A blossoming partnership between a rose breeder and a rose grower

Group photo taken at IPM 2020, pictured left to right are Colourful Roses’ general manager, Mr Tao Jian, YG Park owner Mr Wong, Rosa Eskelund, Ms Wong, Harley Eskelund, a business rep from Singapore and the daughter of Mr and Ms Wong.

A partnership less than five years old is blossoming in ornamental horticulture between Danish rose breeder Roses Forever and Chinese potted rose grower Colourful Roses from Yancheng writes Lauren Yu and Ron van der Ploeg in the November 2021 FloraCulture International Magazine.

The partnership will grow further next year after the completion of Colourful Roses’ new glasshouse capable of growing annually hundreds of thousands of the finest quality potted roses. The modern, two-hectare glasshouse will be Colourful Roses most significant investment since its set-up in 2018.

Yancheng is a city in the north-central Jiangsu province of eastern China. To the east, the city is 40km from the coast. To the north, Beijing is 932km away, while Shanghai, to the south, is only 267km away.

Yancheng goes by the moniker City of Salt, which references the city’s past industry when its inhabitants lived from the profits of salt production. But that was many centuries ago. Today, the city has a diversified economy that manufactures textiles, processed foods, fertilisers, chemicals, electronics and… now produces potted roses.

Sino Malaysian partnership

Colourful Roses (in Chinese 七彩玫瑰园艺有限公司) is a relative newcomer to Yancheng’s horticultural scene. However, it quickly learned how to make inroads in the Chinese market by growing a superior single product of Danish origin. The initial funding of 20 million RMB towards constructing a poly roofed greenhouse in 2017 came from a joint venture investment between the Jiangsu Funding Colourful Agricultural Park and YG Park from Malaysia.

YG Park is an ornamental plant nursery growing a wide range of potted plants, including ferns, begonia rex, fittonia, heuchera and oxalis. Roses Forever’s miniature pot roses from Danish breeder Rosa Eskelund is among their cream of the crop. YG Park owner, Mr Wong, has been growing Roses Forever potted roses in his Malaysian facility since 2012, and he is keen to repeat its business success in China with these superior products. Also, because YG Park’s owners, the Wong family, is of Chinese descent.

YG Park’s location is in the lush green surrounding of Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, 150km north of Kuala Lumpur. It opted for Roses Forever Mini Roses and Infinity Roses because they are suitable for growing in small, 10.5cm pots. Moreover, Roses Forever’s creations are heat tolerant and longer-lasting as their shelf life is around three to five weeks. Some varieties are even nicely scented.

Outstanding features

Production of Love Forever miniature roses in 10.5cm pots inside Colourful Roses’ poly-roofed greenhouse.

Colourful Roses’ general manager, Mr Tao Jian, who has been in the flower business for more than 15 years, cites precisely why Roses Forever’s miniature roses stand out from the crowd.
He says, “We are Eastern China’s exclusive grower and distributor of Roses Forever varieties. We are pleased to be working with the company’s owners, husband and wife team, Harley and Rosa Eskelund.

The pair not only breed the finest varieties of miniature pot roses, but they take personal pride too. They provide technical assistance and take the quality of finished plants for their licensees extremely seriously. The miniature roses of Roses Forever have a well-developed root system, compact growth habits, bold colours, and large flower heads that beautifully contrast with lush green foliage.

Colourful Roses grows the Love Forever and Infinity Collections by Roses Forever.

The Infinity rose deserves a special mention as it has set a new standard for miniature roses since its launch in 2012. Infinity roses have an extraordinary long-life and extra-large, filled blooms that contain more than 100 petals. The high-quality rose is a true beauty and very easy to grow in only ten weeks. Today, Infinity is available as a series, including six different colours.

Princess of Infinity.

Colourful Roses’ top sellers in the Love Forever range are the orange ‘Maasland Gold’, the yellow ‘Sunny Beach’ and the two-toned yellow and orange ‘Estoril’.
As for Infinity roses, the company grows ‘Infinity Red’, ‘Infinity Pink’ and ‘Princess of Infinity’ (soft pink). Tao Jian tells us Chinese consumers have developed a soft spot for ‘Red Infinity’.

The geography of consumer preferences

Regarding the geography of consumer preferences in China, it is interesting to hear Tao Jian say that consumers in northern China usually prefer bright red, orange, and yellow. In southern China, consumers tend to choose softer tones of pink, yellow and white. He notes, “When the weather is hot, light colours tend to fade into almost white, so we grow mostly darker colour varieties during summer and more light colours in winter. Also, miniature roses grown under lower temperatures, produce more petals, catering for a top quality in winter. Overall one can say that consumer choice has moved from traditional red to more champagne, orange and two-toned colours. Last year, we introduced two new orange varieties from Roses Forever. Many of Roses Forever’s pot roses varieties include large headed roses and the market goes absolutely crazy about them.”

Flagship glasshouse project

At Colourful Roses, a 50 million RMB glasshouse is under construction and is due to be ready by spring.

At Colourful Roses, anticipation is building. There’s much excitement around the company’s second phase of construction. Tao Jian tells FCI that a 50 million RMB glasshouse is taking shape and expects to complete it by spring next year. China’s sole stock market listed greenhouse construction and engineering company Kingpeng is currently constructing the Venlo-type greenhouse with clear glass. It is 180 metres wide by 50 metres long and six meters to the gutter. The construction project includes a 5,000m2 packing area.

The glasshouse will be fitted with a rolling bench system, a Mayer potting machine and conveyor belt, an automatic pruning machine and a modern computer system matching climate, energy and irrigation requirements. These are all part of the new growing facilities and will significantly contribute to the product’s quality and uniformity.

The new project aims at adopting hi-tech to take the quality of pot roses to an even higher level. Tao Jian is personally involved in designing the new fully automated glasshouse. He adds, “From the choice of material of the glass, to temperature and light control, everything is customised for the pot rose production. The new greenhouse uses a control system from Priva and moveable tables. I still would like to find a system using robot arms fitted with a gripper and sensors to automatically place the pots in tray.”

Doubling growing capacity

This sophisticated greenhouse is part of Yancheng hi-tech agriculture park, 333ha of specialist glasshouses serving as a tourist attraction, and a place where growers produce mainly hydropically grown tomatoes and strawberries.

Colourful Roses’ poly-roofed greenhouse currently has an annual output of 1 to 1.2 million plants in 10.5cm pots. The flagship glasshouse project will allow the company to increase its growing capacity by 1.5 million plants over the following years. Tao Jian says, “The investment will bolster our market presence as China’s third-largest grower of year-round miniature roses for which there exists a growing demand.”

Colourful Roses’ approach to potted rose production follows more or less the basic principles. Propagation begins by placing four pre-treated and pre-cooled cuttings in a 10.5cm pot. Tao Jian says the company is self-sufficient in cuttings, but starter cuttings are sourced from Denmark when setting up a new variety. Newly stuck roses are covered with a punched plastic sheet and placed in the rooting zone where the temperature is constantly between 25-26°C while the crop receives 20 hours of light each day with maximum light levels of 10,000 lux.

After approximately two weeks, the plastic sheeting is removed with plants moving to a 20°C to 24°C growth zone with full light. Another two weeks pass before plants are ready for their first pruning by an automatic pruning machine. The harvested cuttings are placed into bags and stored in a cooler at 3°C for a maximum of four to five days, after which workers cut them into four or five smaller cuttings.

Harley Eskelund (second from right) and Anders Eskelund (son of Harley and Rosa). Father and son travel extensively to give growers technical support in Asia (China and Japan) and Europe (UK and Norway).

After shearing, plants are kept for 10 to 14 days in full light to regenerate and form new shoots. There are 85 growing potted roses set in a metre square; as the foliage redevelops, the pots need to be spaced 27-28 pots per m2.

“A special thanks must go to Harley Eskelund and his son, Anders, who continues to support us with technical assistance,” says Tao Jian. “It was easier before the pandemic as they would come to visit us every three months. However, because of Covid restrictions, they have not travelled.”

Plant health and plant growth

Pest control-wise, Tao Jian highlights the company’s efforts in integrated pest management. Botanically speaking, a potted rose is a woody shrub and taming it when grown in pots comes with its challenges. “To ensure the right balance between the size of the plant and its pot, we use the traditional PGR’s. A prime example of their advanced technique is our spray boom cladded with plastic foil that ‘pats’ the rose crop overhead, causing reduced plant growth and is a more environmentally friendly way to control plant growth.”

A question of lighting

Typical of northern and central Jiangsu, Yancheng has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen Cfa/Cwa), strongly influenced by the East Asian Monsoon. The average monthly mean temperature ranges from 1.7 °C (35.1 °F) in January to 26.9 °C (80.4 °F) in July.

The natural light in Yancheng is not always sufficient to meet plant needs in winter. Tao Jian says, “Light deficiency is a significant barrier to rose production in our region. For supplementary light, we use mainly HPS lamps, which are much cheaper than LEDs. However, our mother company, YG Park, recently purchased some LED lights from Philips to trial. Depending on the outcomes of the tests in Malaysia, we may consider a hybrid lighting installation using a combination of HPS lamps and LEDs. The natural environment may not be the most favourable for growing miniature roses, but the great advantage is being close to mass consumer markets.”

Balancing supply and demand

Colourful Roses’ new glasshouse is fitted with a rolling bench system.

Overall Colourful Roses’ sales are performing well. However, as is the case in the rest of the world, the rose farm experiences fluctuations in demand. Tao Jian believes the challenge lies in balancing production for China’s floral holidays with day-to-day demand’, which slows down between May and August. He says, “At that time of year, the weather is getting warm and marks the start of the rainy season starts. In July and August, we ramp up the production targeting the autumn season. Prices in August are usually lowest, followed by a peak in September. The prices range from four to ten RMB for a 10.5cm pot size depending on low and high demand.”

Since Covid, price fluctuation has not followed the regular pattern as there is an increase of uncertainty in the market. Potted roses have a seasonal demand in China; it is more for holiday consumption with the best sales during Chinese New Year. Tao Jian says, “Our sales are better in winter, as in winter potted roses need less water, so it is easier to keep them alive. The product itself needs daily care, so it is less popular with office workers and supermarket shoppers.”

When we ask about the company’s primary distribution channels, Tao Jian explains that e-commerce is popular. However, he sells 90 per cent of his plants through traditional wholesalers in major cities and then further distributes them to flower shops and smaller garden centres. He says, “In winter, we also produce garden roses which are predominantly sold to private gardens.

Under normal circumstances, the company imports bare-rooted roses from Denmark to force them into bloom in around 50 days. However, since the pandemic, imports have halted, so they will not supply garden roses this year.”

He says in terms of miniature roses, “we can’t even meet the wholesale demand, so our strategy is to reserve 10 per cent of sales to e-commerce platforms but only for those who are not picky with colour choices.”

Rosa Eskelund founded award-winning Roses Forever in 2002.

Roses Forever: a passion for roses
Roses Forever’s eyecatching pink/apricot floribunda rose ‘Royal Estelle’ was chosen as the most beautiful new breed at this year’s rose competition in Baden-Baden, Germany.
A panel of 45 rose experts gathered to vote for the healthiest and most attractive garden roses among 127 new entries from 29 rose breeders.
Rosa Eskelund was also beaming as she and her husband Harley made their way to the stage at the 2019 IPM show in Germany, where yet another time they reigned supreme in the Best in Show Awards with their Love Fragrance Forever line of fragrant pot roses.
The husband and wife team founded Roses Forever in Denmark in 2002. Now the company is one of Europe’s top licensors in miniature roses, garden roses, cut roses and edible roses.
In an earlier interview, Rosa Eskelund told FCI, “Naturally, my passion for roses was one of the key elements to start my own breeding division.
“Also, my name is Rosa and I live up to the name I was given. I’ve always wanted to be a rose professional, and can’t imagine being anything else.”
Top Quality Roses
Roses Forever has created a unique range of value and quality roses that surprises the highest of standards.
Love Forever
• Mini roses on their own roots
• Strong colours
• Large flowers
• Series suited for different pot sizes, ranging from 6 -29cm pots
• Suitable for both short crop cycles (9-12 weeks) and longer crop cycles (26 weeks).
Infinity Rose
The cream of the miniature rose crop
• Mini roses on own roses
• Extra-large flowers
• Extra-long shelf life
• Suitable for a wide range of pot sizes
A revolutionary new line of garden roses
For budding
• Ideal for container production
• Exclusive marketing materials including logos, banners and labels
• Several varieties are also suited for growing on their own roots
Rosa Loves Me
• Cut roses
• Nostalgic varieties featuring Bourbon-shaped flowers
• The ultimate wedding rose
• Large flower single stem or spray roses
• Excellent vase life (+12 days)
I am different
• Mini roses
• Spectacular flower shapes
Gourmet Roses
• Edible mini roses
• Mini roses on their own roots
• Suitable varieties for organic production
Sweet Home Roses
• Romantic garden roses
• Ideal for forcing early spring in greenhouses
• Tidy, uniform growth habit crowned with a multitude of filled flowers
• Strong colours
• Exclusive marketing materials including logos, banners and labels

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