Greenhouse Canada

Horticulture Tours: No Limit to the Information Learned

I expanded my knowledge of plants, agriculture machinery, greenhouse technologies and people on a pair of recent tours.

September 9, 2015  By Melhem Sawaya

A built-in handle for this tray displayed at Essen offers greater convenience for consumers.

Sept. 2015 – I had a very, very busy travel season this past January.

While in Germany, I toured several greenhouse operations and garden centres, along with the IPM Essen show. On another trip, I visited family in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where I had the opportunity to see the world’s largest display of flower structures at the Miracle Gardens in Dubai.

During these two trips, I expanded my knowledge of plants, agriculture machinery, greenhouse technologies and people. Most importantly, I got a different look at everything we encounter in life. These trips confirmed to me what I have always believed in…that there is no limit to knowledge or to the importance of friends and family.


IPM Essen is the largest horticulture tradeshow with 27 acres of exhibition space. It attracts 60,000 attendees and over 1,500 exhibitors from 45 countries. I attended the show as part of a Ball Horticultural tour.

The tradeshow booths cover many aspects of the horticulture industry from plants, bulbs and seed varieties, to large trees and Bonsai plants. It also features a huge section on greenhouse structures and different covering materials, machinery for greenhouse automation, and different packaging and display products.

But the best part is being able to talk to the exhibitors – they are the best source of information for most production or marketing challenges. All you have to do is ask the questions and you will receive a well-informed answer that might save you lots of money, or it might give another perspective on production that will make your life a lot more pleasant.

Needless to say, Essen IPM is a great place for those looking to improve their operations through new ideas and new products that will keep their business fresh and ahead of the curve.

Here are a few examples: please note photos of all products are in the website version of this feature.

Built-in pack handle: (previous page photo) this pack handle is part of the pack. It lies flat until shipping time at which time it can be folded. The advantages include:

  • The handle lying flat during growing, so it is not in the way when watering
  • The handle never getting detached from the pack.
  • Bar coding being printed on the handle.
  • Excellent presentation with functionality.

Your wait time for a sticking machine could end now (photo online). A sticking machine we saw looks so simple will make you wonder why nobody thought of it before. Advantages include:

  • Simple operation.
  • It’s more mechanical than computerized.
  • Saves 75 per cent of the labour.
  • Completes up to 10,000 cuttings per hour.
  • The machine can drill holes for cuttings or stick directly into soft soil.

After sticking two million cuttings, the payback is just a few years.

Herbs are getting more popular and the ideas of marketing them are becoming more and more innovative. A herb toolbox on display (photo online) had its own scissors for cutting the herbs and holds 10 pots. This is a great idea to sell more with especially practical packaging.

“Lofos Compact Lophospermum” is a trailing plant that will flower the entire summer (photo online). Lofos can be grown in hanging baskets or patio pots and trained to go up on trellises or any other structure. It features bell flowers, is self-branching and self-cleaning, and is not bothered by diseases and insects. Ron Sant of George Sant Greenhouses (Kleinburg) is taking a closer look in our photo.

HibisQus (photo on previous page) is a fairly new series of hibiscus that includes stunning colours and has the ability to keep each flower for three days rather the normal one day. It’s always colourful due to its flowering ability. The most important thing about this series is stock management, quality of cuttings and its availability. It is a must for any high-end bedding plant retailer.

Mandevillas and dipladenias are indestructible plants that will turn any landscape into a portrait of colour the entire summer (photo online). They are excellent in large hanging baskets with high-end combinations and in large “tepees” – they can be grown on any structure you can think of. New varieties are bred all the time with new colours and different habits. Make mandevillas and dipladenia a big part of your retail area.

Ever grown miniature citrus trees (previous page photo)? Why not take advantage of the free heat in the summer to size the plants and have a unique product that takes special requirements to grow. You will have a product that is fairly insect-free (hopefully with no chemicals), that appeals to many plant lovers and curious new gardeners, and that will attract different ethnic groups for different reasons. Growing miniature citrus trees is definitely worth a try.

Rubber Walkway (photo on facing page) is the ideal way for getting products to the desired parts of the greenhouse where there are no concrete walkways. It eliminates the need to transfer products to a trolley. Rubber Walkway can be used in a greenhouse or outdoors. Convenient and easy to install, it gives you the chance to change your mind about where the walkway should be. It also saves time and money compared to concrete.

Garden centre flood benches are great time-savers for watering displays (photo online). There is no water on the floor that you’d have to mop up before customers come in.

It is also the perfect solution to counter the problems created when customers do not put drippers back in pots. With a flood bench, the plants will always get watered. Flood benches (photo online) can be customized to suit any garden centre setup. Benches can be built on casters, so moving them is easy provided they remain connected to the fill and drain tubes.

Flood shelves (photo online) on displays would be much easier to use and they would avoid spilling water. This will minimize shrinkage and the
consumer will have better product. The flood shelves will make watering easier since you can water the whole shelf at once rather than each pot individually.

Spacers (photo previous page) are a cost-effective tool that can pay for themselves in as little as one week. Greenhouse operations will need them from time to time, and yet I rarely see them. They come in different sized pots with different spacing measurements to suit your requirements. Get used to using them and save hours of labour with better finished jobs.

Jasmine (photo online) is not a new crop but it is rarely seen in North America. It is easy to grow and has a pleasing aroma. It can be sold as a pot plant for indoors, or outdoors in large pots or hanging baskets.

These are only a few examples of the hundreds of ideas and products I saw at IPM Essen. But it’s the connections I made that I value the most. Talking with new colleagues helps expand my knowledge and understanding of industry challenges and solutions. I can pick up a phone and tap into the knowledge of the new connections I made, and they can do so too.

It’s important to count on the knowledge of other people, because there is no way one person can know everything. It’s also important that I am willing to share what I know with others. A wise farmer once told me that you can get all the help you need as long you help others when they need it. Yes, there is no limit for knowledge. After 38 years in the horticulture field, I still hunger for knowledge and always believe there is a better way of doing things.

While visiting family in the UAE, we visited the Miracle Gardens in Dubai (photo online). Featured was the largest collection of flower gardens that I have ever seen. There were a variety of different structures adorned with flowering pots.

There were about 60 million pots spread over an area of eight to 10 acres of different flowering structures.

And that got me thinking. What if every grower had even one structure in front of their operation with flowers decorating it. It would have a great impact on our industry, and would generate considerable excitement by everyone having a  glimpse of the beauty of flowers!

Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management is a consultant and research coordinator to the horticultural industry. •

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