1987, Sue Bell, Study Of House Plant Production, Denmark

“Something is blooming in the state of Denmark”

by Sue Bell

During the first three weeks of July, 1987 I travelled to Denmark to study their large and successful house plant industry. As well as trying to account for this success, I was hoping to visit the country’s famous castles and gardens, and see something of the capital and countryside. The Hozelock-ASL prize and money kindly donated by the Kew Guild helped considerably in financing the trip.

It made sense to start in the capital, Copenhagen, which is on the island called Zealand and then work back via Funen, to the Jutland Peninsula, and the ferry home. Apart from my time in Copenhagen I stayed in Youth Hostels. Travel was easy, even between the islands as the Danish public transport system is very good. Whilst in North Zealand I made much use of a Copenhagen Card which gives unlimited use on the buses and trains, ideal for exploring.

I was first based at the Copenhagen Botanical Garden, where I stayed with a gardener, Gert Void. Due to a civil service strike the garden was rarely open to the public. This was also sadly the case with all the national museums and palaces during my stay. The garden staff were very friendly and gave me many tips and contacts which proved useful later. Several of the staff spoke English and were familiar with Kew from exchange visits.

The garden is situated on the old city ramparts which gives it a very interesting topography. The rock garden resembles a hill top boulder field, from which one can just view a surprisingly large and natural looking lake. The garden is surrounded by trees and shrubs so the herbaceous areas and glass houses are sheltered. There are large and impressive collections of annuals and Danish native plants. One of the most interesting glass houses is the arctic house which contains many plants from Greenland, Denmark’s largest island.

My stay in Copenhagen coincided with an exhibition of Denmark’s most popular house plants in the city hall, this was to promote the Marguerite as Denmark’s national flower. Needless to say the botanists were less happy with this choice of plant than the commercial growers! Even so, the scale and prestige at the exhibition was a clear example of the enviable status horticulture commands in Denmark and it’s importance in the country.

Most of the pot plants grown in Denmark are exported. This puts the growers close to the capital at some disadvantage as the main export and marketing organisations are based on the island of Funen, the so called “Garden of Denmark”. Even so the growers I did visit near Copenhagen had modern facilities and some felt confident enough to expand and even experiment with new crops.

Many of the marketing organisations are grower co-operatives. these are the GAZAs. The letters stand for Gardener’s Sales Association. GAZA Odense and GAZA Arhus are two of the most important for pot plants. They actively promote and sell the plants in many countries, including the U.K. This means the growers are free to concentrate on what they do best, the growing. I was very fortunate to spend a day visiting the GAZA Odense and surrounding growers with a sales consultant from the GAZA, Kim Evald. The GAZA has its own lorry fleet, modern offices, warehouses and an auction.

When the plants arrive from the growers they are assembled into the orders that the sales consultants have taken previously, and placed on Danish trolleys. The trolleys are then programmed and can travel unassisted on rails through the warehouses to their point of departure, a GAZA lorry bound for the customer. Such is the success of GAZA Odense that growers who are members don’t have to be ultra modern to survive even though many are. I was surprised to visit some very small growers with dilapidated buildings. They are able to make a living by concentrating on growing just one or two crops but to the high standard the GAZAs demand.

The Danish pot plant industry is well supported by an impressive advisory service the D.E.G. My visit to their offices proved very profitable, they were very helpful in arranging grower visits and answering my many questions. Denmark also has Horticultural Research Stations and like their counterparts in the U.K., they are experiencing reduced funding. I managed to visit two one which specialises in pests and diseases at Lyngby and the other at Arslev, The Glass House Crops Research Institute. Research and development is also carried out in the private sector. The breeding station of Daehnfeldt, the Seed Company was most impressive, especially their micropropagation facilities.

It was always refreshing to see some Danish culture as opposed to strictly horticulture. As the song says, Copenhagen is “wonderful!”. The spectacular spires and towers of the city were unexpected and particularly impressive. I was most keen to see the Castle at Helsingor (Elsinore), immortalised by Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It stands overlooking the Sound, a narrow stretch of water between North Zealand and Sweden. I visited in an evening when walking around the ramparts it takes little to imagine the scene of the midnight encounter between Hamlet and the ghost which ends on a note of ominous intent.

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Heaven will direct it.”
Act 1 Scene V

 

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