Mary Louise (Mary Lou) Korver
Dochter van James Jobert Korver en Marian Elizabeth Noteboom, geboren 29-1-1942
Trouwt 1-9-1960 Donley Ray (Don) Van Der Wel, geboren 20-3-1938
Today, about 6,800 tulips, representing 49 varieties, bloom in the Vander Wels' backyard. They plant new bulbs every fall, imported from Langeveld, a large tulip brokerage firm in the Netherlands. The Vander Wels sell tulip bulbs to the thousands of people who visit their gardens each spring. Based mostly on word-of-mouth advertising and order sheets passed on from Tulip Festival visitors to their friends and neighbors, the Vander Wels' business serves customers from around the country and as far away as Argentina, Australia and Peru. Customers submit their orders to the Vander Wels by June 1 and Langeveld delivers the bulbs from the Netherlands by boat to the U.S. in late September or early October. The Vander Wels repackage and send the bulbs to customers in time for fall planting.
When the Vander Wels' garden venture began, it was the Midwest test site for the tulip company that exported the bulbs, analyzing varieties that weren't yet on the market. "We'd plant a hundred of a variety and see how much came up, take soil temperatures, check the color," explains Vander Wel. He doesn't do as much testing now, but he does report when varieties don't turn out to be their expected color. Over the years, Vander Wel has noticed that the tulips have a variation in color from the Netherlands to Orange City. He's not sure why, but he notes that a variety of factors affecting the flowers' growth differ between the two places. The winters in Northwest Iowa are harsher than those in the Netherlands, for example, and the springs here aren't as cool and damp. "Our soil is much richer; theirs is sandy," adds Vander Wel. "We have to keep adding peat moss to the soil to keep it loose so the water drains away from the bulb properly. They say that tulips like wet feet but they don't want to be drowning." The heaviness of the soil in this area is the answer to the most common question Tulip Festival visitors ask Vander Wel: Why doesn't Orange City have fields of tulips like they do in the Netherlands? "There's no way it would work unless we brought in round sand so the soil wouldn't pack," responds Vander Wel.
Answering questions and chatting with guests is one of the joys Vander Wel gets from opening his garden to the public each spring. "Last year we had lines of people from the garden to the street. People had to stand for 20 minutes before they got in," says the gardener. "We don't try to rush them through; we take time to talk with them. "I get a lot of satisfaction from having people come to see the flowers. They're so appreciative. That's what the Tulip Festival is all about; the other stuff is all frosting on the cake. It's a service to the community, my way of being able to participate."
Vander Wel retired last August after more than 35 years as a social worker with the Iowa Department of Human Services. Now he works three days a week at Woudstra Meat Market - but not in the month of May.
[Also see: Orange City Tulip Festival]