Growing palms is addictive
Exotic plants at Gardenpalms Europe in Erica, Holland
Gardenpalms, a palm nursery in Erica, Holland, is an unusual company. It's one
of the few horticultural companies in North-West Europe which specializes in the
import, cultivation and trade of exotic trees and plants. Besides all sorts of
varieties and sizes of palms the company also supplies yuccas, banana-plants and
Cultivating palms requires patience and thinking ahead, says palm grower Herbert Riphagen in Erica,
De plants literally come from all over the world, says Herbert Riphagen (42), who
runs the company together with his partner, Hendrik
Speet. The seeds, plants and trees arrive via Rotterdam from Australia, Tasmania, New
Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, India and South America. "And we sell
The exotic specialization of the company is closely related to Riphagens life.
The son of gardeners from the Veluwe area of Holland, he grew up in Indonesia.
There his parents were involved in development work. After returning to the
Netherlands and completing his schooling in business studies Riphagen frequently
traveled to the Far East and other continents to look around. In 1998, Riphagen
came back to the Netherlands to settle with his Indonesian wife. In Ede, they
found a suitable house, but they wanted to retain something of the tropical
atmosphere in which they both grew up. "You can maintain an exotic garden in the
winter. But I soon found out that there was not much available. Appropriate
plants and trees were hard to find or were very small, thin and therefore
So he decided to start growing palms, first just in pots in the attic. Through
came into contact with people with similar interests. And so he established his
The hobby began to get more serious when he visited a trade show in Spain in
2001. Here he made a wholesale order of 30,000 palm seeds. Some of these he
cultivated in his brothers greenhouse, who had just taken over the parental
conifer nursery in Oene, Holland. "There was business to be had in palms, the
market was really just opening up." Riphagen divided his first
batch of young palms
in two: one half for sales to wholesalers in Spain and the other half went to
South America in a container to cultivated there. "Transport costs for these
destinations were about the same." When grown the trees were then returned to
the nursery in Holland where they were allowed to root up further before
delivery to clients.
Riphagen went into business with Hendrik Speet, a plant trader who had frequently
bought his plants. In Erica, in North-East Holland and close to the German
border, they bought a 20,000m2 glas greenhouse to establish a new nursery. "At
first it was a bit too big, but now it fits us perfectly. That the nursery is
not close to an auction, but right on the German border is beneficial for us.
We're situated perfectly and this property was affordable. Another advantage is
that many of our sales are in Germany and our position allows us to save on
transport there. "In addition to FloraHolland Palms Guard delivers a lot
to larger garden centers, project developers and
via the German auction house Landgard.
„From traveller I have become nurseryman and trader. I see this as an ideal
combination. I see myself not as an entrepreneur, but more as an adventurer: I
am continually motivated to do new things. "Once the busy season from March to
May is over and all orders have been fulfilled, Riphagen sets off into the wide
world several times a year to visit or business contacts, foreign nurseries and
to look for new species.
He was recently in India to buy seed of a palm species that grows high in the
mountains. "That plant is so new and unknown that we still have everything to
discover about it." The subsequent cultivation in their own greenhouse is
designed to see how the growth is and how hardy the plant will be.
The care taken to get to know the plant is important for marketing in Northwest
Europe. According to Riphagen
many prejudices about palms
exist in the market among consumers. The myth is that the trees will freeze to
death at the slightest hint of winter. But, says the nurseryman, it's not
that bad. "There are plenty of species that can take a bit of winter." This has
proven by establishing a fully stocked garden. "They declared me near crazy
first. They said all my palms would be dead in the spring. That did not happen
and the plants have been a runaway succes. "
Riphagen and Speet started up at exactly the right time, they claim. Especially
between 1998 and 2008 things business was brisk. "The palm has become a trend,
like the potted olive and the banana." But to convert a trend to a sustainable
market, products should not fall short of peoples expectations and last longer.
Much depends on good product information, according to the palm grower. "With a
palm as consumers buy an experience. People who
have been on holiday
somewhere in a sunny country, want to retain a piece of that holiday feeling by
buying and maintaining a palm. A palm creates an exotic ambience and consumers
will grow attached to the trees.
The rapid rise of the demand for such plants, however has outrun the provision of
information, analyzes Riphagen. "The trade and therefore consumers do not know
what can and can't be done with a palm tree, what kinds are hardy. Keeping one
planted out in your garden just requires a little more knowledge. "
According to Riphagen there were a lot of old wifes tales about palms in the
early years. So all species which arrived at Gardenpalms were initally tested.
"We tell the whole story on our consumers site,
www.mypalmshop.com and pay a lot of
attention to product descriptions." Cultivating palms requires thinking ahead
for at least five to six years, he says. This is the amount of time required to
be able to deliver a mature and robust tree. Besides cultivation from seed
(grafting or taking cuttings doesn't work with palms) and importing young palms
to root on for a period of two years, the company also imports mature trees to
order. For example, if a zoo needs to set up a new, exotic retreat for its
animals. Besides palms trees Gardenpalms can also supply tree ferns; species
specially imported from Tasmania which can grow to 12 or 13 metres in length.
Nursery open to the public
Gardenpalms Europe (just over the border from Germany at Beekweg 18, Erica, Holland)
is open to the public every Saturday between 10am and 4pm. Every spring the
company takes part in the annual open days (Kom in de
It's important to have public visiting us, says nurseryman Herbert Riphagen. „That's
the way to keep a feeling for the market and the consumer. Otherwise, as grower
you risk becoming isolated in your greenhouse.”
Palm trees react slowly
Riphagen does not so much want to get bigger with his company, he says, but
better. "There's so much to learn. The winter of '96-'97 and last winter were
good tests to see what can and can't do. But palms are slow to respond. You only
notice after one to three months if you've done something wrong."
Not only Riphagen has been infected with the palm virus: the cultivation of this
plant has attracted an international club of enthusiasts who exchange seeds and
knowledge among themselves and who discuss avidly on internet forums. Riphagen
owes them a lot. "Growing palms requires patience and good seed can only be
found with knowledge and the right contacts. I like to share the knowledge I
gain with others. I am not afraid of competition, that's just healthy. "
© Translated from Nieuwe Oogst, Joost De la Court, 31-Maart-2012