Busy hands. Big conversations.

Harvesting Primula with Jan Graafland, Garden Manager in Zoetermeer, NL.

The European chapter of Global Garden has begun and the Netherlands has put on such a great show. It wasn’t meant to be a harvest day today but when nature calls, Jan the ‘Nature Manager’ of Weleda Zoetermeer and I came running. When the bees are buzzing around the small yellow Primula flowers it means it prime to get picking. Things run on nature’s calendar here.

Here the bees are the boss.

A mature bee warming itself on Jan’s skin

Busy hands made for big conversations as together Jan and I picked the 700 grams the in-house pharmacists needed to turn the flowers into natural medicines for the heart. There is a Dutch saying, that goes along the lines :

‘Talking and knitting go hand and hand, but one mustn’t forget about the knitting.’

That might have been a gentle reminder that I was getting too enthralled in the conversation and I needed up the pace on my picking. The harvesting to processing happened in Zoetermeer with-in an hour and a half… that’s fast work!

Primula Veris

  • Primula Veris is native to Central Europe as far as the Southern European mountains.
  • It’s a fast-growing plant and what makes Primula so effective in helping to accelerate the heart.
  • When combined with the Road Thistle, a slow growing plant together they naturally allow the heart to balance its rhythm.

Talking all things earth, sustainability and health whilst we harvested

Here is what the bees would have heard if they had been listening in on our chats.

Jan and I found our own rhythm of having a chat and harvesting – talking all things earth, sustainability and health.

Getting to know Jan.

“I am the garden manager. I manage nature. Which is difficult to do at times. So, I learn a lot. The garden is my teacher. And learning whilst working is an exciting thing to do.”

“I have worked in this garden for 20 years. When you work in a garden or such a long time, when you follow the process of growing and see the process of what works and looking at what nature does itself and then learning – that is my process. It’s important for me to watch nature, the bees, the birds, the plants. And not to force things based on what I – as a human, thinks I know best about. As humans, we know very little.

The longer I work in these gardens, and I have worked in these gardens for over 20 years, the more modest I become. The days that are rough, and days that doesn’t go very well I know that the gardens will carry me. I see the hard work I have put into the garden and this lifts me. We stick together, because we grow together.”

Jan keeps tradition alive working in traditional Dutch working boots – the clog.

Why do you love what you do?

“I love what I do, it’s starts with my name. I like to be busy with the soil, the ground, the earth. And my name is Graafland – that means ‘dig in the earth’ so it’s in my name.

My family shield is three moles mounds in a yellow shield. So, anything with the earth and the soil is in my name. My forefathers also worked with the soil.

I like doing things in a rhythm. And sitting at a desk wasn’t good for me personally or for my body. So, what I love is to work with the earth, with the soil, in a rhythm.”

How do you plan your garden?

“When I let go of the plan. I don’t work well with a plan. When I step out into nature I see ten thousand of opportunities and what feels best, I am going to do.

My role is not so very big. It becomes easier when you get alert to the things that happen in nature. Then it becomes very easy.”

Jan is a man of many talents – ex politician, artist, musician as well as garden manager

Is there anything you would like to share with the world?

“These days aren’t easy for mother nature. Are not easy for the earth. I remember the day I decided to work in the gardens – I was in politics, I was an artist. That day I decided to stop talking and to start doing. And that day I came to Weleda and I just started working. And I never regret it.”

Let’s stop talking and let’s start doing.

“It’s not about looking at it as a reward for you, but as a reward for the total. For the surroundings, for the environment. You have to ask yourself, what is the win not for me but the environment.”

What are the things we can do at home to start making active changes?

“There’s only one thing you need to do to change the world. And that’s to start. To change things in your own home. To change your own habits.”

The conversation didn’t stop when the harvest did.

Jan is a man you can talk to for hours. We sat together in his office, surrounded by his guitars – Jan’s other passion. The interview questions got left behind and the philosophical conversation flowed as easily as the tea and hot chocolate.

Is it all about us?

“That’s another question. Or is it about the world. The community. You have to ask yourself… if this for my advantage. Or for the advantage of nature. We have to look at ourselves. Not at ourselves as the middle of the earth but as a participant. We have a great influence over what happens. So, a little decision can make a massive impact.”

Jan predicted the weight of our harvest haul to a tee – 700g.

I could write about our conversation for thousands of words but don’t worry, I’ll get the really good bits!

The thing that I found most poignant about our conversations what this Jan’s musings…

“When we think of ourselves as all important, things become very simple. ‘I want a new car’… ‘I want a new house’ that is what ‘I want’… but when I think what’s best for nature it’s not about rewards for you but rewards for the total. We need to think of wins for the environment, not for me.”

How can I talk less and act more…

That’s what really got me thinking.

I know I’m guilty time to time of thinking the world revolves and me and my happy little bubble but it’s time I pricked that bubble and brought myself back to earth… I’ve got some big thinking to do about how I too can ‘talk less and act more’. I’m trying, but I know I can try harder.

What are ways that you like to use deeds and not words?


  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the gardens of Weleda in The Netherlands. I have been there myself on a open day and I loved it over there. You already have been in so many countries, I need to grab a cup of tea sit back and relax and enjoy al your beautiful story’s thank you for sharing Lauren!

    • Lauren Doolan says

      They are beautiful aren’t they. Did you meet Jan, the Nature Manager at Zoetermeer? Such an inspiring guy! I can’t believe how quickly this trip is going, stop the clock! Enjoy your cup of tea, I’m so happy to have you on this ride with me:)

  2. Nadia says

    Nice to read about your conversation with Jan! And yes, he is a versatile man 🙂
    He can write great short poems about nature too!

  3. Renata says

    Klinkt erg inspirerend!
    Wat een mooie job, natuurmanager. Kan ik in de leer komen Jan??

  4. Christa de Ruijter-Henning says

    Beste mensen,warom kan de blog niet in het Nederlands

    • Marthe says

      Hallo Christa, dank voor je reactie! We begrijpen je opmerking, maar om de authenticiteit en kracht van Lauren’s verhaal te behouden, hebben we er bewust voor gekozen om dit niet te vertalen. We hopen dat je er toch iets aan hebt!

  5. You can talk for hours with Jan indeed! So many great things to tell, inspiring! Looking forward to your next Dutch adventure

  6. Margarete Stuhrmann says

    Dit is een prachtig gesprek (terwijl geoogst wordt) met Jan Graafland wat jullie ambassadrice hier gevoerd heeft! Mooi om in het dagelijks leven mee te nemen!
    Thank you so much, Lauren and Jan !

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