Dollars and scents for flower growers

Last updated 05:00 07/04/2014
Erwin and Mariska Blokker
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FLOWER POWER: Erwin and Mariska Blokker at Blokker’s Nurseries, Clive, Hawke’s Bay. The business sells about 200,000 lilies each year.

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He's been around lilies for all his 49 years, but Erwin Blokker never tires of their scent and colours.

Erwin and wife Mariska have run Blokker's Nurseries in Clive since taking over the family business in 1997.

Erwin, one of four boys, was 16 when he emigrated from Holland with his parents in 1980.

His father Klaas, who was a flower grower like his father, wanted to get out of Cold War Europe and found an ideal four hectares on the outskirts of the small Hawke's Bay town.

Lilies were his main crop and still account for about 70 percent of sales. Also grown are freesias, peonies, tulips and gladioli.

The nursery sells about 200,000 lilies of various varieties and hybrids each year.

They have six glasshouses and five plastic houses and a large paddock on which the peonies are grown.

They employ one person and are open five days 7.30am to 5pm, and 7.30am to noon on Saturday. Sunday is supposed to be a day off, though they usually end up working then too.

"Living on site you can't really get away from it. Flowers are like cows that need to be milked. When they need to be picked they need to be picked," Erwin said.

In the past decade the variety and quality of lilies had improved greatly, he said.

"They have bigger flowers, stronger stems and last longer these days," he said.

"Some people like them scented, some people, especially those with hayfever, like them without scent. Generally speaking buyers are interested in scent and colour," Erwin said.

About half their sales are made from their property. Customers include individuals and florists as well as couriers making pick-ups for destinations around the country. The other half go to flower auctions in the main centres, where they're bought by florists and other retailers.

The couple looked at expanding the business in recent years but decided instead to consolidate.

"It's worked out well. We've paid off a lot of debt. Also, if we ever decided to stop for some reason we would have invested a lot of money that we may not get back," he said.

Erwin met Mariska in the late eighties when she came to New Zealand from Holland on a working holiday.

Between 1990 and 1997 the couple lived in Holland, "the world centre of the flower industry" where Erwin gained experience as a foreman on a huge at two large nurseries as well as some time in Kenya doing rose propagation.

His has dedicated his working life to flowers.

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"When I was young I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do, but I have to say I don't have why regrets. I enjoy it.

"We both enjoy the space and living on the land. And there is a lot to be said for being your own boss".

He said the global financial crisis had an impact, particularly when the NZ dollar was hit, as all bulbs are purchased from Holland.

"That put us under quite a bit of pressure. We didn't go on holidays or have any luxuries for a few years. But it's picking up now," he said.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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