For 17 years, Nicky and Elzabé have been running Willowgreen Farms which was founded by Elzabé’s father, prof Daan Strydom back in the early seventies. This dynamic duo currently has about forty hectares of Protea Barbigera planted. We wanted to find out what the story is behind the exclusive Protea Barbigera and why they only grow on the South African Porterville Mountain.
The Protea Barbigera, also known as ‘Queen Protea’ or ‘Protea Magnifica’ only grows on Porterville Mountain, South Africa. The Barbigera Protea (or Barbi-dje-ra as it is pronounced in South Africa), is one of the most beautiful, exclusive and sought-after Proteas in Odilia’s basket. But why does the Barbigera only grow on Porterville Mountain?“The real reason is twofold,” says Nicky. “The Barbigera has a very high-altitude requirement, between 1500 and 2500 meters above sea level and they like it cold. On our mountain in Porterville, we are around 900 meters above sea-level and it is marginally cold enough here. That allows us to grow a flower with not too much cold damage on it.”
“The first years of our Barbigera crop came from seeds collected from the mountains in our area. Eventually we started selecting flowers that our exporters would say ‘listen guys this is a nice one, can we have more of these?’ So, we went back and tried to find that single bush that was bearing that specific turn of colour or shape. Then we started making cuttings of that bush and eventually called it a name.”
“Sounds easy, but you have to be extremely patient with Proteas”, Nicky tells us. “A protea bush only starts bearing flowers from year four. For example, if we see a particular Barbigera flower we like and want to make more of, we take about ten cuttings from that bush. In the following year, we have ten plants where we can take cuttings of. Next year we have a hundred plants, take cuttings and so on. Add to that the four years it takes for the plant to bear flowers. It can easily take ten years before we can ship a nice volume to Odilia. Plus, in all those years we never see the flower. When the flower starts growing after a couple of years you finally think ‘oh, that’s what she looks like!”
During our video chat with Nicky and Elzabé they turned the camera around, revealing breathtaking scenery of the Porterville Mountains from their living room. But farming on the mountain comes with quite a bit of challenges as well, Elzabé reveals to us- “The winters are very cold, the roads are not good, there are fires in in the summer and the nearest town we get our resources from is thirty minutes away by car down the Dasklip Pass. Plus, we don’t have a lot of water, we are small and smart. Our focus is to be more efficient with less water and produce a better product. Our children, Nicolize and her husband Daniel (from Denmark) and Danie love the mountain and plan to return to continue the legacy of Daan Strydom in the future.”
The flowers of Willowgreen are imported from South Africa to the Netherlands by Odilia. That relationship has been going strong since 2013. “We have a very good working relationship with Odilia, a lot of that has to do with personalities”, Nicky tells us “The collaboration and relationship we have with Frank van der Stroom, is the key to ours and Odilia’s success. Frank imports our flowers to the Netherlands on behalf of Odilia. We communicate a lot and we are mostly on the same page. He goes through a lot of trouble for us and he’s very straight forward, which we appreciate. – Willowgreen has an uncle in the flower business and that uncle is Frank.”