Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

Hello plant people!

The days are slowly but surely getting longer, and if I blur my eyes I can almost pretend it’s spring. The daffodils are in full force, the sun is shining outdoors and I must admit I’m in much better spirits then a couple weeks ago. The gentle harmony that is my house is back in sync and I can once again smile at the end of a long day. I’ve been a bit fatigued this week, I’m in the midst of acclimatizing my body to the “ravenges” of nurserywork. It happens every year, the slow progress of shedding one’s Christmas weight and building back the necessary muscle that was lost in the winter. It’s a good burn.

Anyhow onto the topic at hand. Yesterday the boss’s took me on a little field trip to the mainland to check out some greenhouses that supply us with our plugs. Having worked here for five seasons now it was interesting to see the other side of the process. We skip the majority of propagation at our nursery and order in plugs to save time. It’s interesting how many hands touch a plant before it makes it’s way to your garden. A poor little petunia seed has a long way to go before it’s that amazing sprawling monster you see in every hanging basket in town. Some greenhouse’s hold agreements with the big plant producers (IE Proven Winners) and have the rights to produce these patented hybrids. Cuttings are flown in from Costa Rica, Italy, and even Ethiopia. At one nursery we traveled to they said they get their geranium cuttings from Ethiopia in less then 52 hours. From a plant in Africa to a rooting station in Vancouver in less then 3 days, that’s an incredible feat of today’s global economy.

Over a million seedlings, growing on to be shipped to wholesale growers all over.

Impatiens seedlings 

Having visited 4 different industrial greenhouses throughout the course of the day, you really got to see a broad view of what other businesses are up to. For the most part the vibe was pleasant enough, everyone seemed to have a different view on how to do things. It was interesting to see the contrast between one operation and the next, it real put it in perspective for me. While our greenhouse is certainly not the largest operation in British Columbia it’s still got a lot of soul. A lot of these business’s focused on monoculture and produced only a handful of different plants and/or planters. While supplying a chain of big box stores with geraniums might seem like a decent way to make a buck, I don’t think it would be overly stimulating. As they say variety is the spice of life.

More then a football field’s worth of geranium, verbena & petunias….

One greenhouse in particular had more “toys” then you’d ever know existed. Planting machines, wrapping machines, cranes and bob cats, and sprayers, it was intense. A whole army of labourers can be replaced by a 500,000 dollar machine, it was fascinating to watch but also put my brain in a loop. I work with 35 people at the most, a lot of these businesses had staff in the 100’s.

Semi-automated planting machine.

An absolutely giant boiler for running hot water under the floors of a giant greenhouse.

Industrial crop sprayer

I woke up at 5:00am to get onto the 7:00am ferry and didn’t return home for another 12 hours after that.  The day was surprisingly busy and we utilized almost every moment we had. In time each greenhouse blurred into the next as essentially they all do the same thing. I suppose the main thing I took away from this experience is that there is a 100 different ways to do something. What separates you from the rest of the pack is the quality of what you produce (IE. beautiful plants) , the pride you take in your facility (IE tidiness and maintenance) and the happiness of the staff you choose to keep around. Like it or not you’ll be spending a lot of time with these people so you’d hope they’re happy and fun to be around. Aside from that, I would say growing your business slowly as opposed to expanding rapidly would probably be in your best interest.  You can have all the toys in the world but are you turning a profit? Sometimes the biggest isn’t always the best. “Mom & Pop” operations are on the decline, but there is something quite beautiful about a smaller enterprise. People know each other, they aren’t scared to talk to the boss, and you serve a noticeable role in the business. I’ve never enjoyed the idea of being one ant in a million.

An interesting day to say the least.

6 Responses to Where your petunia starts it’s adventure: Industrial Greenhouses.

  • Tom says:

    I love seeing pictures of greenhouses like these. That’s one of the things I miss most from college…going on field trips to places like this. The greenhouse I worked at for almost 10 years was similar to this (though it was also retail so it wasn’t quite the same). I loved days when I had to go to the back 40 and pick up flats for the retail store. Great, this post is making me nostalgic!

  • Thank you for the really interesting and informative post. It is very impressive but maybe also a bit scary that even something as seemingly simple as a geranium cutting may come from as far afield as Ethiopia.

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Mr Nat. Gardener, Plant Nerd
Tips and tales about gardening in one of the most mild climates in Canada. Specializing in rare and strange plants from far out destinations, this is the story of an obsessed young gardener in Victoria B.C. Let's create more tropical gardens in the garden city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.