Quality Flowering Bulbs,
Perennials & Plants Since 1953
In January 1953, 54 long years ago, a young Dutch couple were married. What lay immediately before them, they knew ... a very long voyage of 7.5 weeks by freighter, across the seas to an unknown country, a new language, climate, people and culture. What also lay before them, was the unknown ... the difficulties in taming wild bush land, and coping and living with wildlife, and carving out a farming life for themselves and their children. Leaving behind family and friends, John & Mary Van Graas sailed for Australia, the Land of Opportunity, and settled in Macclesfield, Victoria, on a 50 acre bush block which had to be cleared by hand first, before a single bulb could be planted.
Despite having very little money and limited bulb stock, the couples youthful energy and optimistic confidence meant the land was cleared, tilled with horse and plough and planted out with the first Gladioli corms. It wasn't long before the Blue Dandenongs Gladioli Farm faced its first hurdle. The one acre of Gladioli corms soon attracted wallabies, wombats and the occasional deer who ran rampant over the crop and had a mightly good feed!
Back in 1953, there was no power, no telephones and only tank water. Many long hours of work were put in to produce the crop of bulbs and flowers. In the summer months, many a night's sleep was lost, after a long hard day of picking and bunching flowers, and then loading the old Bedford truck with 1500 bunches of Gladioli's, to take into the Melbourne Market more than 2.5 hours away!
In the autumn and early winter months, the bulbs had to be lifted and dried somehow before being packed and sold. At that time, many bulbs were going to the Coles stores, and others sold through a rather novice retail catalogue. Retail prices would vary anywhere between 3 pence for a corm, or 50 shillings for a new release. At that time, there were many new and improved Gladioli varieties being introduced to the Australian gardening public.
Drying the bulbs in the 1950's was a primitive procedure whereby the bulbs were stacked in trays under a pine tree, to catch the breeze. If the weather was wet they were stacked inside a dingy shed made of timber and corrugated iron, with the whole front part of the shed able to unhinge to let air in! (pictured right) Heat would be blown through the trays using a kerosene tin filled with burning wood, and later a pot belly stove was used. In recent years, bulbs are dried in special temperature controlled treatment rooms.
In the spring months, the planting stock would be planted again, by hand, in furrows made by horse-drawn cultivators. Today, a hectare of bulbs can be planted in a short space of time with mechanical planters.
In 1956-7, the enterprise moved to Old Emerald Road, Monbulk, another 50 acre bush block, where the business has been established ever since. The new block had rich red volcanic soil, which were ideally fertile for bulb growing. It was at this time that the business became known as the Blue Dandenong Bulb Farm.
The wallabies may have been left behind, but it was time to clear the bush once again, and besides Gladioli, other crops were also grown, such as beans, potatoes, cherries and peaches. During this time, the bulb stock and sales were becoming established and increasing, and after approximately 10 years, the vegetables and fruit crops were phased out. This was because growing so many different crops, with harvest times clashing, created more difficulties than the returns warranted.
Early on, irrigation was unknown, so that a dry season often meant small bulbs. The Blue Dandenongs Bulb Farm was in fact the first farm in the area to start up irrigation - galvanized pipes with steel cable couplings, which were very hard to work with.
Other bulbs were now also grown, including the popular spring flowering daffodils and other summer flowering perennials. Bulbs were sold through retail stores and nurseries, in the small retail bulb packets and also through a wholesale catalogue. Some stock was also exported.
Bulb production has certainly seen some huge changes in these last 40 years. Countless days would be spent merely counting out thousands of bulbs, whereby today electronic counting machines do the same job in a few short hours. Bulb propagation has also made unbelievable strides in this time. Once apon a time it may have taken as much as 10 years to produce commercial quantities of a particular variety, when natural offshoots were the only means of propogating. Today with micro propagation, twin scaling and other more rapid cloning methods, a single bulb can be forced to produce as many as 130 off-shoots in a year.
The bulb cut flower industry has also changed dramatically. Where once cut flower production was once carried out completely at the mercy of the weather, today plastic and glass house cultivation leads to year round production of top quality, unblemished flowers.
In order to supply the market in the new millenium fully, and indeed to remain a leading bulb and perennial producer and marketer, a vast range of different varieties must be grown and sold. Each year, new releases are made available to the Australian gardening public. Our specialised lines include the cottage garden perennials, daffodils and Amaryllis (Hippeastrum). In the past, the Amaryllis was a very exclusively priced bulb, which was often too expensive for the average gardener. Now, however, after fine-tuning the propagation processes, and doing this very successfully, these bulbs are now available in a wide range of beautiful colours...and at THE most competitive prices.
Our bulb production is now spread over 2 farms, with over 250 acres in total, with bulb sales exceeding 10 million bulbs annually. In 2006 the Blue Dandenong Bulb Farm made the necessary change to their business strategy to incorporate the changing needs of the Australian Gardener; hence our new name. While we still specialise in bulbs, we now also provide an extensive range of perennials and plants, particulary those which are drought tolerant.
Australian Gardner is a family owned and run business, with John and Mary, 4 sons and 2 daughters. The family is ably assisted by over 50 staff in every aspect of the business, which now also includes the new Jet Fresh Witlof hydroponics enterprise on our Toolangi Farm (pictured right).
Statistics show that the family business in Australia is a rock solid, integral and important part of the Australian economy, employing many thousands of people in various industries. With 18 grandchildren growing up in the healthy hills of the Yarra Valley, Australian Gardener hopes to continue long into the future...the tradition of a strong and successful family business.
In summing up our historic 55 years, we can only be very grateful for having been given the opportunity to challenge the possibilities that this great country had, and still has, to offer for the future. We are proud to have played some part in its horticultural heritage.
Our aim is to grow and supply top quality flowering bulbs, perennials, plants, and to market these as being attractive, desirable, and most importantly, affordable, to the Australian gardening public.
The late John & Mary Van Graas established the company in 1953. John & Mary are responsible for 7 children, (who are in turn responsible for 18 grandchildren) and one of the largest & well known family owned bulb farm enterprises in Australia. The second generation is actively growing the business into the new Millennium.
Horse drawn cultivator used in the early days.
A Bedford truck beside the old bulb drying shed.
Tulips growing at the Monbulk farm today.
Quality control: here the bulbs and plants are sorted and packaged.
Bulbs ready for dispatch
Our Toolangi farm, high in the mountains near Healesville, has rich chocolate soils perfect for growing dahlias (pictured above) and daffodils.
Also grown at our Toolangi farm is our specialty vegetable crop: Witlof. Click the logo above to visit our Jet Fresh web site.
View of witlof growing in Toolangi. Witlof is a white leaved vegetable related to the endive. In France it is known as the Belgium endive and in England and Germany as Chicory or Chicoree