Nurseries that grow both cut flowers and green pot plants? There aren’t very many of those at all. ICHTUS Flowers & Plants is one of these rare finds. And we want to know more about that! Co-owner Pieter Lips tells us the ins & outs of two-under-one-roof cultivation.
A wider range
ICHTUS Flowers & Plants was founded in 1995 by Danier van der Spek. In the early period, the nursery mainly focused on growing cut Anthurium. In 2003, the Anthurium was joined by the cut Phalaenopsis. And successfully, too: this moth orchid did so well that the nursery was bursting at the seams. In 2007, a new nursery of 4.4 hectares was built. However, ICHTUS experienced its greatest pivotal moment three years ago. This was when potted Anthuriums made way for green plants: exclusive varieties of Alocasia and Philodendron in different forms and pot sizes.
Difficult, but worth it
Anyone who is familiar with the sector knows that the combination of two different crops, namely cut flowers and green plants, is not easy. All the same, for ICHTUS it was a logical choice. Pieter Lips explains why: “Three years ago, we noticed that green plants were doing very well. After putting out our feelers, we got the opportunity to take over the range of green pot plants from the grower Sjaak van der Sar. His range was already well positioned in the market and was regarded as rather exclusive. For us, it was the ideal springboard to this segment. In addition, this step tied in perfectly with our company vision, as we are constantly looking for new varieties to keep surprising consumers.”
Serving customers all year round
“We don’t necessarily want to grow more plants, but we do want to offer a wide range that constantly features new varieties. Our range has increased in a short time. We grow 80% of our plants in pot sizes 14 and 17, and transplant 20% to the larger pot sizes 24 and 32. It’s quite labour-intensive, but this wide range of pot sizes and varieties makes us commercially interesting, as we can provide our customers exactly what they want, all year round.”
Partner Floréac as a barometer
With such a varied range, it’s important for growers to know what’s going on in the market. So how does ICHTUS keep its finger on the pulse?
Pieter: “There are actually two components that you always need to keep an eye on. Firstly, you have the technical cultivation information that we get from our greenhouse. We like to experiment with new cultivars and put a lot of time, money and energy into this. We test small quantities for properties such as cultivation speed, number of cuttings per pot, leaf colour and so on.
Secondly, you have the information from the sales side. Is the plant doing well with customers and consumers, or not? Both components need to be right. We tend to pick up plants that are not easy to grow but are unique on the market. Conversely, we won’t grow plants that are already present on the market in large quantities. This vision strengthens our distinctiveness, which helps us to perform well on the market.
And to maintain that balance, a partner like Floréac is worth its weight in gold. I deliberately say partner, and not customer. Over the past 18 months in particular, our collaboration has grown a great deal. Thanks to them, we are able to extract valuable knowledge from the supply chain. The people at Floréac know what’s going on with the customers and consumers. They deliberately keep the lines with us short, so that we can change course quickly. And the fact that they are selective about the companies they work with has strengthened my confidence in them all the more. They take a really good look at you first, and only take the plunge once they are 100% sure of the quality. That means they think in the long term, and ignore the quick wins. An added bonus is that we share the same values.”
Respect for people and the environment
These values are very pronounced at ICHTUS. The nursery is committed to a Christian vision of life. “Respect takes centre stage: for our customers, suppliers and colleagues, but also for nature. That’s why we make a lot of effort to grow as sustainably as possible.
For example, we generate electricity via CHP. This currently still runs on gas, but the intention is to switch to hydrogen in the long term. We also focus strongly on organic pest control. In addition, we have a 100% recirculated watering system. Both our irrigation water and rainwater, which falls on the greenhouses and the shed, are 100% collected and reused. Any excess water is pumped into the ground to a depth of 120 metres to be used in times of scarcity. Our growing pots and stick-ins are made of post-consumer material that comes from recycled trays from Flora Holland.
And that’s just a small selection of our efforts. I admit that becoming more sustainable is not always easy, certainly not with two crops that require different approaches. But we are 100% behind this policy.”
Focus on risk spreading
ICHTUS therefore firmly believes in the added value of two crops under one roof. Why is that? “Because it allows you to spread the risks and because the crops reinforce each other throughout the year in terms of energy and work. During the pandemic, the cut flower sector hit rock bottom. Weddings were cancelled or postponed, so no bouquets were ordered. For our cut Phalaenopsis, that was a disaster. Fortunately, we were able to rely on the sale of our green plants, which experienced a huge boom. Today, we are seeing a trend in the opposite direction. Green plants are doing a little less well, but weddings are on the up, which is boosting our sales of cut Phalaenopsis. They are especially coveted in Tuscany, the ultimate wedding backdrop. In this way, the two ‘legs’ keep our nursery in balance.
It also benefits our staff, as it keeps them employed all year round. They can also exchange expertise. The other side of the coin is that you have two different cultivation processes and markets, which naturally make things a bit more complex.
But I’m not complaining. The growth process of our plants continues to fascinate me. I also love passing on my enthusiasm to other people. Working together towards a shared goal gives me energy.”