Eva Kähler-Theuerkauf is President of Landesverband Gartenbau, Vice-President of Zentralverband Gartenbau, and owner of a lavender, perennials pot mum wholesale nursery in Kempen. When FCI arranged to interview her to comment on the role of women in horticulture, it was with a positive view on the resilience of German horticulture during the Coronavirus pandemic. As she is also a familiar VIP at the opening of IPM Essen in her role as Chairwoman of the Advisory Board, it was also the right time to discuss the trade show’s announcement of a summer edition. However, the day before our talk, dark clouds were forming in Ukraine… we pressed record and let Eva talk.
North Rhine-Westphalia is the biggest place for horticulture in Germany. However, one of our biggest problems is energy.
After two years of rethinking during the Coronavirus pandemic, we discovered a lot of new opportunities to sell our products. Quality is important, but we also need more discussions with our customers. We had to stop and hear what they want and need, and this period of Covid-prevention measures helped us reform our thinking.
As we gained more customers through the conversations around the benefits of wellbeing with plants, we found that many of them were not informed enough about plants for their homes and gardens. They needed our help. That was one of the big points revealed to us during the pandemic.
For the business, we had to rethink our duty of care for workers in our nurseries, which had its challenges.
Sometimes I felt like we were beginning all over again. We had to go out of our comfort zones when Covid-19’s impact came. We had to rethink our working life and all about our production. This was the first step.
And then, after a bit of a shock, it was a new pull up to go ahead to survive?
You have to rethink the uncertainty be focused and optimistic.
And now, this week, we have Vladimir Putin sending the Russian army to invade Ukraine. We are all in absolute shock.
I never thought that we would have a war in Europe.
I know our energy problems will become more significant than ever before. We were already considering how to be more efficient and cleaner in the wake of climate change, but now, the costs will get higher.
But it is the human cost that concerns me. The Russian people. They are not aggressive. I’m sure, but their leader certainly is; he wants a new Russia. That’s the problem. For example, most of our nurseries export to Russia now that this market is closing for the foreseeable future. Where will we export? Now we have to find new markets to bring our products. Now we have to start up again.
Speaking from the heart, as a woman and a mother, my first thought is of the children. My children are the same age as those young people in Ukraine who will now fight for their freedom.
I feel helpless. I remember the stories of my mother and grandparents in Poland, and it is so unreal to have war again in Europe, but these emotions and feelings are genuine right now.
I was not born into a horticultural family, but my career grew up in the nursery when I married my husband 30 years ago.
I came from the corporate world of advertisement, and the nursery was a new way of thinking for me. In all these 30 years, I learned that the nursery is part of our family. We all work together, including the children, and we are only successful if we set our standards like a family. You have to take care of your people, your workers, and you look out for them individually. If they feel good, you feel good.
Your whole life is about the nursery. You start your morning thinking about it; you go to bed thinking about it. It’s like a baby. When the weather is stormy, you worry about it. If the weather is too hot, you worry about it. My young children know this instinctively; the family did not have an Easter holiday because there were still plants in the nursery. It’s our whole life as a family. Until you sell the final products that season, you can’t relax, you can’t go on vacation.
I think women in horticulture have a powerful position. In Germany, and I suspect in other countries, the men see their role in the nursery as the producers. Their partners, the women, are often working harder in the back office. They take care of the payroll, support the health and wellness of the workers, and feed and look after the kids. We don’t need emancipation; we have it; we live it. We are a team.
When my children were growing up, I would speak to many mothers at the school gates. I would invite their children to see what happens in our nursery because we need more young people to know what we do. I recruited some of the mothers after visiting because they understand that the nursery is a good family working environment.
I think ornamental horticulture is a female profession because we work with emotions. Every moment in life, flowers are there to celebrate; there are no weddings without flowers, no parties without flowers, no funerals without flowers. Many women don’t know it, but I believe women’s position in horticulture is strong. You have to show it, and we have to change the current perspective. And, we have to speak to our customers with more feeling.
As Chairwoman of the Advisory Board for IPM Essen. Our recent meetings were hard for us to come to terms with the fact that we have the second year running no tradeshow. We all know how important IPM Essen is at the beginning of the year, it is very important for our industry.
The trade show is like a family party. We meet all together, and we get new inspirations and new invigorations for our own business. We hear information better when we come together. But now, cancelling for the second year, we all recognise its importance. We were in long discussions at IPM Essen; we said ‘it’s too long, two years and no meeting, this is a problem’.
Then we came to the idea. Let’s make a summer edition. Why? Because we don’t want to have the distance of another missed year until January 2023. From a practical point of view, it’s healthier meeting in the summer months, as the Covid-19 virus is less virulent than in the winter months.
It was exciting when we started with this idea to work out to have two days. We now have around 200 exhibitors who have signed up to come and meet us within 24-hours of the announcement.
It will be two days, but two very strong days. We will have many discussions and opportunities to network and introduce new information.
As we have moved it to the summer months, we notice that new people are interested, so this may start something new.
In 2021, the German Federal Statistical Office analysed the latest figures concerning the cultivation and production of ornamental plants in Germany as part of an ornamental plants survey. The results of the latest survey showed 3,120 holdings specialising in ornamental plants, which equates to a 15 per cent decrease in the number of companies in 2017. The basic area for the cultivation of flowers and ornamental plants was roughly 6,300 hectares, which corresponds to a 4.8 per cent decrease compared to 2017.
With an area of 2,900 hectares, North Rhine-Westphalia remains a key area for production. In terms of the products grown, there are three noteworthy developments:
Source: IPM Essen
Zentralverband Gartenbau includes recent figures here https://www.g-net.de/aktuelle_meldung/absatzhoch-fuer-zierpflanzen-betriebskosten-explodieren.html
This article was first published in FloraCulture International in March 2022.