In Search of Great Plants - Holland and Belgium 2004

Giant cristate saguaro cactus by Tony Avent
Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.
9241 Sauls Road
Raleigh, NC 27603
Shop for Perennials at Plant Delights Nursery

I had long been trying to find time to visit the Netherlands (Holland) and Belgium and finally in August 2004, the time arrived. On Thursday afternoon August 5, I departed to the land of Tulips and Windmills. At my connection in Philadelphia, I met up with fellow nurseryman Hans Hansen of Shady Oaks Nursery in Minnesota who accompanied me on the trip. You may find August a strange time to visit Holland, but I intentionally chose this time of year to focus on perennials and avoid the distractions of tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. I hope you enjoy my brief synopsis of our whirlwind tour including 30 stops.

Friday August 7

After a good nights sleep on the plane (just kidding), we arrived at 10am on Friday morning. The flight was quite smooth as was the rental car pickup and other airport processing. It was obvious that the Dutch are well prepared for visitors from abroad. After changing money (the US dollar has sunk against the Euro: 1 Euro= .80 US), we grabbed our Opel and off we went. FYI, automatic transmission is not a big thing in Holland. The price for a standard transmission car was $600, while an automatic was $1400. We had opted for a standard, but were shocked to hop into our vehicle and find that they had given us an automatic instead at the cheaper complaints.

Our first stop was the nursery of Holland's hosta guru, Marco Fransen of Ter Aar (outside Boskoop). Marco and his ever expanding young family were on vacation in Croatia...yes, those Dutch have quite the sense of humor. Marco's dad showed us around the display garden, the wholesale production fields, and the greenhouses of potted hostas which are used for on-site retail sales as well as mail-order. Being bordered by a canal (as were most of the nurseries near Boskoop), they are not able to use many herbicides. We watched as weeding crews from Poland worked their way though the fields weeding to the tune of US $20/hour. Fransen Nursery ( is located in a part of Holland where the soil is very peat based. This means no equipment in the fields, but they are able to grow plants such as astilbe, which are difficult on many of the other soil types in Holland.

Friday afternoon, we visited the nearby nursery of Mark and Rein Bulk in Boskoop. Pat McCracken of Raleigh had visited a year earlier and was still talking about this wonderful small wholesale nursery of rare woody plants. Indeed, it was a special collection, both of potted and field grown specimens including many that I had never before encountered. I was particularly taken with several mahonias, Mahonia japonica 'Golddust', Mahonia bodinieri, and Mahonia longibracteata. Hydrangea macrophylla 'Jofloma' with it's bright gold foliage and pure white flowers was also quite stunning. Gold foliage was particularly attractive in this climate and the bright gold-foliaged Stachyurus praecox 'Goldbeater' went on my must get list. While the idea of gardening and having a nursery on a canal sounds appealing, it does have its disadvantages. It seems that nursery thieves traverse the canals at night, climb into the nurseries and steal plants. Someone had stopped by Mark's nursery during the winter and cut his Metasequoia 'Ogon' off at the ground to use for scion wood. I should mention climate before I get too caught up in plants. Most of the coastal nursery production areas in west Holland are equivalent to USDA zone 6b, although temperatures in the 90's are quite the exception. We stayed until nearly dark, when it was finally time to head to our hotel, the Holiday Inn in nearby Leiden (Rembrandt's birthplace). Of all the hotels in which we stayed, this was our favorite. The dinner buffet was quite good, and only when we finished eating did we realize that it cost us nearly US$50 each. At least the breakfast buffet was included in the room price along with free in-room high speed Internet.

Saturday August 7

On our second comfortable, but overcast Saturday morning, we arrived at the Boskoop wholesale nursery of Nico Rijnbeek and Son Nursery ( Rijnbeek and Son are both growers and exporters of perennials...a rare combination in Holland. Nico was just preparing to leave for the ISU (large perennial meeting) in Austria, but still took time to show us around. We toured the shipping and production areas where both field grown and potted plants are both produced and shipped. It is fascinating that our native Phlox paniculatas never look as good in our garden as they do in photos from Holland. They seem to do a much better job growing many of our US natives that we do in the US. Nico's nursery must be right on the tourist routes, as boat after boat filled with tourists went by while we were walking around. The canals serve many other purposes, such as a source of nursery irrigation, a place to fish, swim, and as a source of drinking water (hope they clean it well). If you need soil to build or raise a planting bed, just use a bucket to scoop soil from the canal behind your house. Water shortages are rarely a problem since pumps in areas with high water tables constantly pump water from growing areas back into the canals.

Nico next took us across the street to visit his brother-in-law at J. van Zoest Clematis Nursery. Despite the pouring rain, we enjoyed this truly amazing nursery. Every row was perfectly maintained, which is almost impossible in a nursery growing vines. We saw an amazing number of wonderful clematis, especially hybrids with Clematis integrifolia. Some of my favorites are Clematis 'Hendryetta', Clematis 'Hendersonii', Clematis 'Blue Pirouette',and Clematis 'Fascination'. Nearby were pots of the amazing Agapanthus 'White Heaven' with massive flower heads nearly 1' across....looks like an agapanthus with implants...must get this one.

For our final stop of the day, we journeyed to the small town of Honselersdijk. We have already begun to notice that the Dutch love letters...especially consonants. They don't take time to pronounce all of them, but they seem to throw a few extra ones in every word that they can. Marteen Van Thiel of the Internet Agave Forum had suggested we visit Succulenta Nursery (Internet Explorer only). After getting quite lost in this small town, we used our handy cell phone to call for directions. It turns out that we were sitting less than a block away, but on the back side of some larger commercial greenhouses. We were greeted by the owners, Cok and Ine Grootscholten. Cok is a retired grower of greenhouse peppers who decided to open a retirement nursery of cacti and succulents. This was after nearly fatal brain surgery which put him in a coma for 3 months, and unable to work for 2 years.

Once I mentioned my interest in agaves, we were off to the greenhouses accompanied by one of Cok's succulent friends Theo van't Walderoeen. We went straight to the agave section where I finally saw a plant of Agave bracteosa 'Mediopicta Alba' in person. I have lusted in my heart for this agave since I found the photo on the Internet several years ago. Nearby was a stunning creamy white-edge Agave multifilifera which I quickly added to my most coveted list. The treasures continued as we went through agaves, haworthias, aloes, gasterias, yuccas. Even though the day was coming to a close, we still hadn't made a dent in his expansive collection. Cok tells me that he has 10,000 different accessions, which is easy to believe. This is certainly one of the finest succulent collections in the world and one that I would encourage anyone to visit if you get the opportunity. I was fascinated to learn that he propagates all of his gasterias and haworthias from leaf cuttings. As 5pm approached, we loaded up the trunk with our box of treasures. Thank goodness, I ordered a full-size car.

As we were ready to leave, Theo offered to take us by his greenhouse which was on the way to our hotel in Leiden, so off we went. We parked across from an apartment building along the railroad tracks. From here, we traversed a rough pedestrian bridge that straddled the canal, entered through a series of three locked gates, then made our way down a narrow, long weedy walk that separated the railroad tracks above and the canal below. Finally, we opened the final locked gate to a tiny paradise. The 300 square foot landscape was like a Charleston townhouse garden, beautifully layered combinations of perennials and woodies. Adjacent to the garden was an old storage building that Theo had converted into a small studio, complete with all the amenities of home. At the other end of the garden was his small glass greenhouse which was filled with agaves. Each agave was perfectly manicured, precisely labeled, and growing in a perfect size bonsai-style pot. Theo told us that the land was leased from the railroad along with other residents who used their plots for vegetable gardening or keeping livestock. Vandals had been a problem for Theo as they had repeatedly broken out greenhouse panes. When he finally caught the vandals in action, he managed to throw them all into the canal, and if you saw this canal, you would realize that this was not a "good thing."

Sunday August 8

On Sunday morning, we were met at our hotel by Luc Klinkhamer of the CNB Auction ( I should mention a bit about how the Dutch horticulture industry works. There are growers, exports, and auction houses. The growers grow the plants, but rarely export. The exporters ship the plants, but rarely grow them. The auctions are intermediaries or brokers who connect growers and exporters. The most familiar auction is Aalsmeer, where many of the cut flowers are sold. CNB focuses primarily on bulbs and perennials.

We started the day at Kebra Nursery with Mark van Kestern. Mark grows a number of newer plants for the exporters, some of which we already had on order. It was great to see Ruscus aculeatus 'Christmas Berry'. This fantastic plant is a compact ruscus with tremendous fruit set, similar to the form that Elizabeth Lawrence used to grow. Sedums were plentiful here including Mark's introduction, Sedum 'Crazy Ruffles', along with a variegated sport of Sedum 'Matrona' called Sedum 'Samuel Oliphant'. Mark was also growing Cypripedium reginae which are being tissue cultured in Holland. This was our first chance to see Coreopsis 'Heaven's Gate' in flower. This impressive introduction from Sunny Border Nursery in the US is a derivative from Coreopsis 'Sweet Dreams' with a much darker pink flower, a better habit, and much better winter hardiness.

Our next stop was the wholesale producer, P.T. Warmerdam Nursery. We had met the Wamerdams several years earlier at the Raleigh Hosta Convention. Dick Warmerdam took time to show us around his wholesale production and hosta display garden. It took longer than normal to travel the half mile to the greenhouses since everyone in the area was heading to the beach, only 2 miles away. Although we didn't have time to stop, Luc informed us that half of the folks on the beach are there topless (not just the men), while the completely nude beach is separated by only a slightly further distance. The beach is separated from the production fields by large forested sand dunes. The dunes were more extensive before they were stripped away decades ago to provide soil to expand Amsterdam as well as to provide more flat growing fields. The average elevation in all of Holland is 37', which means that many of the growing fields are below sea level. One nursery we visited appeared flat, but was a staggering 60' below sea level.

Although investigating the beach was tempting, we opted to see more plants. It was off to Van Noort Nursery, where Marco Van Noort showed us around. Wholesale production in this part of Holland must be efficient since the land is quite expensive. In this particular area, land sells for $160,000/acre. Mark's next door neighbor is the one who found and introduced Echinacea 'Razzmatazz', so I was finally able to see this echinacea in person. Also, we were able to see two US introductions side by side. Both brown leaf Geranium maculatum cultivars, Geranium 'Espresso' and Geranium 'Elizabeth Ann' were being grown. It was obvious that Geranium 'Elizabeth Ann' was the better of the two since Geranium 'Espresso' had already gone dormant while Geranium 'Elizabeth Ann' still looked fabulous. We picked up another dark foliage sedum for trial, Sedum 'Karfunkelstein'...don't you just love those names.

After a quick lunch, we were off to the wholesale field nursery of Kees Van Den Aardwegh. Dick Van Aardwegh had the largest planting of Brunnera 'Jack Frost' that I've ever seen along with the new solid silver sport, Brunnera 'Looking Glass'. Both looked exceptional in the fields. We were also very taken with silver leaf Pulmonaria 'Samurai', a cross of Pulmonaria 'Majeste' x Pulmonaria longifolia var. cevennensis. Miscanthus sinensis 'Goldbar' is a new very dwarf Miscanthus 'Strictus' type that really looked good. The most exciting plant, however, was the new white-edged polemonium from the Garden in the Woods. Polemonium reptans 'Stairway to Heaven' PPAF is a stunning plant that shows what a wimp that Polemonium 'Brise D'Anjou' really is. I've sure killed by share of the latter, but this is a real winner that has got the Dutch growers doing backflips.

From there, we were off to Darwin Plants in Hillengom. Darwin Plants (Witteman) are one of the largest Dutch exporters of perennials and one of the most aggressive in acquiring new plants. Salesman Alex Retra, who has visited our nursery several times, took time from his weekend to show us their shipping facilities as well as their trial gardens.

Nearby Darwin Plants, we stopped in at the tissue culture lab of Vitro Westland. If you want a perennial tissue cultured in large numbers, Vitro Westland is the place. The quantities of hostas being produced here is staggering. It was also great to see production of Musa 'Little Prince', a North Carolina introduction from Randy Salter of Raleigh. We did manage to find three speckled sports of the musa, which they will evaluate. They had already pulled out three yellow streaked Musa basjoo from their tissue culture block. I'd have been glad to take care of those, but they weren't offering. Here we also saw Heuchera 'Caramel', which Luc told us is a peachy-orange leaf hybrid with Heuchera villosa. Heuchera hybrids with Heuchera villosa are particularly good in warm, humid climates, so this one goes on my list.

Luc joined us for a wonderful dinner and persuaded me to try Carpaccio (an appetizer of ham, cheese, and nuts). Being some of my favorite foods, I indulged only to find out later that night that raw meat and my stomach were not the best of friends.

Monday August 9

On Monday morning, we visited the Hobaho auction house in Lisse ( A Dutch flower auction house is reminiscent of a visit to Wall Street...albeit horticultural. Traders were gathered around in glass-walled offices discussing plants and plant prices. The center of the auction house is a large glass-walled refrigerated room with display table of plants which growers have for sale or just for show. The plants are brought in fresh every Monday and judged by a panel of local experts. The first plant I saw in the display area was a pot of Eucomis 'Sparkling Burgundy'...a Plant Delights introduction. There was also a superb pink flowered form of Eucomis pole-evansii (syn: punctata). Nearby was a species that I had not ever seen, Eucomis vandermerwei. This dazzling dwarf species was composed of very flat, heavily ruffled leaves that were covered in large purple spots. This is truly the most amazing of the eucomis species and a plant that would start our search for the day. There was a tremendous number of obscenely large-flowered cut gladiolus is the display room. We found out later that Hobaho also has a breeding program for cut glads and cut lilies.

Our guide for the day was Eric Breed. Eric's brother worked at NCSU in the 1980s with Dr. Gus DeHertogh in the bulb research program. Eric's father, retired from Hobaho, reportedly has the largest private bulb collection in Holland according to my friend Brent Heath.

As we headed out on our journey for the day, I asked Eric about the problem with viruses on Dutch bulbs...a common problem associated with loss of vigor. I described my frustration acquiring plants such as tigridias which were weak and never reappeared after producing a small flower the first year. Within a minute, Eric wheeled down a short drive, stopping at an old pick-up truck. The truck marked the beginning of a huge field (approximately 10+ acres) of tigridias in full flower. As we queried the owner of the field, F. HA Vaneuwijk and Sons, he explained that all of his tigridias are seed grown and not produced by division. The flowers were indeed huge and the plants showed no obvious symptoms of virus. Most of the rows were segregated by color...yellow, white, pink, and even a few rows of mixed colors. This was a exciting find if we can get these exceptional bulbs into the US.

From the tigridia field, we had a very short drive to the KAVB trial site. This secure site is where all new dahlia cultivars are examined to make sure they are unique and worthy of registration. Also, there was a huge block of dahlia whose names are confused in the trade...wrong name with the wrong plants or two plants sold under the same name. A panel of dahlia experts comb the blocks and write up their findings to make sure growers sell their plants under the proper name. This was great news, since the reputation of the Dutch growers is that they really don't care about proper names. What we quickly found is that it is only a few of the bottom-end growers are the source of most nomenclatural problems.

Around the corner, we pulled into the Hobaho breeding fields. Since Hans breeds lilies, he was amazed by the lily breeding program. Oriental lilies, Oriempets, Asiatic, trumpet types, and longiflorum x candidum hybrids were in full flower in 500'+ long rows. Their goal is to produce shorter, more compact plants with obscenely huge flowers. There is no doubt that the breeding program was quite a success. Hans even spotted a seedling oriental lily with white-edged leaves. The breeders explained that they threw several of these away each year, but despite this, they couldn't give the plants away. For a mere 10,000 Euros, they would be glad to sell us the variegated lily. As tempting as it was, we passed.

Adjacent to the lily plot were acres of gladiolus. We met Cathy Osselton, the gladiolus breeder from Hobaho, who explained her breeding goals. I was curious about the winter hardiness of the glads, but we were quickly told that hardy glads are selected against in Holland. If the gladiolus are winter hardy, any pieces that remain in the field will contaminate the next years plantings. I spent quite a while trying to convince Eric and Cathy that a line of winter hardy gladiolus would be quite popular in the US. We'll see if they took the hint.

Eric had made some calls and located the eucomis grower who had displayed the plants we saw, so off we went. After a short drive, we pulled into a small field with several long rows of eucomis in flower. Indeed, here were the Eucomis vandermerwei for which I'd been searching along with rows of several other more common species. After a little photographing and quite a bit of drooling, we wandered over to the nursery office to find the owner, Chris vd Salon. Chris took us out into his breeding fields where he is actually making hybrids with Eucomis vandermerwei. The hybrids were even more stunning than the species...short ruffled dark purple leaves on nearly flat plants...oh my! I can see a bright future for these plants as soon as he begins to release his new hybrids.

Next, we were off to the backyard nursery of Nick Dames. Nick is a former resident of South Africa and has begun production of several species of Moraea and some other bulbs to see which will be of interest to the export market. We ended our day at the CNB trial garden for Dahlias and Zantedeschia. I had been looking for new and better purple foliage dahlias and was I ever in for a surprise. There is now an entire series of "Bishops", all with dark foliage and superb flowers. Be on the look out for Dahlia 'Bishop of York', 'Bishop of Leicester', 'Bishop of Oxford', 'Bishop of Canterbury', 'Bishop of Lancaster', and 'Bishop of Buckland.' The great thing is that this isn't all of the new dark foliage dahlias. The "Happy" series of dahlias have as dark or darker foliage than the "bishop" series and are much shorter. Keep your eyes out for the Dahlia 'Happy Single', 'Happy Romeo', 'Happy First Love, and 'Happy Single Date', to mention but a few.

The zantedeschia trials were equally as exciting. I thought Zantedeschia 'Schwarzwalder' (Black Forest ™) had the darkest flower until I saw Zantedeschia 'Black Star' flowers, black stems, and green leaves edged in black. After all this plant excitement, it was back to the hotel to wash and prepare our first box of plants for a phytosanitary certificate and shipment. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, the plants were finally ready for their journey back to the US. We did note on our late night washing nights that Dutch television is quite a bit more permissive than US television. It was common to find very explicit "R-rated" movies playing on the standard channels.

Tuesday August 10

We dropped off the plants for shipment and then headed off on our journey to the East. We had been watching the weather and were expecting the weather to turn bad. It seems that the hurricane that had graced North Carolina just before we left the US had made its was across the Atlantic and was now bringing a much needed rain to parched Europe. A short 1.5 hour drive took us in the town of Wageningen and the home of Wilbert Hetterscheid. Wilbert is known to aroid lovers as the guru of the genus Amorphophallus. We first stopped by his home, where he and his family had moved just a couple of months earlier when he took on the job as director of the Wageningen Botanic Garden ( The Wageningen Botanic Garden had been sadly neglected as we witnessed when we arrived. The intact outdoor plantings consist of a woody plant collection focusing on the malus family. Inside the conservatory, Wilbert described it as a second-growth tropical forest...a fancy word for old and overgrown. To one of the side of the main conservatory were smaller greenhouses which housed research plants. We spent the majority of our visit looking through Wilbert's tuberous aroid collection. Wilbert is known throughout the aroid world for having the largest collection of Amorphophallus species (132) of anyone in the world. After oohing and aahing over the collection, it was off to lunch at a nearby café. The food was wonderful and the view overlooking the Rhine River was stunning. It was an enjoyable lunch except for the battle with the hoards of pesky yellow jackets. Instead of enjoying a relaxing lunch, we looked more like King Kong atop the Empire State building, as we swatted away our uninvited guests. Wilbert explained that this had been a particularly bad year for yellow jackets.

After we dropped Wilbert off at home, we were off for the short 30 minute drive to de Hessenhof in Ede, the garden and nursery of Hans Kramer. Although you rarely hear of de Hessenhof ( in the US, we had been warned that this was the top specialty nursery in Holland. Hans Kramer is widely regarded as the top helleborus breeder in continental Europe and his hellebore festival in February attracts over 7,000 visitors. Although we arrived with very high expectations, we were not disappointed. The nursery is only open three days each week, while Hans and his small staff propagate plants and maintain the gardens during the other days. Although it was raining now and this was not an open day, Hans had agreed to allow us to visit. As we talked, we found that he had visited Plant Delights nearly 11 years earlier..a delightful coincidence.

It's hard to remember all the plant highlights but the yellow foliage Polygonatum odoratum or the branched Polygonatum multiflorum were high on the list. I was also particularly taken with one of Hans' introductions, the gold foliage Geranium 'Blue Sunrise'. Sedum telephium 'Lac'doo', which Hans collected in the South of France was also quite charming. We left with far too many plants, but no where near enough time to thoroughly explore the entire garden. De Hessenhof is high on the list for a return visit.

By now, night was falling along with the rain, so we made our way to the southeast in search of our hotel in Arnhem. We arrived to find a beautiful old town and an equally aged hotel. Our hotel, the Best Western in Arnhem got off to a bad start with their inability to give coherent directions...not a language problem. Fortunately, after enough driving around downtown, we finally stumbled on the hotel. Then came our next surprise...the hotel's definition of a single bed.. Our reservations had clearly been made for two people and two beds...simple, right? We opened the door and found one bed and a tiny room with barely enough room to stand. After a trip back to the front desk, we were given a slightly larger room, again with one bed. On my third trip to front desk to try and explain that I needed two beds, the desk clerk finally explained that what seemed like one bed was actually two single beds under the same covers. I'm going to skip the next exchange in case there are children reading this. We finally got an acceptable room where there was enough room to separate the beds and still stand. The only parking lot was a narrow, dark alley behind the hotel which could only accommodate a small fraction of the hotel guests. Guess elevator from the parking lot to the first floor. After lugging our luggage to the lobby, we then had to walk to the other end of the lobby to get to the elevator. This ancient elevator made those in remote parts of China look modern. Arriving on the fourth floor, we had to climb additional stairs to get to the rooms. Did I mention that the room had no air conditioning and it was over 90 degrees outside? We tried opening the windows only to find the trains running past our room made heavy duty ear plugs necessary. Our room did come with a fan, which of course was plugged into an outlet that shut off when you cut the room lights out for the night. Unbeknownst to us, we were staying at a masterpiece of 18th century Polish engineering.

We dared not eat at the hotel restaurant after the adventure checking in, but fortunately found a plethora of marvelous eateries less than a block from the hotel. After dinner, it was back to the parking lot for a midnight run of barerooting our treasures from De Hessenhof. Did I mention that the only light in the parking lot was on a motion sensor. After cleaning every two plants, we would have to run to the end of the parking lot to continually trigger the light. A large construction project adjacent to our hotel gives hope that a more modern hotel may someday grace downtown Arnhem.

Wednesday August 11

In pouring rain, we drove north 1.5 hours to the town of Dalfsen and the garden and nursery of Coen Jansen. It's still raining when we arrived - 15" in all according to Coen. I will admit to my curiosity meeting a Dutchman named Coen (pronounced Coon). Usually rural North Carolina is the only place you find folks with such a name. Coen was absolutely delightful as we sat in his visitor center and chatted while waiting for the rain to slow. After about 30 minutes the rain ended and the water table in the flooded nursery beds and walkways begin to subside. The only other visitor who showed up during the downpour was from the Göteborg Botanic Garden in Sweden. We all had a wonderful chat before we all headed into the nursery beds to being shopping. Coen's nursery was a good bit smaller than De Hessenhof, but was also filled with wonderful perennial treasures. Some of Coen's introductions include Geranium 'Chocolate Candy', Aster 'Lady in Black', Pulmonaria longifolia 'Ankum', and Geranium sanguineum 'Ankum's Pride'. Two reportedly clumping forms of macleaya, Macleya cordata 'Spetchley Ruby' and Macleya 'Ceyledon Ruffles' caught my eye, as did Coen's Eupatorium introduction, Eupatorium purpureum 'Ankum's August'. After several hours of enjoying the gardens as well as shopping, it was time to depart to the south for our four hour journey south to Belgium.

We got close to our destination for the night, the town of Geel, Belgium (just across the border), before getting completely lost. Did I mention that the road signs only give directions to towns and not the number of the highway. For someone used to finding highway numbers on signs, this does tend to complicate matters. After stopping to ask directions, we finally arrived at 5:30pm at the garden of Jos van Roosbroeck. We had found Jos's name on the Internet as having the best collection of agaves in Europe. The centerpiece of the front garden is a large Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Pendula' arching over the driveway, in soft contrast to the spininess of the rest of the plants. The well manicured garden expanded out from the driveway with an array of planted yuccas including some obvious interspecific hybrids. The yuccas that particularly caught our eye were two different clumps labeled Yucca 'Bright Edge'. One was similar to the plant sold in the US, and the other a much tighter clump with a different growth habit. Just off the front drive were huge 10 gallon pots, each filled with a specimen agave. As we traversed the small path connecting the front yard to the back, the area opened onto a large patio with hundreds more pots of agaves. Agaves in every shape, color, and size. Jos explained that he had all of the agaves ever published except for 5 species.

I was also particularly interested in his yucca collection. Jos had 3 different variegated cultivars of Yucca gloriosa and 3 different center variegated forms of Yucca aloifolia. After several hours of agave overdose, we felt it was time to leave Jos to eat his dinner while we were off to find our hotel. Fortunately, our hotel, the Vivaldi in Geel was only a few miles away. We checked in and then spent a few minutes checking the Internet connection in the lobby to find the status of the two hurricanes that were headed to Raleigh. We opted for dinner at the hotel, since we had driven so much during the day and sat down at one of the many outdoor tables. After waiting for any sign of service while all the tables filled, it became clear that after 40 minutes, we would likely starve before served. Off we went to explore other dining options. Fortunately, less than an mile away, we stumbled on a very fancy Chinese restaurant. I couldn't imagine while the hotel restaurant was filled while this delightful Chinese restaurant near empty. Oh well, there loss was our gain.

Thursday August 12

We were off to south again in the morning to La Hulpe, a small town just south of Brussels. In late morning, we arrived at the garden of Guy (pronounced Gee) and Liliane Gusman. The Gusmans are the authors of the recently published book, Arisaemas. Guy and Liliane are both physics teachers (Guy at the college level and Liliane at a high school) who fell in love with plants...particularly arisaemas. The Gusman garden is located in a residential area, but surrounded by a tall fence to keep the garden private. Inside, we found a peaceful oriental style garden and house, landscaped with rare perennials from around the world. Despite the drizzle, we had a marvelous time exploring the garden and discussing plants. It was obvious from the plants being grown here that we were now in a zone 7a climate...slightly warmer winters than the nursery production area near Boskoop, Holland.

Friday August 13

Guy and Liliane later took us to gardens of their friends, the Balis's. Jan Balis's sun and shade rock garden was filled with one treasure after another...a delightful place to visit. Down the road, we stopped at the remarkable 1.5 acre garden of Francine Riez. The well laid meandering paths made the garden seem more like 10 acres...a virtual treasure trove of rare woodies and perennials. This well designed and maintained garden put most public gardens to shame. Francine's garden has deservedly been featured in a number of European magazines and books. After a wonderful dinner with the Gusmans, it was off to our nearby hotel Le Lido on the scenic Lake Genval for a long night of plant cleaning and labeling.

Not long after we departed La Hulpe to the north to get on the loop around Belgium, traffic came to a standstill. For nearly 1.5 hours, we crept along, finally realizing that there was no accident, only more traffic than the roads can handle. This was vacation month in Europe and many folks were just returning from vacations in the south of France.

In the pouring rain, we finally arrived at the National Botanic Garden of Belgium ( in the town of Meise, just north of Brussels. We had corresponded with Frieda Billiet, Curator of Indoor Collections, whom I had met years earlier at the International Aroid Conference in St. Louis. We spent most of our time in the greenhouses because of the weather; first in the public display houses, then in the collections area. You could tell that there wasn't large amounts of money being poured into the botanic garden. Many main pathways were washed out gravel walks and the production greenhouses were dilapidated to the point that some of the ranges had even been abandoned. Collections of new taxa had also been suspended for several years due to their inability to maintain additional plants due to staff cuts. Despite their budget constraints, an amazing collection of plants still remain and are maintained in very good condition. Specialty collections include succulents, begonias, bromeliads, gesneriads, coadiums, and much more. Frieda is nearing retirement and one can only hope that the gardens hire someone with her knowledge and determination to maintain the collections.

After lunch, we spent a few minutes outdoors between rain showers seeing what we could of the outdoor displays. A stop in their gift shop found an amazing selection of gardening books for sale. We found virtually every book that Timber Press sells including my own, So You Want to Start a Nursery...a nice surprise.

From here, it was off on the 1.5 hour drive to the west to visit was had been described as Mr. Hosta of Belgium. We finally arrived at the garden of Danny Van Eechaute. Danny's small garden was literally so packed with hostas that there was little room to walk. Virtually every hosta that exists were there...some planted and others in large containers since planting space had long since disappeared. Not only did Danny have hostas that are on the market, but he had hybrids that had not yet been released along with many of his own hybrids. If you get to Belgium and want to talk hosta, be sure to give Danny a call. His website is The most exciting hostas was a sport of Hosta 'August Moon' with the same pattern of Hosta 'Tattoo'. We finally tore ourselves away for the drive to Breda for the night.

Breda is just over the Belgium/Holland border in Holland. The drive was most eventful, both for the pouring rain and for the convoluted system of roads around the town of Antwerpen. I have no doubt that we made at least three complete circles to make our way around Antwerpen. We were so starved after all our driving that we stopped in a small neighborhood eatery for dinner. While most of what we saw wasn't recognizable, it all looked good. We settled for a delicious Binky out McDonalds. After we finally found and checked into the hotel, we started on another long night cleaning plants. Fortunately, it was pouring rain and we were able to bareroot plants in the parking lot tree islands and wash the roots in the parking lot puddles. Okay, it was cold and wet, but it sure beat clogging up hotel toilet with soil.

Saturday August 14

For our final day, we departed Breda for the 1.5 hour trip north to Rotterdam to visit the Arboretum Trompenburg ( We were met by the garden director Gert Fortgens and his wife Bernadette. Gert formerly worked at the Boskoop Experiment Station and is responsible for several plant introductions, Agastache 'Blue Fortune', Buddleia 'Pink Delight' and Buddleia 'Summer Beauty'. We spent most of the morning with Gert and Bernadette exploring the garden. Originally started in 1820, Arboretum Trompenburg was purchased by J. van Hoey Smith and turned into a conifer collection. To make the garden more interesting to a wider range of people, Gert has installed perennials throughout the garden. The transformation is amazing, and I would certainly rank this among my all-time favorite botanical gardens.

There were so many highlights of the garden, it's hard to mention them all, but there were some very cool yuccas. One seventy-year old patch of a suckering blue form of Yucca filamentosa was 100' long x 20' wide. Another huge trunked yucca appeared to be a hybrid of Yucca recurvifolia x gloriosa. The alphabetically arranged hosta walk was quite nice as was Gert's huge collection of ligustrums...probably the largest in the world. After finishing a quick tour around the arboretum, it was off to the Fortgens home for lunch.

From here, we wanted to stop by Marco Fransen's nursery again on the way back to Amsterdam. Since Marco was now back from vacation, Gert wanted to visit as well, so Hans rode with Gert and I followed with Bernadette. About 10 minutes before arriving at Marco's, my rental car mysteriously died in the middle of the highway. We were able to coast into the median, where we called ahead to let Gert and Hans know what had happened...never expect plant people to stop when plants are calling. The wrecker arrived about 1.5 hrs after our call to the rental car agency. By this time Gert had dropped Hans off at Marco's and returned to check on our status. The towing service was based near the Fortgens home, so we backtracked, picked up a new car and headed off again to Marco's nursery. I finally arrived, but after my three hour car ordeal, only had time to say hello before departing to our hotel in Amsterdam.

After checking into our hotel, the Radisson Amsterdam, near the airport, it was time for dinner. I wondered why I had been able to get such a good deal at the hotel and the answer was obvious...they charge for everything. Parking was 15 Euros, breakfast was 19 Euros, and using the Internet was 20 Euros per hour. Fortunately, we found an office building next door for free parking and spied a McDonalds nearby for breakfast. We had heard that Mary Walters of Walters Gardens in Michigan was in town, so we had set up a rendevous for dinner. It is always great to have time to compare notes and talk new plants. After dinner, another long night awaited as we completed the final plant prep and paperwork for getting a phytosanitary certificate. Sunday morning, we were off with our plants following soon behind us. The plants are now recovering from their trip home and hopefully a large number of them will survive and turn out to be great additions to American gardens.