Garden varieties carefully selected

Bulb sales | Seed company looks for certain traits before importing bulbs to Canada

YORK, P.E.I. — A job with a seed company is a dream come true for an avid gardener like Glenn Holmes.

“It never crosses my mind I’m at work, it’s very grounded when working in the earth,” he said.

Meeting and working with plant breeders and growers overseas are just icing on the cake for the bulb manager with Prince Edward Island’s Veseys Seeds.

“Before I worked at Veseys, I just bought them because they were pretty. Now I realize what’s involved,” he said.

Holmes said Dutch growers spend years creating new varieties for backyard gardeners and commercial growers.

“It’s like giving birth to a child,” said Holmes, who lists astilbe and tulips among his own favourites.

Holmes said the growers are excited to cultivate even the smallest changes in flowers.

“They are taking something that never existed and now it does,” he said.

Veseys bulbs have seen steady sales increases since they became part of the company’s catalogue business in 1999.

Veseys, which now employs a part-time worker in Holland, is the largest importer of Dutch bulbs in Canada and owns a major U.S. bulb company.

Holmes said the economic climate plays a role in the gardening business.

“When the economy is tight, people aren’t putting in swimming pools or re-doing landscaping,” he said.

However, he said the Canadian market is healthy and gardening interest is strong, noting the constantly evolving nature of gardens and people’s desire to try new varieties.

“For our size of population, we’re fairly in love with gardening in Canada. We’ve seen some nice increases. It shows people are willing to spend money on gardening.”

Imported bulbs, which are subject to regulations and must be clean and free of soil, are inspected either overseas or at port in Halifax, he said.

When buying, Holmes looks for various traits, such as mould resistance or trendy colours.

Markets are currently hot for purple and exclusive selections.

Veseys had exclusive North American distribution and naming rights for the new Dragon’s Breath dahlia, with a naming contest that attracted 9,000 suggestions from customers.

“People like the fact that it’s new, it’s a different colour and they can only get it from Veseys, so maybe the neighbour won’t have it,” Holmes said.

Sales for bulbs and perennials from Veseys’ spring catalogues have always been strong, but fall catalogue sales are quickly catching up, said Holmes.

“You don’t need to have a green thumb to make a tulip or daffodil grow, it’s pretty easy. You put it in the ground and wait for it to come up in spring,” he said.

He said the company tests as many as 800 seed varieties, and is currently working to determine the best planting dates for German iris.

Garden seeds and bulbs remain the 75-year-old company’s mainstay, but today it also offers equipment sales for golf courses and landscaping.

The company is named for Arthur Vesey, who died in 1999. Current president Bev Simpson bought the company, which today employs up to 100 people during the busy season.

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