Big In Blooming Potted

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For three generations, Holtkamp Greenhouses has built an international reputation on breeding and producing the world’s favorite houseplant, African violets. Breeding efforts began in 1935 with Hermann Holtkamp, Sr., in Germany and was carried on by his sons Reinhold Holtkamp, Sr., and grandson, Reinhold Holtkamp, Jr. Reinhold Sr. founded Holtkamp Greenhouses in Nashville, Tenn., in 1977 to build business and a research and development facility in the United States.

Reinhold Sr. took the revolutionary varieties to the next level by distinguishing them with a brand: Optimara. The name is derived from two words: optimum (meaning the best) and Usambara (the mountains in East Africa where the first African violet was discovered).
The Holtkamp family’s innovations included nondropping flowers with continuous bloom and the single-crowned propagation style. Reinhold Jr. has been just as focused on making retailers and consumers successful with the plants by developing self-watering wells and display units, as well as lines of plant food. Online, consumers can consult the fictional Dr. Optimara for care information and to determine what is going on with their plants months later.

This fall, an exciting new brand and website is rolling out called myViolet.com.  Plant tags will direct consumers to the site to type in a unique access code for more information on their specific plants, and even personalize the experience by naming their plants. Growers who purchase plugs and cuttings of these varieties will be able to take this program to their retailers. Plans are in the works to create similar programs for more than 20 different crops – myBegonia.com, myPoinsettia.com, etc.

Begonias & Beyond

At the same time Holtkamp was growing its business in African violets, it was rooting varieties for other breeders. One specialty is Elatior begonias. “We have worked with the Man family in Germany for more than 40 years, focused on begonias as a rooting station,” Reinhold Jr. says. “But we quickly realized everything would be propagated offshore.”

These begonias were part of Florema – a leading breeder, producer and supplier of young plants based in Amstelveen, The Netherlands. In 2001, Optimara and Florema formed a joint venture called Floremara to supply unrooted cuttings for Elatior begonias, New Guinea impatiens and poinsettias to North American growers.

One year ago, Florema became part of an even larger organization, the Beekenkamp Group, also in The Netherlands. Based in Maasdijk, the Beekenkamp group consists of:
• Beekenkamp Plants BV – producer of starting material for potted and bedding plants, as well as vegetables.
• Deliflor Chrysanthemums BV – chrysanthemum breeder and cuttings propagator.
• Beekenkamp Packaging BV – develops and procures synthetic crates, cultivation boxes and trays.

Cuttings are produced at farms in Holland, France, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Brazil.

“Beekenkamp did take over Florema Young Plants last year. It was merged with the Beekenkamp Ornamental Plants division,” explains Beekenkamp’s Sales Manager Ruud Veenenbos. “Inside the Florema company, the focus was on bedding and pots produced from cuttings. Selling was done worldwide. Beekenkamp was focused on bedding and pot production from seeds, but not exclusively. Sales were mainly inside Holland. Together, this made a perfect match for further expansion of the companies.”

In the joint venture with Holtkamp, Floremara is the broker or sales arm working directly with U.S. and Canadian growers. The company has been able to compete and work with established broker networks.

“We do have a few sales through brokers with business we initiate,” Reinhold Jr. says. “Sometimes it’s the choice of the grower customer to have the billing go through a broker. We’ve been extremely competitive on price and have all the critical factors in place – quality, price and customer service. With customer support in Nashville, we provide good information and a reliable service.”

Breeding Innovation

One hot new introduction is the Waterfalls Begonia boliviensis varieties positioned to compete with the Bonfires from Anthony Tesselaar. “They are not a me-too, but a genetic improvement with better branching and stronger color,” he says.

A very well-received sun-tolerant line that also has been on the market through Oglevee/Paul Ecke Ranch are the Solenia begonias. In poinsettias, Floremara was the first to breed cold-tolerant varieties as part of an Eco Star program focused on energy conservation.

Reinhold Jr. says the most exciting part of the partnership is Beekenkamp’s commitment to research and development (R&D), an area that has always been important to Holtkamp’s. “They have incredible R&D – 200,000 square feet and a lot of white coats working on new genetics that are delivering an exciting program for the U.S. grower,” he says.

Delilah Onofrey directs Flower Power Marketing for the Suntory Collection. She can be reached at donofrey@gmail.com

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