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Gernée Ornamental Grass Nursery

Gernée Ornamental Grass Nursery
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Gernée Ornamental Grass Nursery specialises in growing more than 400 species of grass and 250 species of perennials and ground-cover plants, all available in large quantities in pot size 9 – producing a total of six million plants per year. What’s more, because it selects disease-resistant species and allows the plants to grow naturally, its customers can be confident that they are purchasing strong, healthy plants.

From hobby to manager

Gernée Ornamental Grass Nursery’s story began over 25 years ago as a hobby, which soon got out of hand and became a passion. “As a small boy, I was already propagating plants and selling them locally”, manager Gert Gernée laughingly explains. It will therefore come as no surprise that he started attending horticultural college at the age of 12. After finishing his secondary education, he completed a teacher-training course in agriculture and horticulture. “In the meantime I was growing violets and vegetables, and after that, perennial plants and dahlias too. It was only from 2000 onwards that I began to grow my first ornamental grasses.” After graduation, Gert taught for three years before taking the plunge in 2007 and focusing on the nursery full-time. At that point, Gert also decided to build the business at a different location in Sint-Katelijne-Waver. Since then, the company – that celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2017 – has grown steadily, at a rate of some 20% per year.

About the business

“Our company currently has an area of 7 ha. We have 6 ha of open-air container fields and a 1-ha greenhouse that we acquired from a tomato grower. This greenhouse allows us to cultivate frost-sensitive plants and certain plants that prefer slightly warmer growing conditions in an optimal environment. We also put shade-loving plants such as ferns in the greenhouse, which we then whitewash. The greenhouse also enables us to start our season earlier’, Gert continues. ‘It means that we can already start potting up in February. And these early plants then are the vanguard for the rest of our range.”

The range

“We focus on an extensive range of ornamental grasses. Currently we have more than 400 species on offer and we continuously follow the new developments in the market in order to further expand our range. Our principle is to establish around five hundred examples of all new varieties. We then evaluate whether or not to keep on producing them. For example, we will rarely persist in growing varieties that are not suitable for our climate, or that require too many pesticides”, Gert explains. “Of course, there are also new varieties that we strongly believe in and whose production we have subsequently increased to 15,000 examples.” In addition to the ornamental grasses, the nursery also offers a range of some 250 perennials. These are mostly species that are frequently planted in combination with ornamental grasses.

The company only uses one type of pot, namely P9. This decision makes it possible to offer large numbers of each variety. “Most of our plants are available in very large quantities, since we stock between 5,000 and 250,000 examples of each species,” Gert stresses with some pride.

Investing in the future

“Our aim is to pot up as close to the delivery date as possible,” Gert emphasises. “But repotting between six and seven million plants is hugely labour-intensive work, and we try to concentrate this in the period between mid-June and mid-September. To this end, this year we have invested in a new potting machine that can repot up to 100,000 plants per day. By comparison to the current machine, which only achieved a rate of 40,000 plants per day, this offers us many opportunities to organise our work more efficiently. The new machine will also enable us to continue to expand.”

Sustainability

Gernée Ornamental Grass Nursery has consciously opted to grow a range of healthy plants that can grow naturally and do not require forcing. “The immediate consequence of this is that we barely use pesticides, except for sporadic use to combat weeds in the grasses. We can thus recirculate the water from our business’s entire surface area without the need for additional filtration.” In future, Gert wants to make additional sustainable investments. For example, he hopes to install solar panels and thus become self-sufficient in electricity.

Export

Around 70% of production is intended for export, whilst 30% stays in the Belgian market. “Our products are chiefly purchased in our neighbouring countries, which also act as a transit point for sales to onward destinations such as Russia. France and Germany are already growing markets. In Northern and Eastern Europe, we are still less active. Indeed, our range is largely sold out before the cold season is over in these regions and their planting season commences. But we will continue to expand, which will mean that there will increasingly be opportunities to supply places like Poland and Scandinavia too”, Gert reasons.

Gernée Ornamental Grass Nursery in figures

  • Employees:

    • 1 manager

    • 7 full-time employees

    • 10 student workers

    • Temporary staff

  • Land area:

    • 6 ha open-air container fields

    • 1 ha unheated greenhouse

  • Export: 70% of turnover

    • Germany 5%

    • The Netherlands 60%

    • France 4%

    • Italy 1%

    • Indirectly further afield, to countries such as Russia, Poland, the UK and Spain

  • Future:

    • Solar panels in order to be completely energy-neutral

    • Development of website where all the information about ornamental grasses will be available