Boost for ornamental horticulture in Sicily as inaugural Garden Days trade show opens in Catania

Sicily’s second-largest city Catania hosted the inaugural edition of the horticultural trade show Garden Days at the SiciliaFiera convention centre between 28-29 October.

Sicily remains a European force for growing Mediterranean plants with ornamental olive and citrus, palm trees and patio plants occupying pride of place. Statistics by Crea and ISTAT rank the largest island in the Mediterranean second and third in commercial cut flower/potted plant and nursery stock production, accounting for 5.5 per cent and 14 per cent of national production respectively.

Colourful stands at Garden Days Sicily.

In Southern Italy, Sicily is also the region with the highest concentration of ornamentals growers.

Ornamental horticulture in Sicily is gaining a greater share in the international market due to the island’s benign climate, price advantages, off season production, intense sunlight and capability for contracted production according to needs.

Carmelita Calì presented and Rosario Alfino (4th from left) presented Gabriele Esposito (centre) with a special Silver Carnation award.

Sicilian grown plants are exported across Europe and beyond. So, an international trade show as a platform to exchange knowledge and do business is vital for the industry. In the past, there have been several attempts to bring Sicily’s horticultural community together with their industry peers abroad. Industry veterans will remember Viflor and Viva trade shows in the 1990 and 2000s or, later,  the Plantarium Aetnae in Giardini Naxos at the foothills of Mount Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano.

While all of these events lacked forward momentum and eventually ceased operations after a couple of years, the new Garden Days show, which launched in Mister Bianco in the greater Catania area last month, brings new potential in the form of education, networking, island promotion, and business opportunities.

With a 5,000m2 showfloor, 50 exhibitors, 5,000 green professionals over two days, a top notch educational programme and plenty of plant experts on hand – the organisers of the first Garden Days, Ma.Mu Eventi and Sistema Confcommercia Catania, have hailed its success.

A stellar committee of local authorities, adminstrators, industry bodies and horticultural business leaders has been announced that will shape and drive the future of the this new show. With  the newly built Sicilia Fiera , Garden Days is held under the roof of an ultra modern convention centre boasting 300,000 m2 of indoor and outdoor exhibition space.

One of the driving forces behind the 2-day event is Rosario Alfino, president of the Italian Florist Association Federfiori and owner of Aliflora, a flower shop at Catania’s high street Via Trieste.

Alfino references that the first seeds of  encouraging  international industry professionals  to consider the island from a horticultural perspective have been sown in the 1970s by the late Dottore Carlo Calì when the latter founded the Associazione Culturale i Fiori di Giarre e dell’Etna and the Silver Carnation Awards, both meant to promote ornamental horticulture and tourism in Sicily.

SiciliaFiera is currently among Southern Italy’s most modern convention centres spanning 350,000 m2 of indoor and outdoor exhibition space.

Visionary growers such as Hibiscus grower Jan Petiet from Fiumefreddo, and horticultural entrepreneurs Michele Canale and Rino Bonomo, organisers of the first Open Days event in the province of Marsala also helped to put ornamental horticulture in Sicily on the world map.

The vice-president and regional Assessor for agricuture, rural development and Mediterranean fishery Mr Luca Sammartino, Rosi Sgaravatti, president of Assoverde, Italy’s industry body for landscape professionals, Pietro Agen, president of the Chamber of Commerce of South East Sicily, Rosario Alfino, president of Expo Mediterraneo and Federfiori Confcommercio, Giuseppe Marco Corsaro, Mayor of Misterbianco, and the President of Sicilia Fiera, Mr Nino Dicavolo attended the ribbon cutting ceremony.

On the opening day industry body Confagricoltura, Kepos, and Assoverde hosted a conference on the many benefits of urban greenery, a second conference was by AIAPP, the Italian association for landscape architecture, and focused on climate resilient landscaping in Sicily.

Floral demonstration by Salvatore Migliore.

Day two celebrated all that is truly awesome about gardening and growing cut flowers in Sicily, featuring floral demonstrations by Fabrizio Panone, Salvatore Migliore, FillyAdornetto, Vincenzo Liquefatti, Antonio Mormina, Salvatore Torrisi and Edoardo Greco.

At the inaugural edition of Garden Days Carmelita Calì of the Cultural Association of Flowers of Giarre and Mount Etna presented Federfiori’s floral art teacher, Gabriele Esposito with a Silver Carnation Award in recognition of excellence and innovation in floral design.

The grand final of the 49th edition of the Silver Carnation occured in Catania, Palazzo Bischeri, on 25 November.

Another highlight of the show included Federfiori’s ‘The future of floral design in Italy’ moderated by journalist and Medextv director Valeria Maglia and featuring keynotes from Pietro Agen, Rosario Alfino, Ivo Magliola, Gabriele Esposito, Maria Teresa Tagliabue, Fabrizio Panone, Tonino Ferro (VanDerPlas), Arturo Croci and Sebastiano Finocchiaro.

Next year, Garden Days will be held between 25 and 27 October 2024 with SiciliaFiera as venue of choice.

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