A nursery that constantly questions and reinvents itself? For nursery Leybaert, this is self-evident. Smart and conscious choices chart a sustainable path. And all with respect for tradition and nature. Sales manager Silas Crezée gives an insight behind the scenes.
Everything starts with the Azalea indica
In 1968, father Etienne Leybaert planted the first azaleas indica in his greenhouses. A quality regional product from Ghent that was popular with many growers at the time. Competition is fierce. When Tom Leybaert, the second generation, comes on board, things start to move. “We had an ideal starting position,” explains sales manager Silas Crezée . “Growing Azaleas no longer held any secrets for us, and we could apply that experience perfectly to growing Rhododendrons. We started to distinguish ourselves on the market with outdoor plants in different sizes and colours. In addition, we stayed true to our first crop. But if you compare the cultivation of Azaleas now with that of say 55 years ago, you do notice that we went through a serious transition.”
Distinguished with range
Talk about transition. Today, the nursery covers 31 hectares and, in addition to Azaleas and Rhododendrons, there are also Vaccinium corymbosum, Nandina domastica, Helleborus, Agapanthus and Chamaecyparis Ellwoodii in the greenhouses and fields. But the absolute showpieces are Azaleas japonica ‘Pink Spider’® and Azaleas japonica StarStyle®. Why such a diverse range? “We want to completely unburden our customers. If they want to distinguish themselves with a separate range, we can help them with that. You won’t find Azalea japonica ‘Pink Spider’® and Azalea japonica StarStyle® anywhere else. This diverse range also allows us to respond creatively to customer requests. Like most nurseries, we have a standard supply list, but a lot is possible. No request is too crazy for us. If a customer sees a particular opportunity in the market, we think along with them about how we can fulfil it.”
Working in partnership
Thinking along with the customer, offering customisation … For nursery Leybaert, these are the pillars of a successful cooperation. The word ‘customer’ is out of place here, they feel. “We prefer to talk about partners rather than customers. In partnership, you achieve much more. Just look at our cooperation with Floréac. We sit around the table and look for a solution together to distinguish ourselves in the market. That partnership works both ways, you strengthen each other. Especially today, when a number of growers in Lochristi and the surrounding area are throwing in the towel. More than ever, we feel the need to pull the same cart together.”
Nursery Leybaert constantly keeps its finger on the pulse. And the customer’s wishes come first. But their feelers extend beyond that. “We work in and with nature and three years ago felt the need to share that story with consumers. Moreover, we felt our range needed some refreshing. Azaleas often give a traditional feel. We felt this was unjustified. And when we made the switch from plastic to 100% recyclable material for our pots, we seized that moment to market our story. The result: My Goodness!, a brand with a fresh and contemporary look. With this consumer story, we are in direct contact with consumers. We communicate the sustainable efforts we make through our packaging or social media and website.”
Working with and in nature
These sustainable efforts are not minus. “Even from before it became an issue everywhere, we have been working on this. Mainly out of respect for nature. For us this is self-evident. Three years ago we installed solar panels so that today 70% of our energy consumption is renewable. We also use water very sparingly. We collect, filter and reuse 45% of the excess water we use to water our plants. We also store all the rainwater we collect in water-saving basins. This is then used to water our plants.
We choose recyclable materials. Not only for our pots but also for wrapping paper and other logistics materials. We are also working on peat reduction, a big challenge in acid-loving plants. Our aim is to make great strides here in the short term. Where we are also making progress is in reducing resource use. We also want to focus even more on species produced naturally. In our view, that too is innovation. Furthermore, we are MPS-GAP, GRASP and product-proof certified.
On the right side of the crisis
In this turbulent period, how does Nursery Leybaert look to the future? “According to us, it looks bright. Three years ago, we made the decision to focus even more on sustainable cultivation. And I am not just talking about energy techniques, but also about our product types. Since 2019, for instance, we have been growing Agapanthus. Plants that are very low-maintenance. For this, we use extremely rare South African genetics that allow us to stand out on the market. The biggest advantage of these varieties is that they are both heat-resistant and have an extra-long flowering period. Today, consumers want value for money and this plant meets this need. Thanks to these sustainable choices, we are now on the right side of the crisis. Another added bonus. With this crop, we can grow plants all year round and make optimal use of our logistics infrastructure.”
The best is yet to come
Always nice to record a positive story and, according to Silas, the best is yet to come “I particularly enjoy working here. Mainly because the sky is the limit. You feel that mentality here to every fibre. You get the space to grow and write your own story. And that story is far from over.”