“We started working for our dad in the 1950s for 10 cents an hour,” Eric, 74, told me recently over the phone. ” I was 10 years old. It was money back then.
It was in a small town 20 miles northwest of Amsterdam called Egmond. Jos and his younger brother Eric come from a long line of bulb growers. Over the centuries tulips have created fortunes for the Dutch, but when your dad and his dad and his dad and his father are all bulb growers, this can be a problem. The Netherlands is notoriously lacking in something bulbs need: soil. For the Roozens, there just wasn’t enough to pass it on to everyone in the next generation.
So, in 1971, Jos came to the United States. He first worked at Behnke’s in Beltsville, the famous garden center that closed in 2019.
Jos has started doing some side work. “Then he called me and said, ‘You want to come and we’re going to open a nursery,'” Eric said. Eric came to America in 1975, a year after Jos opened the garden center on Allentown Road in Fort Washington.
“At first we were just doing maintenance,” Eric said. “We had about 85 bank buildings – Suburban Trust, First American – and we did those buildings, the full landscaping and all the maintenance.”
Eventually the retail side of their operation became so big that they dropped the maintenance part. At its peak, Roozen Nursery had four locations, including additional stores in Silver Spring, Annapolis, and Annandale. The stores were buzzing with gardeners looking for color for their garden or advice for their lawn. (I went to Roozen to get a mystical product called salt hay to put on the freshly sown seeds of a new lawn. They were the only ones that had it.)
Was it difficult, I asked Eric, to go from growing in the Netherlands to growing in the mid-Atlantic? (I first asked him if he wore wooden shoes when working in the Dutch tulip fields. He didn’t.)
The biggest difference is the ground here, Eric said. “It’s hard clay soil. There we have the sandy soil. There you plant it and water it and it will grow. Here you need to amend the soil to give the plant better growing conditions.
Eric said the world’s largest bulb grower was in the United States – Washington Bulb Co. in Washington State, run by a distant cousin named Roozen – and for a time tulips were big business. for him and Jos.
“When we came here, we were selling a few million tulips every fall,” Eric said. “It stopped completely because the deer ate them all.”
There are more marauding deer in the gardens now, he says, than there were in the 1980s.
“Now you’re happy if you sell 15,000 or 20,000 tulips in the fall,” Eric said. “People say, ‘Why should I plant tulips if deer will eat them and squirrels will dig them up?’ ”
Roozen’s Nursery was a regular advertiser for the Washington Post, where he placed his ad alongside the column Jack Eden used to write. Beginning in 1999, Jos aired “Garden Sense” on WMAL every Saturday morning, later with co-host Rick Fowler.
Jos died in 2018. The nursery had returned to one location, in Fort Washington. Eric lives next door.
“In 1976, I was watering plants at the nursery. I see a man across the street with a For Sale sign. I said, ‘Wait. How much do you want for the house? Alright, I’ll buy it.’ ”
Eric met Laura, his wife of 36 years, through the nursery. “His family were builders and promoters. We did business with them,” he said.
Laura said of the nursery closing: “It’s definitely bittersweet.”
But the time had come. Almost five decades is enough. Now the couple will have time to visit their three daughters.
And it’s not like Eric completely hangs up his trowel.
“I have always been interested [in gardening] and I will remain interested,” he said. “We closed the door a week ago. So far I have worked in the yard every day. And it’s relaxing. Now I can work in the garden and after a few hours, if I’m tired, I can take an hour break. If I want to take a two-hour break, that’s fine with me too.
I asked Eric for his best gardening tip.
“I’ve always told people not to buy the plant and then try to find a place for it,” he says. “You must have an empty slot and then search for the plant.”