Budding business

Roses are like babies and there are 20 ways to make them happy, says Bernard Durand, whose family has been growing the flower for six generations in France

Different cultures tell us that babies come from storks, birds, bees and perhaps even factories but Bernard Durand has a refreshing new take.

"Everyone comes from a rose," he says. "Well, at least boys are said to be born in cabbages and girls in roses, but in Meilland, the boys were born in a rose too."

As a sixth-generation rose grower born into the Meilland flower business, Bernard says he grew up with roses, thinking of little else, and certainly unable to imagine pursuing a profession unrelated to the flower he considers the "queen of flowers".

In Bangalore for the just-concluded Floral Expo, Bernard explains that he is not here merely to push for Indian rose growers to buy French roses from his stable, but instead to present a variety of Meilland's 1,000-plus patented roses, help farmers select what is appropriate with them and also to impart valuable know-how to achieve the best results.

The current rage in roses is one that was christened in Bangalore recently — Meilland's Exciting, which has the ability to change its hues daily, appearing in different shades of pink at varying times of day.

Targeted at the substantial Japanese market it is being grown in India first by the grower Navsari, explains Bernard.

Despite intensive research and development (Exciting took between five to eight years of research and selection, for instance) into new kinds of roses and careful patents, Meilland often faces buyers who attempt to recreate their roses and infringe patent laws. But by making it hard for these farmers to export such roses, they ensure a penalty is being imposed — and for the most part, Meilland's India venture reflects the popular interest in this flower.

"India is one of the most interesting markets," explains Bernard. "We have a selection of farms and about 30-40 rose growers that we work with, imparting know-how." While the new tri-coloured Exciting is being prepared for Japanese markets along with old favourite the small spray roses, the Australians are supplied with big-budded roses while Europeans apparently prefer middle-sized buds.

Meeting a new grower and selecting the rose most appropriate for him, is something Bernard sees as a game, with the final selection dependent on climate and export market among other factors.

"I love the flower itself," says Bernard passionately. "Roses are like babies; they can't grow in six days. One lesson will take you one year and there are over 20 factors to make a rose happy."

Intensive research goes into making sure they last longer to withstand transport, each variety has to last a minimum of 10 days. When it reaches its destination, the rose is backed by solid R&D, specialised growers' care and brimming with connotation and cultural significance. "Lovers," points out Bernard, rather poetically, "don't bring whiskey for each other but red roses, which are a message of love."


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