May 16, 2018
Typical brothers–Arthur and Elliott have an easy bond that their jovial behavior quickly reveals. Working together at their plant production operation near Normandy, France as a team means focused and intelligent planning and hard work which they execute as a team. On the May NACCA tour, a group of American Extension Agents and Master Gardeners visited their active greenhouse operation and learned about their family business and its partnership with a government organization known as ASTREDHOR
Preparing for one of the busiest times of the year, Mother’s day in France on Sunday, May 27 (always the last Sunday in May (Fetes des Meres), the roses and perennials were breathtaking! Sheer size of the rose blossoms and their lovely fragrances was a bit intoxicating. Many geraniums and chrysanthemums also seemed to call to us in their vibrant languages of color that appeared understated in the highly efficient clinical greenhouse surrounding. Perhaps because of the lovely colors, one of our group mentioned the symbolic names for geraniums and chrysanthemums from the flower language of Victorian times. Geraniums symbolize gentility, comfort and esteem. Who can forget the geranium that was kept in the pot by the main character of Little Women, the book by Louisa Mae Alcott? And then chrysanthemums which denoted loyalty, happiness, and longevity. John Steinbeck wrote a short story using their name in 1937 and wrote of his character Elisa’s femininity, she shared. Flowers that evoke feeling are particular special for mother’s day, for sure, we agreed.
The lively fellows (proprietors), Arthur and Elliott, were fifth generation plant producers. Their family has been in the field since 1868, and currently they have two sites and nine employees.
When someone spies a familiar garden plant, Arthur shrugs and smiles…those are Elliott’s lettuce and tomato plants for his salads that he insists on growing in the commercial greenhouse of roses and beautiful perennials. The group chuckles.
Purchasing potting material components, the brothers mix their own special blends of potting mix which contains 30% wood to reduce watering. Miscanthus grass is occasionally used as mulch but not the trend. Plugs are purchased from other vendors and grown out at Arthur and Elliott’s greenhouses to market size.
For Mother’ Day, the preferred plant of consumers in this locale of France is a pot of elegant roses, and all of the hundreds of roses will be gone by next weekend, Elliott informed us. There was an urgency in their work and one could sense the positive stress of a deadline looming for the brothers.
Walking through the large greenhouses, we saw a white plastic bird affixed to the top of one of the steel beams, a kind of French scarecrow for the scenario, and used to chase the pesky seagulls away.
They have 10,000 pots of roses ready to ship–80% were to be supplied to Normandy with overall 90% going to garden centers and 20% to other France establishments along with some scheduled for shipment to the Netherlands and Germany.
Arthur explained that roses were heavily water-dependent and 70% of the water in the greenhouse came from captured rain water.
Asked about changes they had seen in their family’s business over time, they mentioned urban consumer needs. We must package our plants conveniently now. Consumers do not want to re-pot. They want a one stop situation with all components–packaging, fertilizer and care instructions. We are working on more ideas for using plants in small places for urban areas also.
The representative from ASTREDHOR who joined us named Vincent consulted with the business on the recent construction of the greenhouses which were obviously state-of-the-art.
Our organization helps with cost production, planning as in the greenhouse construction recently, landscape design and advice on sanitation, insects, disease, beneficial insects, lab studies and more, said Vincent. A phytophtora/choisa kit that was developed by ASTREDOR was helpful for testing and the NAPAPLIRY product research was beneficial as well. It is a partnership! said Elliott, who encouraged us to look around, as he had to get back to preparing the hundreds of plants for the deadlines of delivery.
NUANCES-DIFFERENCES–A Glimpse at ASTEDHOR on May 15, 2018
Farmers as well as agriculture and horticulture professionals have a universality, right? As a broad statement, people who work the earth are generally naturally forthright and innately sincere–probably from the work ethic. Perhaps one cannot work in the soil and carry pretense. Thus, there was a quick and sincere bond between ASTREDHOR of France and a group of American Extension Agents and Master Gardeners.
The visit of the Americans with ASTREDHOR at L’Eplefpade Seine Martine and talks by Mile Fevre and Anges Lang-Lols, Regional Director, had a sense of optimism about research and work. The topics had familiarity between the French and American group. Neither group could morph the other into the role that was unique to each separate entity and culture, but despite language barriers the themes and issues were identifiable.
France’s ASTREDHOR had three sites for research and training. Their agricultural institute worked with professionals and provided a wealth of hands-on training of which they felt great pride. They possessed 1,000 trainees, 1,800 apprentices for 1-3 years, and 1,000 interns. Ongoing guided tours from their representatives lent exposure and knowledge of horticulture and agriculture to students from kindergarten through PhD level candidates.
Most training was in landscape; how to create parks and gardens. Landscape architects were particularly valued in the training and practice.
A mission of research, development and innovation was realized in the ten experimental stations in France that worked on the latest technology, weed and disease prevention, and utilization of the resources of agriculture.
It is critical to listen to the needs of the professionals, create innovation and disseminate information said our speaker, Fevre, to assist the producers with competitiveness, diversification and societal issues for such areas as reducing the impact of fertilizers and pesticides or addressing the increasing needs for urban vegetation.
Some 80% of ASTREDHOR was financed by subsidies (publicly funded), with 190 regional, 16 national projects, and 5,000 tests completed at the time of the visit in May of 2018. A few examples included vertical walls for urban gardening (gu-walls and container growing), hydroponics, and aquaponics. A major concern discussed was pesticides and the country’s five-year plan to decrease pesticide use across the country. They hoped to create more efficiency in urban agriculture and research. With filters and other methods to address aspects of air pollution the future was promising. A future project was to develop new methodology opportunities for caring for grave sites/cemeteries to work toward creating more of a garden like atmosphere for cemeteries.
At the conclusion the group received a small glimpse of ASTREDHOR’s laboratory and eager students on the camps as they exited the lecture and facilities.