Nic van Keulen en Kees de Jong
Nerine breeders

They have been working with nerines for over 45 years, first as growers and subsequently as breeders of new nerine varieties. They are both passionate and relentless in their search for new colours and even prettier flower shapes.

Nic van Keulen en Kees de Jong
Nerine breeders

Nic: “The first time I saw a nerine was at a local plant nursery when I was around 20 years old. I found myself fascinated by the plant, and before long, we were growing them ourselves. People often ask me, ‘Why nerines?’ and my answer is always the same: ‘Why did I marry my wife? It’s a feeling you can’t explain!’”

Kees: “In those days, nerines could only be grown in greenhouses. We believed so strongly in the potential of this flower that we started to breed the existing varieties in search of ones which could also grow outside. And there’s no denying that we succeeded. We’re now focused on developing new colours.”

Flower-breeding is a process that requires considerable patience. It takes at least 8 to 10 years before a new variety is finally ready to be launched onto the market.

Nic: “It always starts with what we call ‘castrating’ a flower: collecting its pollen and applying it to the stigma of another flower. That produces seeds which, once ripened, I harvest and keep in matchboxes. Since matchboxes are made of natural materials, the seeds germinate well in them, and on top of that, they enable me to keep a close eye on their growth. Once seedlings develop, I plant them and allow them to grow undisturbed for four years. The plants usually flower in the third or fourth year, and from that point on, we can start testing the flower and very gradually propagating the plant.”

As well as having endless patience, a plant breeder also needs to be flexible, since the outcome of hybridisation is very unpredictable. However, it is clear in the case of these two gentlemen that their passion for nerines far outweighs the enduring uncertainty.

Kees: “We have spent many years trying for a yellow nerine. Not so long ago, we were convinced that we’d finally got it right. Full of optimism, we were eagerly awaiting the moment that the plant in question would bloom. I was on holiday on the Dutch island of Vlieland when Nic called me to tell me that the big moment had finally arrived, and guess what? The flower was not yellow, but red! Were we disappointed? Of course not! I caught the next boat back from Vlieland to admire this unique red flower with my own eyes. It turned out to be a very promising new nerine. Admittedly it wasn’t yellow as we’d hoped, but a pretty red can be beautiful too!”

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