From 24 January to 27, IPM Essen at Messe Essen finally welcomed visitors to the world of horticulture again. According to show organiser Messe Essen, 1,330 exhibitors (1,538 in the pre-corona year 2019) from 46 countries presented plants, cut flowers, young plants, tech, floristry, and equipment for the ornamental horticulture industry on a 100,000m² show floor.
Messe Essen boss Oliver Kuhrt was delighted that the industry has returned to face-to-face trade events despite uncertain times. He told FCI, “the joy was palpable in every hall and at every stand.” He went on to say that IPM’s return was buzzing and more international than expected, with over 40,000 (54,000 in the pre-corona year 2019) industry professionals from 100 countries, occupying eight adjoining halls (ten if you include the floristry Hall 1A at basement level and the Galería exhibition corridor).
On the eve of the 39th edition of IPM Essen, Jürgen Mertz, president of Germany’s Central Horticultural Association (ZVG), gave insight into the state of ornamental horticulture in Germany. He thinks it is safe to assume that for all the negative consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, many growers would not mind returning to the first months when the lockdowns forced consumers to spend more time at home, driving demand for home decorating, gardening, and garden projects. However, by September 2021, the industry showed initial signs of a slowdown. Five months later, Russia invaded Ukraine, which has had a massive impact on Europe.
Mertz continues: “The economy and consumers alike have been unsettled, and secure energy supplies have taken on a new significance for people who are increasingly unable to pay their soaring energy bills. Growers of flowers and plants are no different. I vividly recall my discussions with ZVG members last year, desperately asking how they can afford it?”
In 2022, Germany’s combined cut flower, houseplant, garden plant, and nursery stock market stood at an estimated €9 billion. This market value is more or less equal to the pre-corona year of 2019 and is down from €10.2 billion in 2021.
Many German growers are on edge with a ten per cent inflation rate (in comparison, Luxembourg: four per cent and the Netherlands: 17 per cent), market volatility, and rising energy prices hampering consumer demand and confidence.
In terms of spending habits, the national spending on flowers and plants per capita was €107 in 2022, down from €108 in the pre-corona year 2019. Recent studies by insurance company R+V and FORSA, the German Institute for Social Research and Statistical Analysis found that 67 per cent of Germans report feeling worried about the rising cost of living. Other issues affecting people include the statement that ‘living in Germany is no longer affordable (58 per cent) and an economic situation spiralling out of control (57 per cent). Germans also tend to worry about things they can’t control, including natural disasters/adverse weather conditions/ climate change (49 per cent) and the global rise of authoritarianism (47 per cent), inflation rates eating away savings (55 per cent).
Interestingly, many German citizens are not necessarily affected by a fundamental deterioration in their financial situation at the moment but are worried about this being the case in the future. The subjective mood is, therefore, worse than the reality. In this context, it is worth mentioning that Germany’s savings glut continues as it does in the Netherlands and the UK. Between July 2020 and June 2021, German residents saved a massive €160 billion, Brits €170 bn and Dutch €38bn.
The billions of euros the three nationalities put into their savings accounts during the coronavirus crisis will stay where they are now. According to a Rabobank survey, most people don’t plan on spending their savings in the near future.
Still, Mertz strikes a hopeful tone for the new selling season. “Several studies for 2023 show that the interest in gardening will continue and that houseplants, for example, haven’t yet reached their peak of popularity. People may save additional money, cut back on luxury items or vacations, and delay a new car purchase, but ornamentals could turn out to be more recession-proof than what is commonly believed. However, extra effort is needed to create awareness and demand for our products. The industry must get and stay in touch with the consumers.”
When asked how satisfied he is with the level of government support for the industry in Germany, he said, “Since November 2021, Germany has had a coalition government between the Social Democratic Party, the Green Party, and the Free Democratic Party. So, from our side, we need stronger convincing skills. In talking with politicians, the discussion always veers to renewable energy. The reality, however, is that 60 per cent of the horticultural businesses are heated with natural gas. Apart from promoting renewables, I think grants should also be available for energy-saving technologies.”
Mertz continued to plea for tax reforms. “Raising taxes at times when horticultural entrepreneurs need to put aside additional money to invest in sustainable practices is so wrong.”
In joining the discussion with Jürgen Mertz, chairwoman of industry body Landesverband Gartenbau Nordrhein-Westfalen and ZVG-vice president, Eva Kähler-Theuerkauf signalled how heat waves and low rainfall had taken a toll on Germany’s groundwater. “Despite the heavy rains over the past few weeks, water bodies are far from sufficiently filled, and there’s little moisture deeper underground. In the advent of extended periods of drought, the pertinent question is what will happen to the water availability for our sector. We need to work with government, water companies and others to manage water resources during a drought and give the SMEs – the backbone of our industry – access to funding to survive water scarcity.”
To conclude, Klaus Götz from the German florist association FDF explained how uncertainty affects consumer behaviour. “Fortunately, our customers continue to have expectations and meeting them is crucial to ensuring customer satisfaction and coming out on top during a purchase decision. However, more generally speaking, there is much uncertainty; customers feel insecure and are cautious. I would welcome more consistency.”
Götz thinks that with bad news dominating the headlines, the flower shop may be an easy way to escape the stresses of everyday life. “When people shop, they forget. Our job is to turn all the beautiful products from the grower into tailormade, individual bouquets and arrangements. My message to the growers is to stay on trend and meet today’s quality requirements. The Covid-19 pandemic, in the end, was not that bad for our sector, with many new and young people taking an interest in flowers and plants. It is important to meet the novice gardeners and home decorators and act as a role model.”
During IPM Essen’s grand opening on 24 January, chairman of the trade association Landesverbandes Gartenbau Rheinland Eva Kähler-Theuerkauf and Germany’s reigning flower queen Regina Haindl announced the winners of the IPM ESSEN’s Novelty Showcase. Entries had been coming in thick and fast, with over 63 novelty plants submitted by 33 exhibitors in six categories.
Winning the first prize in the Spring Flowering Plants category were the Primula polyantha cultivars ‘Flame’, ‘Frosty White’ and ‘Sunny Yellow’, all three members of Kientzler’s Pollyanna series, which also includes Primula polyantha’ ‘Crystal Fountain’ (blue), Primula polyantha’ Fresh Lemon’ (yellow), Primula polyantha ‘Touch of Gold’ (dark red) and Primula polyantha ‘Pink Fountain’ (pink). The seven Pollyanna varieties – the blooming result of joint breeding work by Kientzler and UK-based Kerley&Co, breeder of novel patio plants – have revolutionised the colour range and flower shape within the species, dominated by seed annuals. ‘Pollyanna’ is a series of double primroses with light green, slightly wrinkly foliage contrasting with double blooms.
The plant is suited for potting from January to March in commercial production. ‘Pollyanna’ stands 25cm tall and needs a little chill to start flowering while growing plants, mainly on the drier side.
Anthurium andreanum ‘Delicata’, submitted by Anthura from the Netherlands, reigned supreme in the Flowering Houseplant category. The dark-leaved plant with nicely contrasting burgundy red blooms is ideal for bringing drama to home interiors.
In the Tropical Foliage Plant category, Philodendron erubescens’ Pink Bikini’ submitted by Dutch-based Ornamantex B.V. walked away with the IPM Novelty Award. The plant features thick red stems and stunningly variegated foliage.
Acer campestre’ Street Pillar’, submitted by Dutch-based Concept Plants and bred by Boomkwekerij Ruijgrok, was convincing in the Woody Plants category. Grower Leen Ruijgrok explains that ‘Street Pillar’ stood out from a batch of wild seedlings planted at the nursery 15 years ago, showing narrow, compact and slow growth (standing five metres tall after 15 years) with a dense crown, which makes it very suitable for planting in small places, including flower boxes.
Other advantages are:
■ Drought and wind resistance.
■ Winter hardiness.
■ Tolerance of road salt.
■ Not being sensitive to mildew and spider mites.
Leen said that the success of ‘Street Pillar’ has prompted the nursery to increase production on all four of its nursery sites (Germany, Poland, France, and Holland) to be ready for high demand.
In the Tub Plants category, Gootjes-AllPlant from the Netherlands submitted the Mangave succulent ‘Blazing Saddles’ (bred by Hans Hansen) and walked away with the highest honour.
The first Mangave was created by unintentional cross-pollination and discovered in a batch of Manfreda seedlings. The plant has since been developed by its breeder, and its collection now includes more than 30 varieties. Drought resistant ‘Blazing Saddles’ stands 20cm tall, is hardy to -five degrees Celsius and makes a perfect feature in patio pots, tubs and rockery gardens.
Australian waxflower farm Nir from Israel won the IPM Novelty award in the Cut Flower category. Chamelaucium’ Ever Flowering Wax’ impressed the jury because it can almost be harvested year-round. This capability increases the cultivation value of this drought-tolerant variety, breaks harvest peaks, and enables a continuous supply to the trade and, thus, to the consumer.
In the mid-2000s, Ethiopia emerged as the next production hot spot for fresh-cut roses. In nursery stock, something similar happens in Albania. One-hour drive north of Tirana, arable crop growers swopped their corn and wheat for predominantly Cupressocyparis, Acer, Catalpa, Liquidambar, Thuja, Prunus, Photinia and Trachycarpus.
Playing a pivotal role in further expanding the estimated 200-300ha under nursery stock production partially protected against strong and cold northern winds by the Sharr mountain range is Agrocoop Albania, a cooperative active in the production and sales of trees and shrubs for export markets in Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands.
The company’s sales rep, Ardit Limani, admits that trees and shrubs are not really a big part of Albanian culture. “Albanian workers learned the ropes in Italy’s epicentre for nursery stock production Pistoia. Some returned home and acquired land to grow conifers predominantly in a mild climate, with cool winters and hot, dry, clear summers. Soils are good, and the mountain supply enough water to irrigate crops. The only factor holding back growth is labour shortage as so many young workers left the country to work abroad.”
The current law foresaw Albania’s accession to the UPOV Convention of 1978, but plant breeders’ rights (PBR) are not yet operational, and PBR is not included in the draft law on intellectual property.
Standing proudly on the 100,000m2 show floor were 15 country pavilions flying their flags for Belgium, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Great Britain, India, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Taiwan, Türkiye, and the USA.
The UK pavilion, organised by the Commercial Horticulture Association, presented a collection of solutions for the ornamental horticulture industry, garden plants, technology, and services under the British flag in hall 7 and hall 3. The British exhibitors included Air-Pot, Bluepoint Tags and Labels, Clong Design Studio, David Austin Roses, Fairweather’s Nursery, Guernsey Clematis, Indo-Lighting, PPC Labels, Tyne Moulds&Machinery, and Whetman Plants International. Whetman Plants International launches drought tolerant Choisya: Choisya x Dewitteana’ Little Bee’ and Choisya x Dewitteana ‘Little Honey Bee’ Guernsey Clematis Nursery showed new compact clematis from the Raymond J. Evison range. Exhibitor Fairweather’s Nurseries presented more than 50 varieties of Agapanthus.
At the CHA Horticultural Forum, UK Government representatives from the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) provided an overview of the UK’s new approach to border controls, highlighting how the future of plant health checks will look like when importing or exporting goods into or out of Great Britain. Other speakers included plant breeders Raymond Evison and Lindsay Reid from Guernsey Clematis and Patrick Fairweather from Fairweather’s Nurseries, all chaired by Matt Appleby, Editor of the leading UK horticultural journal, Horticulture Week.
This article was first published in March 2023 FloraCulture International.