Gruesomely gorgeous? If you think flowers are always beautiful, contemplate this: a float made of blooms at the annual Flower Parade in Zundert, Netherlands.
Zundert’s flower parade is an annual explosion of dahlias is always held in September.
The village districts and surrounding church villages are engaged in a competition every year to build the finest float to be judged by a professional and independent jury. The entire village joins in, young as well as old, man and woman, worker and manager. The tradition of the parade joins generations, sexes and social classes.
The floats are built in huge tents. These appear from early May and June, then the actual building of the floats starts. All summer long the building continues. By the end of August the floats are ready except for one important detail: the flowers. Of course, the dahlias can only be fixed on the floats at the very last moments, since they would wither if applied earlier. This is a challenging job that has to be performed within just a few days and for which hundreds of volunteers are drummed up in every village quarter. On the Saturday preceding the parade a lot of the locals work through the night to get the float finished.
Zundert’s flower parade came into being in 1936 as a celebration of Queen Wilhelimina’s birthday that year. The first parades were modest as far as size is concerned and mostly consisted of decorated bicycles and a single farmer’s cart. Yet the idea of a flower parade touched a string in the inhabitants.
The parade has always had a quite strong artistic aspect. Since the fifties good contacts have existed with the Art Academy in neighbouring Breda. Professional artists are part of the jury of the floats and advise the designers. Just like the builders of the floats, these designers are all volunteers from Zundert.
Inhabitants of Zundert educated at the Art Academy, often become designers of floats, inspired by this artistic aspect. Or the other way round: Young float designers are following an education at the Art Academy, because their artistic interest was inspired by the parade.
Since the sixties the grow of dahlias has become a major job. In the old days dahlias were picked on farmers’ yards in the wider surroundings of Zundert, but later on the village districts started creating their own dahlia fields. Today, all the dahlia fields put together take up an area of 33 hectares (81 acres) with 600,000 dahlia bulbs of fifty different species. All dahlias are grown especially for the flower parade: there is no commercial growing of dahlias in Zundert.
The parade never has a theme. Designers are completely free. Only twice a theme parade took place, in 1990 and in 2003, when the parade honored Vincent van Gogh who was born in Zundert (for its most famous inhabitant the flower parade was prepared to make an exception).
In the old days floats were mostly built using wood. In the late sixties styrofoam was discovered as a building material, mostly suitable to make subtle detailed forms. And in the seventies the use of iron began. Strings of concrete iron welded together are more suitable to make floating spacious forms. These days wood is hardly used any more, it is merely iron and styrofoam.
The iron frame is glued with lots of layers of papier maché (old newspapers with wallpaper adhesive) so it may serve as a surface to put the dahlias on. This happens during the last few days before the flower parade. Each and every dahlia is supplied with a small nail, and one by one they are fixed on the float — about 400,000 dahlias on each.
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