Talking With Anthony Tesselaar

Talking With Anthony Tesselaar

It is hard enough to create a regional plant brand that encompasses all the characteristics necessary to thrive in a variety of conditions, but it is even tougher to create a national brand that creates successful gardeners throughout all the climates of a country.

That is Anthony Tesselaar’s end goal, by the way: successful gardeners. Though it was 10 p.m. in Silvan, 75 miles east of Melbourne (which is 14 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast), Tesselaar was kind enough to chat with Today’s Garden Center Editor Jen Polanz recently about everything related to the company’s branding efforts. In North America, it has marketed Flower Carpet roses, Tropicanna cannas and Bonfire begonia, and about seven other plants, as the main branded properties from Anthony Tesselaar International. It is also currently trialing a new drought-tolerant petunia called Soleil, which was highlighted at the Selecta First Class California Pack Trials location this year.

“The rest of the world is going toward plants that are requiring a minimal amount of maintenance,” Tesselaar explained. “That’s always been our focus from day one. We cater to the person who wants a garden who doesn’t know how to garden.

“When we go out, that’s the philosophy we go by. It has got to be good for a long time in the garden.”

Those at Tesselaar travel the world to find new plants, then bring them back to the 20-acre trial garden at Silvan for testing. It can take five to seven years on average for a plant to make it to the market, and out of the hundreds that get brought in, only about 10 percent make it to various markets around the world with the Tesselaar name on it.

The plants get tested not only in Australia, but in any market in which the plants could be sold. That means trial gardens all over the world. But Tesselaar says the United States is the most difficult, because of a temperature range of 130 degrees Fahrenheit between the warmest and the coldest regions in the country. A plant that is marketed nationwide has to be able to withstand all types of conditions.

“Next we have to find out whether it’s easy to propagate for the grower,” he adds. “We don’t want a product that’s too expensive to propagate. At the same time, we’re doing work on the branding of the product, looking at the characteristics of the plant, working with public relations people to develop stories, advertising and creating labels that match up. So there’s a lot of background coming into it.”

The Rose That Almost Was

Tesselaar gave an example of a breeder that came to the company with a beautiful, striking blue rose. He thought the rose could be a huge development–the “holy grail” when it comes to roses. The company began to trial it all over the world to see how it would perform. “We started seeing the first flowers, and they were mauve-y,” he says. “We sent the same person to each trial location to photograph them, and everything was mauve. But at the breeder’s garden it was blue.”

After lots of experimentation, they found the perfect mix of care and feeding that made the rose blue. But ultimately, it would be difficult for the average gardener to reproduce at home. “We didn’t go ahead with it,” he explains. “That’s the most extreme case we’ve seen. But we always try to make sure the ultimate outcome is best for the gardener.”

Keeping The Focus

Branding isn’t just a one-time effort to put out a plant in a special pot with tags and point-of-purchase material. It’s a continuous effort, which is why some brands don’t last very long.

“To keep a good branding program is very, very difficult,” Tesselaar says. “There’s a lot of people that run out and say I’ve got a brand, but if you’re going to brand a plant you’ve got to do a lot of work to keep it there. You’ve got to keep coming back to adjust and keep it there. Most brands ultimately fall over quite quickly.”

Anthony Tesselaar International has been marketing Flower Carpet roses since 1992, and has about 15 branded products in markets on four continents across the globe.

Editor’s Note: We’ll be running more interviews online with branded plant companies in May, and watch for two stories on branding products in the May issue of Today’s Garden Center magazine.

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