Recently, Kelly Lewis and I were fortunate to travel to Italy with a group of American Nurserymen to visit a group of Italian nurseries where we were given unprecedented access to their operations. We met with owners, growers, field workers and sales people at thirteen different green industry operations throughout the Pistoia region. While on this incredible, once in a lifetime trip, we had the opportunity to watch and learn in amazement at the level of sophistication these Italian nurseries display. I could talk all day about what we saw and learned. I believe however, I will entertain you with some of my most confounding observations about life in Italy.
- All nurseries claimed to be insanely busy and yet we saw very little actual production going on. The one exception was at Vanucci Piante, we were there at lunch time. The number of motorized vehicles of every shape and size that came in from elsewhere on the farm was comical. One after the next after the next….
- In addition to the confusing lack of work force, we also noticed that no one is in any sort of uniform. A few of the sales guys that toured us had golf shirts with the Piante Logo on it but other than that, owners were dressed up as though going to an office (loafers, dress pants and shirts) and field/sales staff were all in fashion sneakers and jeans. Also of note, no one is dirty there. Even the guys working in the field are clean. Some even smoke cigarettes while working!
- Everywhere we went, we were regaled with reports of how bad the economy throughout Europe is and how business is not what it used to be. These statements are largely backed up by the international business reports we have all heard in the news of late. What is strangely confounding about those statements is that EVERYWHERE we went, everyone was dressed in stylish clothing, fashionable footwear, expensive watches, sunglasses and smartphones. Even the teenagers were decked out.
- There is very little turf anywhere. The bits of turf that we saw were around offices and showrooms and was frequently maintained by robot mowers. Each day, these fascinating little contraptions come off of their solar powered charging stations and tool around keeping the grass in their area freshly groomed. When they begin to run out of juice, they just putter on back to their charging stations until their batteries are charged and then back out they go.
- All rows in almost every nursery were completely stocked with plants without one missing from the line. I finally learned at the second to the last nursery that they try to pull plants from an entire row and then move more stock in to fill those gaps so that it always looks uniform and fully stocked. As a strictly field grown nursery, we would not be able to pull off such a feat which would require constant transplanting. For the perfection oriented (possibly slightly OCD) Italians however, uniformity is a must.
- All potted plants and particularly trees have root balls that are much smaller than those that we consider to be standard sizes. We attribute this to frequent root pruning and transplanting. No matter how many times we saw this, it never ceased to amaze us how small their package is for the corresponding caliper.
- Bread, Salami, Cheese and Wine at Every. Single. Meal. And yet NO ONE is fat. Perhaps most confusing, confounding, perplexing question of the entire trip and most certainly the single most reason I will go back again… soon, I hope.