world lily market, every grower is looking for exclusivity but this is very hard to achieve. Usually, more than ten growers own one single variety. That’s why we decided to buy eighteen varieties including some future breeding work in pot lilies developed by Mak Breeding. The timing was perfect because Mak Breeding had just taken over BT Lilies, also a renowned breeder of pot lilies.“
Large-scale breeding program
From that moment on, Wetering Pot Lilium became directly involved in the large-scale breeding programme of the revolutionary new line of pot lilies, the Lily Looks series. Selected from hundreds of thousands of seedlings, the Lily Looks pot lily varieties were jointly tested by Mak and Wetering Pot Lilium. “As a grower, we can give valuable input. As we are present at field trials, we also have a say over which varieties will pass the test or not”, explains Peter.
Only those varieties with superior breeding standards are finally awarded the title Lily Looks, a brand name also owned by Wetering Pot Lilium. The latter and breeding company Mak took a particular interest in ensuring the Lily Looks series was tested for low bud abortion, lack of leaf yellowing, extended shelf life and high bud count. The excellent post-production longevity and transport durability are a real plus because the traditional pot lilies don’t hold up in the supply chain as well as other potted plants
Arroyo Lilium bulbs bulb production
Extensively tested at US universities, the Lily Looks series mark an overall improvement over the traditional genetic short pot lilies. In bulb production, Lily Looks also perform remarkably well. This is another example of the activities of the Van de Wetering brothers who founded the Arroyo Lilium Bulbs company for the field production of lily bulbs in the Netherlands and Chile. Arroyo’s quality manager Carl Kroon pays weekly visit to the bulb fields in the Netherlands and is busy with the organization of contracts. “Meanwhile he discusses the schedule for necessary treatments, the number of applications and their timing. As for integrated pest management, we try to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Often people from outside the industry forget that a grower is not only concerned with the health of other people, but also cares about his own wellbeing. Believe me, crop protection is not just done for fun, it is also extremely costly and unfortunately, it is essential”, stresses Peter. He continues, “Carl’s crop inventories are of great importance, enabling us to learn all the ins and outs of new varieties, very quickly. Results are discussed with Arroyo’s bulb suppliers and sometimes lead to surprising outcomes. Planted by three different growers with three different soils, yields can differ widely from one production area to another. Furthermore, we sometimes discover that certain bulb circumferences are not suitable for pot lily production. The fact that Arroyo Lilium Bulbs spends so much time and energy on trustworthy varieties is a plus in economically difficult times, where maximum returns and minimum risks are becoming even more critical in today’s increasingly competitive environment.”
Up to 90% of Arroyo’s bulb production takes place in the Netherlands. “The first bulbs are harvested in October. I would like to stress that we are not actually exporting bulbs ourselves. Arroyo Lilium Bulbs sells eleven million bulbs (six million Asiatic hybrids and five million Orientals) per year to Wetering Pot Lilium. In addition, mayor Dutch bulb preparation/ exporting companies are purchasing Arroyo bulbs for sales to growers and wholesale chains around the world.
In order to guarantee a year round supply of fresh premium quality bulbs, Arroyo Lilium Bulbs produces ten percent of its lily bulbs in the southern hemisphere. “The first bulbs from Chile usually arrive in September when the northern hemisphere is already halfway through the season and has bulbs of up to nine months old. In Chile, Arroyo Lilium Bulbs mainly produces Oriental lily bulbs while Asiatic lily bulbs can be kept more easily in coolers for forcing year-round by freezing the bulbs. Oriental lilies, except for a few varieties, cannot be stored more than nine months and fresh produce from Chile is always warmly welcomed.
From Arroyo Lilium Bulbs back to Wetering Pot Lilium and its production of greenhouse pot lilies. Reflecting on the world pot lily market, Van de Wetering expects to expand its current 35% market share in Europe, with Germany as the largest export destination. “As a member of the FloraHolland flower auction, all plants are invoiced via FloraHolland and then marketed mainly throughout German supermarkets and DIY stores (50%) and garden centres (50%).”
Producing 70,000 pots on a weekly basis, Peter van de Wetering attaches great importance to intensifying his contacts with the buyers; the auction-based export companies. “We meet two or three times a year to identify market demand. It ‘s in our interest that each pot lily order sells out rapidly. I am quite optimistic. Recent consumer research has revealed that pot lilies appeal to a very large audience, both young and old.”
In terms of marketing Van de Wetering Pot Lilium offers its products in special Lily
Looks sleeves where the website www.lilylooks.com, including detailed product information is mentioned.
Since pot lilies are marketed when the first buds start to colour, three or four days before opening, the consumer prefers a well-labeled pot lily featuring a photo of the lily in full bloom, so they can check out the shape and colour more effectively.”
When asked about the most pleasurable aspect of pot lily growing, Van de Wetering concludes that pot lilies are not particularly difficult to grow as potted plants. The crop time is relatively short seven to eight weeks for Asiatic hybrids and twelve to fourteen weeks for Orientals. Still, there are some basic cultural requirements to adhere to. We deliver the pots in three sizes: 13 cm 19cm and 24 cm. The number of bulbs to plant per pot is three for the 13cm pot and five for the 19 and 24cm pots, where particular attention is to paid to the extra plant depth. Furthermore, forcing in darker periods and during hot summers means always a struggle with the height control. However, our Lily Looks series is genetically short and normally doesn’t require PGR’s. Therefore Lily Looks are also environmentally friendly . Apart from being sustainable, we also like to be self sufficient. Currently up to 90% of our pot lilies already consist of our own varieties. Within two years, we expect to be fully self-sufficient.”