Last updated 4 weeks ago by Michael Darmanin
A traditional weekly ritual of flowers at the Janskerkhof
Janskerkhof, a busy Utrecht city square that is more than a thousand years old, is a often a beehive of activity. A constant stream of regional and city buses shuttle passengers through the ancient plaza from all over the province and abroad. Tourists wander around medieval St. Johns’s Church in droves, locals crowd the Italian food kiosks on sunny days and students party at the stylish Hofman Café well into the night. The Utrecht University library and Bijleveld bookstore team with academics, awkwardly cycling with too many books on wobbly bikes with loud brakes. Yet almost every Saturday morning this landscape changes and something very special happens.
A 200 year old location for the flower market
For more than 200 years, Dutch flower vendors have been arriving here at the crack of dawn to set up one of Holland’s biggest and oldest flower markets (‘bloemenmarkt’) on the Janskerkhof Square in Utrecht. From seven in the morning until just after five, professional gardeners, greenhouse owners and flower farmers from across the province come to this cobblestoned acre to sell some of the most beautiful bouquets in The Netherlands.
Dazzling colours and contours to mesmerize
I was one of nearly a thousand guests expected to shop the market during a post-viral weekend in July. Early on, trailer trucks brought in all manner of potted plants and ground coverings which were set up near a rustic fountain. Later, smaller vans brought in plant cuttings, tulip bulbs and seed packets which were set up in independent stands near the old church entrance. Behind St. John’s, the main row of established flower dealers was set up as a series of colorful covered stalls with worn wooden tables for sorting, cutting and wrapping fresh flowers. These storefronts featured fabulous hanging baskets, exquisite single stemmed flowers and huge buckets of bouquets for between 5 and 25 euros. Once the morning clouds broke, the variety of colors, sizes and shapes was fully revealed in the dappled sunlight. It was breathtaking.
I took a knee to examine some exotic ground covering and desert succulents, small hardy plants that look spikey and dangerous but are neither. Then I wandered over to an area of garden and household potted plants, still moist from the morning dew and perfumed with a rich earthy smell.
One particularly tall decorative vine was the subject of a lively discussion between a florist and his customer. After some rehearsed discussion, a deal was struck and the item placed in a unsteady bakfiets (a custom made bicycle with a wheelbarrow attached to it) beside two bored children. Just then a local café owner pulled up in a vintage hatchback to load up nearly a dozen large potted plants for his vendors.
A social scented gathering with wonderful backdrops
As I took in the full spectrum of nature’s grandeur near the biggest stalls, I noticed the sweet but complex smell of roses, gardenias and peonies as I approached the cut flower vendors. The couple next to me said they were getting fresh blooms for the house ‘like we always do’ on Saturday, a ritual since they married five years ago. Wherever I looked, people seemed happy to be here, walking, chatting and buying large sprays of perfect assorted flowers. Shoppers held on tight to the awkwardly wrapped paper bouquets but with an unmistakable sense of satisfaction – like Christmas time! It seemed everybody enjoyed the natural joys of the bloemenmarkt. Finally, I gave in and fell in love with a bunch of bright yellow sunflowers with thick, juicy stems and a few blooms of purple hortensia to create a deliciously over-sized table setting for my apartment. As I write this they fill my living room with beauty and a subtle perfume that makes the day a little nicer. Perhaps fresh flowers will become a Saturday ritual as it is for so many Utrechters, and yet another reason to look forward to the weekend.