Travel With a Memphis Twist

A Garden District birthday party in Amsterdam.

Just because Memphis lost its beloved direct, overnight flight to Amsterdam doesn’t mean for a second that we should forgo trips there. If only to prove the point, Garden District owner Greg Campbell recently hosted a truly memorable 40th birthday party for Erick New, his good friend and business partner, in this historic European city. Suzanne, Erick’s wife, also played a big role in planning the long weekend of festivities.

It makes perfect sense for one of Memphis’ favorite floral design teams to invite friends and family to a party in the Netherlands, which, after all, is the international trade center for flowers and a country the two Garden District owners visit frequently. Elizabeth Scott and her husband Don were lucky enough to be among the 13 Memphians on the guest list, and it was Elizabeth’s idea that this special event would make a great story.

Coincidentally I had just been reading reviews of a new book, Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, by Russell Shorto, covering the history, art, and architecture of the city with a focus upon its well-known progressive ethos. While I don’t think the Memphis visitors got into too much trouble, it sure sounded like fun, and I jumped at the chance to write about it.

Greg told me that most everyone stayed at the amazing Canal House, (address: Keizersgracht 148), a 23-bedroom boutique hotel composed of several connected seventeenth-century merchants’ houses. Guest rooms were filled with flowers, and its back garden is a rarity in a city of canals and cobblestones. For the birthday party itself, guests were treated to a “meet and greet cocktail party” at the hotel and later an elegant dinner cruise on an antique canal boat courtesy of Jewel Cruises.

For many years, going back to their days working with John Hoover Flowers, Greg and Erick have worked with flower broker Jacob Glasbergen and his wife Pieneke, along with their daughter Marte and her partner Klaas’ t Hoen, who arrange to have flowers shipped to Memphis weekly. In the course of this professional relationship they have become dear friends of the Garden District’s owners. This gracious Dutch family guided the group early Monday morning on a tour of the internationally famous flower auction in Aalsmeer, which is a short train ride from Amsterdam’s central station, and afterwards arranged a visit to a beautiful country manor house for high tea — a nice respite after the auction’s frenzy.

Regarding their other repasts, the Memphis group one evening enjoyed an Indonesian buffet, an essential part of the Amsterdam experience as a result of Indonesia’s having been a Dutch colony for centuries. As to museums, it so happens that the Rijksmuseum has only now fully reopened after a 10-year renovation project, so the timing was perfect for our hometown visitors to take in that museum’s world-famous collection of Rembrandts and Vermeers.

This country has always prided itself on its flowers, both growing them and marketing them, dating back to the “tulip mania” that hit the Netherlands in the seventeenth-century Dutch Golden Age, although now more than in the past flowers sold at auction there come from all over the world. Greg Campbell explained to me the nuts and bolts of the Memphis/Netherlands floral connection today. Every week, on Sundays, the Garden District staff sends a wish list of specific flowers they would like — in the holiday season, for example, orchids, amaryllis, lilies, and freesia would be requested. The brokers in the Netherlands then purchase the flowers at the Aalsmeer auction on Monday morning and arrange for shipping via FedEx; in Greg’s words, the company is a florist’s lifeline. Upon entering the United States, the shipment must first pass through USDA inspection. Then presto, the Garden District receives the flowers like clockwork on Wednesday morning— from Aalsmeer to Memphis in two days. Remarkable!

Now, I had just one more question for Greg and Suzanne: What are you going to do for Erick’s 50th? 


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