Two hundred years of hard gardening experience

Clive Blazey talks with Will Ashburner and Frank Broersen

One of Frank Broersen’s tulip fields

We have known each other for half our working lives, so we have lots to talk about over lunch at the Piggery Cafe in the Dandenongs.

Frank Broersen should rightly be called “Mr. Tulip” because he is the tulip grower for most of Australia’s production, even though Tesselaar’s is foremost in the minds of gardeners because of their massively popular Tulip Festival.

Both families are Dutch, and the Dutch dominated the Dandenongs because of its soil, high rainfall and cooler summers that are perfect for the growing of flowers.

Frank started growing tulips at age 7, and he still drives the tractor 62 years later, defying ‘the Almighty’ because he says “all his friends who retired ... died”. That, and the knowledge of a Borneo man who lived to 146, is what drives him on.

With tulips growing in the front garden for all to see, Frank started selling the flowers to passersby for 2 cents per flower. Frank's Dad was too busy to help, but when he came home, Frank proudly handed him $40.

The next year, 6 acres was planted out with tulips, and with the family dressed in Dutch clogs and clothes, the idea for a Tulip Festival was born.

Imported flowers ruin domestic growers:

Over lunch it is revealed that the cut flower industry is having its toughest year because of a flood of imports, and it’s not the growers that have the power to open the market, its the usual culprit — the two supermarkets!

They have cunning ways to screw the suppliers; for example ­— after the first shipment of perishables (fruit or cheese), the second shipment is kept in the warehouse where it deteriorates so the retail price is halved to effect a sale, and that creates the new buy price.

In the 60 years that Frank has been growing tulips there has been a collapse of mail-order nurseries. Gone are Blue Dandenongs, Lakes Nursery and Broersen’s mail order. Norgate’s perennials have ceased, and New Gippsland seeds have slowed down. So aside from The Diggers Club, that leaves Tesselaar, Garden Express and Hancock’s in mail-order.

Hancock’s bulbs in good hands

Will Ashburner with his wife Christine and their children operate the specialist mail-order business of Hancock’s Bulbs at Menzies Creek in the Dandenongs.

Will had plenty of growing experience, having been a Burnley graduate then nursery manager for Little Acre Nursery, before becoming general manager at Diggers where he honed his marketing and business skills and met Frank Broersen to help us with our tulip selections.

The Ashburner’s are the 4th owners of this 100-year-old business that originated in Ballarat. Will grows over 1,000 varieties of daffodils and is continuing the practise of Australian breeders who created new varieties for Australian conditions, such as Alister Clark who bred the rare pink ‘Mabel Taylor’ which helped the gene pool move towards reddish hues.

Call in to chat with Christine or Will at any of the Garden Shows where Hancock’s display and offer their mail-order catalogue. To pick up flowers or to see their spring display (August 25- September 30) drive to 2 Jackson’s Hill Road, Menzies Creek, about 1 hour from Melbourne’s CBD and 20 minutes from Cloudehill in Olinda.

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Clive Blazey

Clive is the founder of The Diggers Club, a pioneer in the rescue of heirloom vegetable and fruit varieties and author of seven books on flower, vegetable and fruit gardening.

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