May 2, 2018
As the door opens, there’s a whoosh of warm air. Blasting through the doorway is a beam of humid air, pungent with the scent of flowers. It’s an odd sensation, since there’s still snow piled feet-high around the building, and the thermometer has only just cracked zero.
You’ll likely never be able to see the inside of Grozone Greenhouses. It’s off limits to the public, but you definitely know their wares. As growers and suppliers of bedding plants, hanging baskets, herbs and vegetables, and more to Co-op for decades, chances are, if you’ve ever bought plants at Co-op, you’ve cultivated Grozone plants in your garden.
Grozone Greenhouses: A tropical Oasis in High River
Grozone’s sprawling greenhouse complex covers over 400,000 square feet on a country road south of High River. Buildings shoot off from an L-shaped corridor in all directions, and every one has its own set of plants at varying stages of growth, and thus every section of the building has its own unique mini-ecosystems.
Grozone is co-owned by Linda and Harry Lively and Daljit Bhashin, and the company has been supplying greenery to Co-op for over twenty years.
“Our relationship with Co-op is so important to us,” explains Robert Nipp, Grozone’s office manager. “Co-op has been a huge supporter of Grozone from the beginning and we’re grateful for their support and interest in our products.”
All the plants are grown and tended under the transparent roofs here in Alberta, meaning they're local, and don't require days of transport. In many cases Grozone plants leave the greenhouse at dawn and can be bought and taken home by a Co-op customer by lunch time.
Local Plants Thrive in Alberta’s Short Summers
Purchasing plants that are grown in Alberta, and very close to Calgary also has another advantage; the plants are already acclimated to our unique weather and climate. Some plants brought in from B.C. may have spent weeks in much warmer temps, and when exposed to southern Alberta's more extreme fluctuations, they can suffer. Alberta grown plants can be hardier, and thus healthier and longer lasting, a big bonus for local green thumbs.
It takes a legion of plant experts to make this massive operation sing. With a staff that can climb to 50 people, Grozone handles every aspect of the growing cycle, from seed to sprout to store.
Today’s Basket Was Born Months Ago
Many of the plants that are just now flourishing and growing to a size many Co-op customers will purchase, started life here as a seed or a cutting. A conveyor belt sifts soil into trays with tiny, thumb-sized holes and a roller slips minuscule seeds into the dirt. With water, sunlight and fertilizer, these tiny specs soon develop into dozens of different plants.
“We only buy quality supplies. The cuttings and seeds we buy may be costlier, but for us that’s a better starting point, and creates stronger, healthier, higher quality plants. We get a lot of positive feedback from customers,” says Nipp.
While Alberta's gardening season is short, Grozone's work takes months. The entire year is spent planning for seasonal plants, from fall mums and ornamental cabbages, to spring baskets, bedding plants, and herbs. The plants you slip into your grocery basket this season may have started out being tended by one of Grozone's staff in January.
When plants reach a certain size, they may be transferred to larger pots, planters or baskets and this work is often done by hand to protect the delicate seedlings.
One man, Luis Gonzalez, knows the location of every one of the thousands of plant species in the vast skeletal greenhouses. When they're ready, Luis directs a team of Grozone staffers who ready orders of plants by the hundreds, slide them onto tall carts, and secure them in trucks to make the 40 minute drive up Highway #2 to Calgary, and their new homes.
The rows of greenhouses are just starting to take on colour when we visit, and while some areas are sea of green, others are already in bloom. Crimson, ochre, violet and a rainbow of other hues crawl across the dirt floors like a kaleidoscopic carpet.
The scent is heavenly, and though most Calgarians will never know the unique and intricately crafted tropical world where some of Co-op’s spring plants start their lives, they can take comfort in the fact that they’re grown to the highest standards.
“Our advantage is that everyone here loves what they do and I think that comes through in our products.”
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