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-Three for a tenner then.
-Fiver an orchid!
'Flowers - we give them
'to each other to express our most powerful feelings...'
'..from passionate love to abject apology...'
Three bunches a tenner.
'..from joyful celebration to profound grief,
'they mark the most important moments in our lives.'
They're amazing! They're so beautiful.
Here in the UK, we spend over £1 billion every year on one
of the most fragile and beautiful things on the planet - flowers.
But where do they come from and how do they get here?
Millions of men and women all over the world work to bring these
flowers into our homes.
The beating heart of the world's cut flower business is
a market like no other -
a vast complex the size of Monaco that draws
billions of flowers from around the globe for the buyers that do
battle with each other in what's known as the Wall Street of Flowers.
I've been given exclusive access
to the largest flower market on Earth
at one of the busiest times of the year
to follow the truly extraordinary journey of flowers.
'I'll be joined by Simon Lycett - florist to celebrities
'and the royal palaces.'
Flowers knock some of the rough edges off life
and make it a whole lot more enjoyable for many, many people.
'This is the miraculous story of how three of our most loved flowers -
'the rose, the lily and the tulip - are bred...'
-That's the stamen?
-That is the stamen.
That is massive!
I could nearly cry! I work with these on a daily basis
and I've never seen them in such quantity!
'..transported thousands of miles in just 48 hours to arrive pristine
'and beautiful for us to share them with the people who matter most.
'It's the most beautiful race against time.'
Simon Lycett created the exquisite flower arrangements for
Posh and Becks' wedding and is florist to the royal palaces.
He spends his life working with flowers
but he's never explored the miraculous journey of how
they get from the other side of the world to his workshop.
As florists, a lot of us take for granted the fact that we can
ring our wholesaler, we can pop into New Covent Garden Market
and that there will be the flowers we want.
It's always mystified me.
If I want 20,000 Sweet Avalanche roses on Thursday, I can have them.
Where do all these roses come from that we use?
Around 70% of all the flowers we buy in the UK arrive via
Most pass through a 60 square mile area in Holland
made up of three huge flower markets -
Aalsmeer, Naaldwijk and Rijnsburg.
Together, they form the biggest flower market in the world.
This is Aalsmeer flower market.
This structure covers one million square metres,
giving it the largest footprint on the planet.
This is just one part of a vast market complex
processing 12.5 billion plants and flowers a year.
Every 24 hours, almost 30 million flowers arrive here
from all over the world.
The auction begins at 6am
and there's just a four-hour window to sell every single stem.
There are seven auction rooms...
..an electric monorail system
with 18km of track, and it's the run-up to Mother's Day
and millions of flowers will be sent to the UK.
This place is absolutely vast.
It's like a town where the houses move.
This entire market complex is owned by Royal FloraHolland -
a co-operative of flower growers.
It began over 100 years ago.
Towards the end of the 19th century, Dutch farmers and gardeners started
to grow and sell cut flowers to supplement their incomes.
Then the growers came up with a brilliant idea - to join
together and sell their flowers from one place at special auctions.
These gave buyers a wider choice of flowers
but they had to compete with one another to buy them,
giving the growers a better price.
The Dutch flower industry exploded.
By the 1920s, Dutch buyers started driving across Europe
to sell their flowers.
Known as Flying Dutchmen, they based themselves in the markets
and they still operate here today.
'Robert Janssen is a Flying Dutchman
'who works with his father in the family business.'
Right. Here we go.
Wow, Robert, this is so beautiful.
'They supply flowers to 140 clients in the South of England.
'Yesterday, he bought half the flowers he needs
'for his next trip to the UK.'
Why is your lorry laid out in such a beautiful way?
It must look like a shop for my customers.
It's a shop? So your customers come in here?
Yes, then they can choose whatever they like.
-It must be like a showroom.
So it has to be laid out really good.
How much does it cost for this lorry to go to the UK and come back?
Every week, it costs you about 6,000, 7,000 euros.
-£6,000...in petrol and time?
And the space that you rent at the auction, things like that.
So you've got to make sure that you sell every single bunch of flowers?
But the cut flower business is rapidly changing.
Increasingly, it's dominated by big exporters
who only buy in vast scale and sell globally.
Simon has gone to the dealing rooms of one of the very largest.
Bart Duyvenvoorde's company has an annual turnover
of almost 100 million euros.
-How much money will you spend?
-Normally, £300,000-£400,000 a day.
-So this is a very busy time?
-This is a very busy time, yeah.
The flowers that you're buying,
you're going to send all across the world?
All across the world, yeah, that's true.
-10-15 different countries or something.
Tsjechie, Spanje, Portugal, France,
Russia, Siberia, Switzerland, Germany.
-These flowers really are going worldwide, aren't they?
There's one flower that will be at the very top of Bart's
shopping list - the rose.
Each day, almost 15 million of them
pass through the market to be sold on all over the world.
They are the best-selling flower in the UK.
Our love affair with them stretches back through time.
The Romans believed the rose was a symbol of Venus -
the goddess of love.
Wars have been fought in their name
and Shakespeare celebrated them in his sonnets.
For decades, most of our roses were grown in Europe, but today,
we want more affordable roses all year round
and that means 70% of the roses we buy in the UK
are grown in a country which has perpetual sunshine -
I've heading to Nanyuki in Kenya.
Thanks to the warm climate and low labour costs, the Kenyan
flower industry has grown tenfold over the last 30 years.
Kenya is now the third largest producer of cut flowers
in the world.
The bulk of the roses grown in Kenya are for supermarkets
but one farm here grows some of the most beautiful
and rare English varieties you can buy, and I love them.
It's strange to have come all the way to Africa
in search of English garden roses
but I'm off to Tambuzi Farm,
who are famous, in my world, for growing scented roses.
And to me, they're Dom Perignon. They are the rose of my choice.
The farm is nestled in the foothills of Mount Kenya.
Originally, it was a beef and dairy farm, but 20 years ago, the owners
decided to switch to growing scented roses for the high-end market.
Today, they have six greenhouses on 60 acres and employ 500 people.
-You lead on.
-OK. OK, just follow me. Please.
Do I step in this?
Yes, you have to because that is a disinfectant,
as you head to the greenhouses.
-Oh, my gosh!
-Welcome to the greenhouse.
So exciting to be here!
'The rose-growing industry is relatively new in Kenya.
'Rebecca Muthiani had never even seen a rose before she started
'working in the business two decades ago.
'Today, she oversees the cultivation of all the roses, including
'some created by the legendary English breeder David Austin.'
Oh! And this is a David Austin rose?
This is a David Austin rose.
Relatively new, strong colour,
so very on-trend for sort of the hot colours, i.e. in London...
Yeah, hot colours.
..I create flower arrangements for a lot of my clients.
Many are weddings, using all the pale colours behind you,
but a lot of the parties love that pink.
So which of all of them is your favourite rose?
My favourite rose is Juliet.
And what are you harvesting? This is...
-This is Juliet.
-Look at that! Look at...
-Look at that colour!
-Wow! Really pale.
And then very deep.
Yeah, it will open to this orange, and I love it.
You honestly cannot believe how...
What a scent!
..extraordinary it is for me to be here amongst all these beaut...
I could nearly cry.
I work with these on a daily basis and I've never seen them
in such quantity and they... Oh!
Oh, my God!
The farm is owned and run by Maggie Hobbs and her husband, Tim.
They grow over 70 varieties of rose.
But in a fiercely competitive market, they're constantly trialling
So this is where we look at plants that we think
-we might grow in the future.
We take them from all sorts of different breeders,
lots of different places,
and we tend to select primarily for beauty and scent.
We want to delight people like you.
Well, you certainly do it so well, my God!
Let's go and see where we choose what the next Tambuzi roses
are going to be.
This is a spray rose,
so you're getting four different flowers on there.
You're getting a little bit of scent. Not heavy, heavy scent.
It hasn't got enough scent, perhaps. I don't know -
-what do you think?
Yeah, it's on the edge. So we will come in with a sheet
and we'll say, colour - yes. So we give that a nine.
Shape - we're really liking the shape.
The scent - we're going to give it a three or a four.
And we would then rate it overall to see if it becomes a Tambuzi rose.
And will fragrance win over virtually everything else?
-I'm with you!
Because fragrance is actually not what anyone else is doing.
These roses are already opening when they're cut,
so by the time they arrive
anywhere in the world, the flowers are ready for immediate display.
But their large open blooms are incredibly fragile.
I'm curious to find out how they survive their 4,000-mile journey.
So Shadrack, the roses have come from the field...
'Shadrack Atanda has the huge challenge of ensuring these
'roses get to buyers like me in perfect condition.'
And why is that so crucial?
As a florist, I know cut flowers
deteriorate very quickly in the heat.
At their field temperature of 25 degrees,
these roses will age around 30 times faster than at their ideal
storage temperature, just above freezing.
Chilling them too quickly can kill them,
so they need to be cooled down slowly in stages.
How long do you keep them in here?
24 hours in a cool room like this
is a long time in the life cycle of a rose, but it's vital...
This vast flower head needs to be slowly and gently put to sleep,
and then it will reawaken when you get it into your vase.
Because they're an open flower that are being transported,
not tight buds that we see elsewhere, these flowers need extra
special care, so they've pioneered a packaging technique where
they're using cardboard to separate each bloom so that even if
that box is kicked from here to Siberia, they'll arrive unbruised.
Then the team add one final touch.
So they're going to drink...?
Then the bunches are carefully packed in special boxes.
Botrytis is a fungus that can destroy roses.
So this sheet of very special impregnated paper...
-Very special, yeah.
-..goes on to prevent diseases?
Tambuzi caters to a small select clientele
like me and other high-end customers.
Their flowers are expensive at between £1 and £2 a stem.
The bulk of the Kenyan flower industry grow very different
varieties for a mass market, supplying supermarkets with huge
quantities of roses at a fraction of the cost - around 40p-60p a stem.
I've come to Sian Roses - one of the largest growers in Kenya.
They have three flower farms covering 250 acres -
over twice the size of the Vatican City -
and they employ 2,000 people.
Every year, they send five million roses to the UK.
'General manager Clement Ngetich is showing me around.'
Wow, it's huge!
How many plants are in one hectare of greenhouse?
And how many flowers will 80,000 rose plants produce each year?
They have 100 of these polytunnels,
and every year, they produce 150 million stems of roses.
In contrast to the Tambuzi roses, these are cut
just as they're about to bloom,
so when we buy them in the UK and put them in water,
they will open in our vase.
If you cut too early, what will happen to them?
The cut point on any stem is like an open wound.
If it gets infected, the rose won't be able to drink the water it needs,
so each flower is put in an antibacterial solution.
These smaller, less open roses can be cooled faster -
in under 12 hours.
Then they are graded and packed.
Sian sells flowers to Asia, the Middle East and Australia,
but Europe is their biggest market.
'These roses won't travel with water because the extra weight would
'mean much higher airfreight costs
'and a higher price for you and me...'
-It's cold in here!
-It's cold enough.
'..so to make sure they survive their big journey,
'they're given one last drink, cooled down further
'to two degrees into an almost sleep-like state
'and densely packed in boxes.'
'I'm following the roses to Nairobi Airport to see them
'head off to Holland.
'Before they can board the plane,
'each box needs to be X-rayed for security.'
I'm quite liking the X-ray of a rose. They're rather beautiful.
Sort of a little bit art house.
Yeah, it does rob them a bit of their colour
but, you know, it's there for them to see.
'Art Wright, general manager for Panalpina Airflo, has to make sure
'that flowers from all over Kenya make it onto the plane safely.'
And this is all going on 24 hours a day?
365 days a year.
And how many stems will pass through here in a day?
Well, close to 25 million stems.
People in the UK and Europe love a good rose.
They do love a good rose.
Once the flowers have passed security, teams of cargo handlers
build them into huge pallets ready for loading onto the cargo planes.
This is extraordinary. These pallets, each of them weighing
between two and three tonnes
and containing up to 100,000 stems of flowers,
have been gathered from all across Kenya,
boxed down in a compact manner
and they're going to start their journey, 4,000 miles to the markets.
MAN SHOUTS OUT
The flowers are often shipped at night
so they can arrive early in the markets.
I've been given access to one of the cargo planes
as it's about to be loaded.
It's massive! And every night, planes like this leave Kenya
packed with flowers.
Last year, over 2,000 planes flew out of Kenya, packed with flowers,
destined for the Dutch markets.
These roses have just travelled 4,000 miles from Africa.
By the time they get here, they are really in need of some TLC.
Many of these roses are destined for supermarkets.
For the majority of their journey, they have to be kept chilled.
But while they're being unloaded,
the roses are exposed to temperatures of 15 degrees.
It's now a race against time to break up these huge bales
and transport the boxes to the far side of the complex,
where the roses are readied for auction.
Aalsmeer is vast and they need to travel almost half a kilometre
to get to Fresco Flowers - the company that unpacks them,
checks them for quality and prepares them for sale.
They process 20% of all the roses that come to this market.
'Gerjan Telleman has spent a decade making sure African roses
'look their very best for the buyers.'
-In Kenya, they put a wrapper around for their protection.
-They take off the wrapper...
They look into the flowers...
Hang them in their fingers to make them all the same level.
Right, and what else are they doing?
They take out the open flowers and the damaged flowers
and put in a new stem.
What's the problem if they're open?
An open flower, like you can see here, is opened much quicker than
the tight flower, so after two or three days, it is gone,
and the other ones can stay for a couple of days longer.
Oh, I see. So, as the consumer, I want flowers that are going to open
-all at the same time?
-Yeah, that's true.
Once Gerjan's team are happy with the quality,
each bunch is tied and recut.
This removes any decaying tissue from the end of the stem.
It's a bit like unblocking a straw
and it helps the roses to drink water again.
Finally, they're wrapped.
So they're starting to really look like the kind of thing
-that I would buy.
-Now we put them in water.
OK. So what is in the buckets? Is it just water?
-It's water with an antibacterial.
Why don't you put plant food in there?
Flower food is more for the consumer.
They want the flowers more open.
Now that the roses have been processed,
they're taken to the chill rooms.
Flowers aren't just arriving here from Africa...
3,000 trucks from all over Europe are delivering roses, tulips,
lilies and a myriad of other flowers to the auctions.
This whole operation is driven by one big purpose -
to get these beautiful and fragile flowers into our homes
and florists in pristine condition in the shortest time possible.
As soon as they arrive, the flowers are moved to huge
refrigerators known as chill rooms.
Each variety of flower needs to be stored at its own
There's just an hour to go before the auctions starts.
Buyers are coming to chill rooms all over the market complex
to scrutinise the flowers and decide which ones they want to buy.
Simon has gone to the chill room in Naaldwijk,
which is full of roses ready for inspection.
I've come here to meet Bart.
As the third biggest buyer of roses in Holland,
he has hundreds of clients counting on HIM to deliver
the best quality roses at the right price.
But Bart only has a tiny window of time to decide which roses
he's going to bid for today.
So Bart, what are you looking for with these roses?
I'm looking if the quality's good,
if they're not too tight, not too open. Um...
Like, this is a bit too open for today.
And do you do this every day?
I do this every day, yeah. Every day we need to check it,
every day we need to check quickly how they're looking.
So you need to make sure that what you're buying is fabulous?
-I need to do it for the customer.
I'm the eyes of the customer. There we go.
So you're able to look at a rose and know how much it's worth?
More or less, yeah.
This one's a bit too tight. That tells me
-how much money I want to give for it...
-Oh, OK. Yep.
..in the morning.
So I think, not too much money today!
'Buying on such a huge scale gives Bart a lot of power.
'He can afford to bid higher, making a smaller margin on each rose
'and still make a good profit overall.
'This means Bart gets the roses HE needs,
'elbowing out his smaller competitors.'
How much would you pay for a stem for a rose?
I think, for this one, this is 7cm, I think
this goes up today to a maximum of 60 cents.
-For a single stem?
-Maximum. I hope I'm going to buy them for 50, 55.
All the flowers sold at the auctions are graded by the growers
into three categories -
A1, A2 and B1.
Most of the flowers we buy in the UK are A1s.
A2 and B1 are cheaper
and are usually sold to Eastern Europe and Russia.
Look, this is the A2.
This is more damaged, you see.
So, that's a good one, that's a bad one?
-Yeah, this one is too open. This one is too black.
There's all different head sizes in it. That makes them A2.
-Gosh, you really have to scrutinise these.
What quality is this?
-This is A1.
This is more for the exclusive florist.
This is much bigger than the others ones,
this is much nicer than the other ones,
it's a longer vase life than the other ones.
It's nice to see as well.
-Yeah, it's really nice to see.
-So I want to see them every day.
One third of the roses that Bart buys today will go to the UK.
Our second most-loved flower, the lily, is also sold here
in huge quantities.
Mentioned in the Bible, and associated with the Virgin Mary,
the lily became the symbol of purity and chastity.
The white lily, in particular, is given at funerals
to symbolise the innocence of the soul.
The regal lily, with its trumpet-shaped flowers,
was brought to Britain from China in 1903.
Today, the Oriental varieties are the best-selling lilies in the UK.
Many of these travel through the Dutch markets,
where almost 300 million lilies are sold each year.
Just like Dutch rose growers,
the lily growers in Holland face increasing competition
from countries with warmer climates and lower labour costs.
To keep their market share,
the Dutch are having to find cheaper ways to grow high quality flowers.
I've come to Rijnsburg...
..to meet a grower who has totally transformed his business
by investing ten million euros on cutting-edge technology.
I've always imagined flower-growing to be a traditional
and labour-intensive business,
but I'm about to meet a grower who is using a high-tech system
to produce some of the best lilies in the world.
This glasshouse is vast.
It's the size of 16 football pitches,
but the most astonishing thing...
is that the lilies are moving.
I'm surrounded by an army of marching flowers.
This is the cutting edge of flower-growing,
developed to feed the market's insatiable hunger for lilies.
In the UK alone, we import over £50 million worth of lilies each year.
Half of the lilies grown in the Netherlands end up in the UK.
Three vast greenhouses cover over 20 acres and are filled with
16,000 moving beds of lilies growing under artificial sunlight.
An entire ecosystem created to defy nature
and grow the perfect lily 365 days a year.
With a staff of just 18 people,
it's almost entirely automated and the only moving thing you'll see
when you walk through here are lilies.
'Paauw Lilies was founded almost a century ago
'and managing director Wim-Jan Paauw
'is the third generation of his family to grow lilies.
'He's brought me to see the first stage of the process.'
Whoa. Oh, my God.
So this is our stock of fresh, clean peat moss.
Why is it steaming?
Because, in the steaming process, we sterilise the soil.
We heat the peat up to 100 degrees.
Because, during the growth of the last crop,
you have some harmful bacterias
and, with steaming it, you kill those.
And then we can reuse it again.
Don't you kill all of the nutrients in the soil?
-No, they are still in it. That's not a problem.
-They're still in there.
So, this soil is clean,
-it's going to give you the best result.
-That's the way, yeah.
The soil is made up of peat moss from the Baltic states,
chosen because it's lightweight,
suits the mobile growing trays and the lilies,
which like good drainage.
Every day, around 150 tonnes of it pass through this plant
to be recycled after each crop is harvested.
The temperature of the steam is controlled,
to make sure any bacteria growing in the soil are killed.
After cooling down for three days, it's ready for planting.
So here we do the planting.
So, as you can see, this is a medium-sized bulb,
and, depending on the variety,
we place a number of bulbs in the crate.
And the reason we still do it by hand
is that the bulb has to face up.
-Can I have a go?
-OK, so you have to do them...
-Every time, two hands.
-Every time, two hands.
-OK, why two hands?
-It's more efficient.
OK. So where are these grown? Where do you get these from?
We buy the bulbs from bulb growers and every bulb has only one stem
and the bigger the bulb is, the more flowers it gives per stem.
-Is this a big bulb?
-This is an extra large size.
This is an extra large, and how many flowers
-would you expect from it?
-At least five or six.
'Ten lily bulbs are planted in each crate
'and then moved out into the first of three glasshouses.'
'Each one has its own carefully controlled microclimate.'
'The temperature, lighting and irrigation
'are all regulated by a central computer.
'This system produces stunning lilies in just a third of the time
'it would take if they were grown outdoors.'
They go through three phases.
-This is the first stage over there.
Then they come to this greenhouse
-and they stay about a month in this greenhouse.
And, after two months, they go to the last greenhouse
when they start flowering.
So they have different climate zones for different growing periods.
-How interesting. So you're recreating the seasons?
-In the beginning they like more springtime, so more cold.
This is the summertime, so we need lots of light and temperature.
And, at the end, we need to cool down a little bit
to get the good quality.
'The computer tracks the location of each tray,
'moving it through the glasshouses and seasons to maturity.
'Once the lilies are close to flowering,
'they are moved into this central hub,
'where human skills are still needed.'
So, after three months they come here in the hub,
but the problem is that they're not all finished at the same time.
So, how can you tell, cos, to me, these all look the same?
The guys who are doing the harvesting,
they have so much experience that they know exactly which one to pick.
They just pick out the ones that are ripe enough.
So, for example, which one is ready and which one isn't?
You can see this one has started colouring
-and probably they will pick this one.
But this is still too green.
Right, so it's actually nothing about how tall they are,
-because those two are almost the same.
This one needs another three or four days before it has to be ready.
Traditionally, workers have to go out into the huge glasshouses
to harvest the flowers, but here the lilies come to them.
This has increased production by 15%,
without increasing the workforce, which has stayed at just 18 people.
So how many stems are you cutting every day?
Er, we do about between 40,000 and 50,000 stems a day.
That's absolutely incredible. How much does that equate to a year?
-Yeah. We do about ten million stems a year.
Once the lilies are cut, they're off to be graded.
Each stem is sorted by number of flowers and bunched.
Finally, they're wrapped and within just a minute of being cut,
they're back in the water.
-So these are ready now?
-These are ready to go to the auction.
-So it's THAT quick?
So they're cut, sorted, packed,
-sold at auction, transported to England in 24 hours?
So tomorrow night these lilies could be on someone's kitchen table?
Yeah. That's what we work for, yep.
Wim sends all his lilies to the markets,
where the auctions begin at 6am each day.
Seven auctions run simultaneously, across the market complex.
'Robert Janssen, the Flying Dutchman,
'was at the auction in Rijnsburg yesterday.
'But, with UK Mother's Day looming,
'he's got to buy 30,000 stems of flowers to fill his orders.
'He has to leave for England by 1pm,
'so this is his last chance to buy what he needs.
'Robert has 30,000 euros to spend,
'but he is competing against 500 other buyers in the auction
'and 2,000 others online.
'His family's business hinges on the next four hours.'
Is today a particularly busy day for you?
Yes. Mother's Day is more like the busiest for us.
-The busiest week.
-How long have you been doing this?
Yeah. I was 17.
So did you come here with your dad, originally?
-Well, are you a dream team?
-Yeah, no mistakes.
'Rijnsburg is where most of the small buyers, like Robert,
'come to get their flowers, because it has lots of variety
'and they can buy here in smaller quantities.'
So what are you buying today? What's on the shopping list?
-Tulips, and some roses.
And what particular colour?
-At the moment it's all pink.
-It's all pink.
-OK, so it's a Mother's Day...?
-Mother's Day is always pink.
-I have to have a look now.
-OK. Go for it. Go for it.
It's just after 6am and the auction is under way.
Most of the buyers here are Flying Dutchmen, like Robert.
They trade in smaller quantities, which means they need to have
a bigger profit margin to make a living.
The flowers are brought out on trolleys for buyers to view.
Robert is keeping track of what's happening on the big screens.
From these, he can see the variety, grower...
..quality and size,
amount of stems for sale and the country of origin.
So, over here, we've got flowers from Israel...
We've got tulips from Holland. We've got roses from Kenya.
We've just had some from Ethiopia and we've had flowers from Italy.
And they really are coming from all over the world
and they could end up anywhere.
Robert, are you buying right now?
Just one moment...
In the centre of each screen is a large circle of dots,
which is a called a Dutch Auction Clock.
In auctions, the auctioneer starts with a high asking price,
and, as the clock counts down from 100 -
which is shown by the red dot - the price drops.
It keeps dropping until a bid is made, which stops the clock.
Buyers bid by pressing the button on their desk.
But what makes THESE auctions so tricky is that the first bid wins.
It seems more like a gamble than an auction.
If Robert waits too long, hoping to get a lower price,
another buyer will get there first and win the bid.
Every time the dot stops flowers are sold.
It's so fast that I find it impossible to keep up.
On a busy day like this, there are over 100,000 transactions,
totalling approximately ten million euros.
So it seems to me that the real skill is all about timing.
You can only bid once.
The trick is to catch the moment where you get the lowest price,
without missing the batch.
That seems to be the key.
-What have you just bought?
-Nine boxes of Cymbidium orchids.
They are absolutely amazing.
-Are they expensive?
-2.50 euros for every box?
-For the small ones.
-No, for a stem.
You can't disappoint your customers.
I give them a price and it's up to me if I can buy it cheap or not.
-So you carry the cost if you get the bid wrong?
So it is very stressful and there's a huge amount of pressure on you
-to get it right?
-Robert, have you ever bought anything by mistake?
So, I've just counted the women in here...
and there's one.
Just the one woman.
Who knew that flowers was such a masculine industry?
Robert isn't just competing with everyone in the auction room.
There are thousands of other traders online
who are trying to buy the same flowers.
Simon's gone to Naaldwijk, on the other side of the market complex
to catch up with one of the biggest buyers - Bart - who he met earlier.
Bart has his very own high-tech dealing room
that allows him and his team to buy huge quantities of flowers,
at all seven auctions in the market complex...
without leaving the office.
Each buyer specialises in just one type of flower.
Bart's been busy buying the Dutch roses he was checking out earlier
and trading has been hectic.
So, Bart, tell me how many stems have you been buying today?
It's 1.4 million till now.
-1.4 million stems already?
-And we're half...
-We're still running for another hour.
-It's quite busy.
-It's really busy.
-Yeah, a busy day.
And you're buying from three different flower markets.
Yes, three different auctions, yeah.
-So this screen...
-This is Aalsmeer.
-This shows me what's happening in Aalsmeer.
-And it's a different grower.
-I need to buy them...
Oops, sorry. So you just bought...
No... Did you buy...? Yeah, you bought those.
50 I bought for 39 cents.
And that's a good price?
Yeah, that's a good price. It's a really good price.
'Bart isn't just filling his clients' orders...
'When he spots a good deal, he's buying extra,
'hoping to sell them on his company web shop
'to florists all over Europe.'
You bought those?
Yeah, it was a Golden Ambition, it was a yellow rose.
I've got now in my stock 1,200 bins of roses
that need to go today or tomorrow.
So today or tomorrow you've got to shift...?
I can check it... It's 52,000 stems.
52,000 stems that you alone
-have got to shift.
-Yep. And they need to go today or tomorrow.
Today or tomorrow. And what happens if they don't?
-Then I've got a problem.
70% to 80% of the flowers that Bart buys will be sold online.
But his company also serves wholesalers and florists directly.
On a busy week like this, they will send over 150 trucks into the UK.
It's Robin Hesselberth's job to ensure that all these flowers
get to their clients on time.
It's not only having the best quality flowers.
The price needs to be good and you have to be the quickest.
-So, if you get an order in from a flower shop in the UK...
..how long have you got to get the flowers?
If I got my order in before, let's say, 4am in the morning,
it can be at the florist shop within 24 hours.
Within 24 hours, you can have those flowers in the UK?
-Six days a week.
-Six days a week.
'In less than four hours of trading,
'Bart and his team have spent almost 600,000 euros buying flowers.'
CHERRY: Back in the auction, Robert is buying the last of HIS orders.
He's managed to get all the flowers that he needs
for his budget of 30,000 euros.
Do you love the thrill of it, the buzz, the excitement?
Yes. The buying I do love, to make sure that I'm buying
the best quality for the best price.
You make a sport out of it to have the cheapest.
-So it's hunting?
It's hunting for the perfect prize.
-Will you let me buy something?
Yes. Just go to the clock, say number six,
-and then you have to put your thumb on the thing.
-On the button.
You can buy, say, the Mont Blanc.
Just push it when it is a bit lower than this.
Not yet. Just push it now and just say one.
-How many did I buy? Two boxes.
Is your house always full of flowers?
Yes, but that's also a good thing,
cos then I see how the quality is as well.
So then you see what it is.
So, what do you get your wife for her birthday?
-She probably doesn't want flowers, does she?
Now the auction is finished, Robert has to wait
around two-and-half hours for his flowers to arrive.
In the buyers' depot, his truck is already half full
with the flowers he bought yesterday.
There's a dazzling array of different varieties and colours,
but his largest purchase is Holland's most famous flower
and one of the most loved in the world -
The tulip is the third best-selling flower in the UK.
We love them because they're colourful,
uplifting and inexpensive.
They originally came from the mountains of Central Asia.
The Persians began growing tulips over 1,000 years ago
and the Ottoman sultans loved their bold colours.
Soon after the first bulbs arrived in Holland,
the upper classes fell in love with this exotic flower.
At the height of tulip mania,
a single bulb could be bought and sold for the price of a house.
The tulip market crashed in 1637,
but by then it had become one of the most loved flowers in Holland.
Today, it's the cornerstone of the Dutch flower industry.
Every year, vast sums of money are spent studying the species,
helping growers develop new and better varieties.
I'm meeting Professor Beverley Glover,
a British scientist who has spent decades investigating
the sex lives of flowers, including the tulip.
So I'm going to take you to see some tulips that show
some really nice patterns of colour
and how they use those to attract different sorts of pollinators.
So this is a wild tulip species and you can see that it's got this
wonderful yellow target, like a bull's-eye, in the middle
of these pink petals.
And that's to make it easy for the pollinator.
So, rather than having to think, from a distance, of where to land
to get at the nectar and pollen, you can see you just go
straight to the centre of the bull's-eye.
Such bright colours and all of them have that target in the middle.
That's right. So the bull's-eye is very important.
So you can see it here in this red tulip,
with its strong black centre. That's another way of achieving
the same thing. But insects see in a different colour spectrum from us,
they don't see the same range of colours we do
and they see into the ultraviolet, which we can't.
So some flowers do this similar kind of bull's-eye patterning,
but we can't see it. It's only visible to the insects.
What does it look like?
It looks just like an unpatterned flower to us.
Something like a buttercup or an evening primrose.
Let me take you over and show you one.
This is a great example of a plant that has a bull's-eye on the flower
that we just can't see at all.
It's a buttercup and what you can see is this astonishing gloss.
-It's really shiny, isn't it?
-Bright, shiny and yellow.
But you can't see any pattern.
But if we look at it in the UV, which is how the insect can see it,
then you see there's this really clear bull's-eye in the centre,
just like with the visible ones we saw in the tulips.
-It looks completely different.
So, if I was an insect, that is what I would see
-if I was approaching that flower?
So this has developed purely so that the flower can reproduce,
so that it can carry on breeding?
Yeah, that's right.
All of this advertising...
You can think of it as adverts, they're billboards,
are there to bring in insects, make sure the flower gets pollinated,
make sure there's seed and another generation to come.
Today, tulip growers build upon this knowledge
to breed an extraordinary range of different varieties
that they sell at the markets.
As the flower industry grows every year,
the thirst for new varieties is never-ending.
Growers invest millions of euros in trying to create something new
that we customers cannot resist.
The tulip, the flower that started the Dutch revolution,
has changed enormously since it came here in the 16th century.
There are now over 8,000 different varieties
and that's thanks to growers like Geert Hageman,
who has been breeding them for almost 40 years.
So, what's through here?
Tulips, tulips, tulips.
This was taken in two days ago.
-Oh, gosh, it's already sprouting.
-And that was about five days ago.
-OK. God, they grow quickly!
These are almost two weeks.
I love that there are some renegade ones
that have just grown massively tall.
-They're particularly Dutch tulips, really tall!
So, what's through here?
-Over here, we have a testing room for all new varieties.
These are varieties that are, for the first time, in the greenhouse.
-We have bred this in 2010.
It takes six years before you have this bulb
and it takes another 20 years
before you have enough to go to the auction.
So it takes 25 years to cultivate a new breed?
Yes, it takes 25 years.
Wow, that's some love!
'Geert wants to show me some of the tulips he bred six years ago,
'that are flowering for the first time.'
This part is from one mother and one father.
So these are all brothers and sisters?
-They are all brothers and sisters.
-So they came from two parent bulbs?
-But they're so different.
So how do you cross-breed tulips? I mean, do they go on a date?
Yes, there is a date and I will make an example.
The first important part is that you are taking away
the pollen from the plant that we are choosing.
-So that's the daddy plant...
-Cos you love that one...
-Yes, because it is heavy.
-Heavy and strong.
-This has a lot of crispa, we call that crispa.
-Kind of like little teeth.
-You are taking...
-Oh, you brush it.
-OK, to get the pollen off?
-And then you put it onto the stamen.
Oh, I see. So you're taking the genetics from one plant
-and mixing them with the other.
-Yep. Totally right.
This is a little bit too early because on a certain moment
it's a little bit hairy.
And then the pollen stays on the stamen.
-So you have to wait for the lady to be nice and hairy?
I mean, I love it.
And, after five or six weeks, the stamen is growing
and we have some examples on that side of the window.
And that is growing after six or seven weeks.
-That's the stamen?!
-That is the stamen.
That is massive! What?!
-The stamen actually grows?
Oh, God, I never...
I did GCSE Biology and that is... I must have forgotten that bit.
And, in the stamen, you now see there's some seeds
and the seeds you are planting in autumn.
-Oh, I see.
-And, the year after, you get small bulblets
and then, after five years, you see the first flowers.
-You have to be a patient person to breed tulips.
So, from this batch, that are all from the same stamen,
which ones are you going to choose?
I think only this one.
-So that yellow one, that's the only one you'll keep?
Last year we were growing about 100,000 new varieties
and we kept only 100.
That was it.
So do you have anything here that is a fantastic success
that you've bred? Something new?
Again, another greenhouse.
I will show you one of my favourites.
Especially the colour and also the form.
-Oh, wow! Oh, my God!
-Did you breed that?
-Yes, I bred that.
-You bred that?
This is a crossing from about 20 years ago.
It looks like a peony.
Yes, it does. It's beautiful.
-And that took you 20 years?
-Yep, 20 years.
So how many tulips have you created, have you bred, in that time?
I think more than 100.
Is that one of your favourites of the whole programme?
Yeah, because it is totally different.
Geert is one of the biggest suppliers of tulips to the markets.
Each day, seven million tulips,
along with tens of millions of other flowers, are sold at auction.
The moment any flower is bought, they're taken to a huge buffer zone
to be distributed to the buyer.
And it's Edward Mauritz's job to get them to the correct destination.
So, Edward, can you please explain what is going on here?
This is the start of the distribution process.
In two-and-a-half hours, the buyer should have his flowers.
It's 11am in Aalsmeer and the flowers need to travel
almost 2km to the special depot,
on the other side of the complex, where the buyers are waiting.
Many buyers purchase small amounts of different flowers.
These are first grouped together
so they can be delivered in one big batch.
People are whizzing around, criss-crossing with each other
and, yet, no one seems to be banging into each other.
That's because we train them a lot.
The flowers are then taken in caravans to a special loading bay.
Every moment is critical, so now they're loaded
onto the fastest electrical monorail in the world.
It has 18km of track, 13,000 trolleys
and a max speed of 180 metres a minute.
Engineer Adwin Sohl installed the system
and it's his job to make sure that it runs like clockwork.
Oh, my gosh.
I'm assuming we're not allowed a ride on the shuttle?
Oh, wow. Look at this!
'The monorail collects flowers from ten stations
'and carries them over a busy road, via a 500-metre bridge.'
How many trolleys are going across every day?
On a busy day like now,
it's about 16,000 transports a day.
-16,000 transports today?
-In the buyer's warehouse at Rijnsburg Market,
the flowers have landed.
Danny Van der Meij, a former Flying Dutchman,
is now the UK sales manager for a big export company.
He's just taken delivery of some of the Kenyan roses I saw being grown.
Like Bart, Danny has embraced a new way of selling
in this rapidly changing market.
His company, Rijnsflowers, sell huge amounts of flowers online
and uploading reliable photographs
is crucial to the success of this business.
They have installed an ingenious computer system in the warehouse
that reads each barcode and decides how to take the best photographs
of each bucket of flowers.
-Wow. So that takes a photo...
-..that then you immediately upload?
And then any florist in a flower shop throughout Europe
can look and access those...
-Throughout the world.
-Throughout the world?
And be buying immediately.
Yes. Ones that have been bought this morning at eight o'clock
will be in our premises at ten o'clock
and will be anywhere in Europe the next morning by eight o'clock.
CHERRY: All the flowers bought at this morning's auctions
are ready to be loaded up for the buyers.
Robert Janssen's flowers have arrived.
His wife, Anja, has come to help him
pack up his lorry before he heads off to the UK.
In times like this - Mother's Day, Valentine's Day -
he's going away today and he's back next Wednesday, I think.
-Gosh, that's a long time.
A normal week is leaving Sunday morning at seven,
driving to England, then be back, say, Tuesday evening.
-You must miss your kids so much when you're away.
-Especially in the morning.
-"Are you going again?"
Yes, of course.
Sometimes the kids think that this is his home.
-They think he lives here?
-Especially the little one.
Now Robert has turned from buyer to seller.
Once he arrives in the UK, he heads to Weymouth.
Over the next 34 hours, he needs to sell all the flowers in his truck.
Lilac stalks would be nice, a couple of lilac stalks.
Robert has 48 customers, spread over 300 miles
along the south coast of England...
Florists, fruit and veg shops and market traders.
In London, at Simon's studio,
his team are unloading a delivery of flowers from the Dutch markets,
including some Tambuzi roses.
Simon is using them to make some spectacular table arrangements
for a big charity dinner at Christie's.
Having seen where the flowers come from,
one of the things I've realised is the fact that
the people that grow the flowers, sell them, transport them,
all of them are as passionate about flowers as we are.
They realise the value and beauty of the product.
And, I mean, look at that rose. That's...
Grown in Kenya, it's flown all this way, thousands of miles,
and it's as beautiful as if it had come from your garden.
And it will last for days on end.
Flowers knock some of the rough edges off life
and make it a whole lot more enjoyable for many, many people.
But, also, they sustain a lot of people.
In a 34-hour run, Robert has managed to sell everything in his lorry.
In two days' time, he'll be back at the auctions,
buying his next load of flowers.
There's just two hours to go before the charity dinner begins...
-I hate it when they do that.
I hate it when they do that!
..and Simon's flower arrangements have arrived at Christie's.
Very happy, it's wonderful. I like to see a job coming in.
This is the last part of the chain, the flower chain,
the journey that these flowers have taken.
Next time you've got a bunch of flowers at home,
you can look at it and just think
how much effort has gone into producing
every single petal, leaf, stem and stamen.
It is extraordinary.
I've always loved flowers and all my life I've given them
to the people I love the most.
But now I realise that I had no idea
of the ingenuity and effort it takes to get them here.
There's only one person in the world that loves flowers more than I do -
my mum - and now I can tell her just how special these flowers are.