Paolo Zaccera is growing camellia, azalea and tea west of Lago Maggiore in Italy. His customers consist of garden centres and landscapers. He used to produce small plants for supermarkets too, but he gave that up. „The production costs kept increasing, while the prices kept going down.”
Why is your company called Compagnia del Lago Maggiore?
“Our nursery is situated west of Lago Maggiore, a lake on the border between Italy and Switzerland. The lake is surrounded by villages and people with an interest in gardening. It’s a long-standing tradition in this region and the climate is very suitable for plants and trees. The winters aren’t too cold, the summers aren’t too hot, and there’s plenty of rain throughout the year. Plants from the south-eastern parts of the world really thrive here. We’ve had plant growers in this part of Italy for 150 years. And people have been coming to Lago Maggiore and Lago di Como to learn about gardening since the sixties. The first horticultural school of the country was also in this region.”
What distinguishes you from the other nurseries in the area?
“Most companies here are small-scale nurseries growing small pot sizes. My nursery is 30 ha large – I rent a large plot of land – and we grow large pot sizes. I’ve got more than 100 different types of camellia. Some of our camellias are up to six metres tall. It takes 25 years to grow those. But I produce more azaleas than camellias at the moment, because of the increased competition for camellia from Spain, southern Italy and even from the Netherlands and Belgium.”
Where do your plants end up?
“25% of my production stays in Italy and 75% is exported to, for example, Germany, German-speaking Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and England. Camellia was very popular in Germany in 2012. However, after a relatively cold year, the demand went down. My customers consist of garden centres and landscapers. I used to produce small plants for supermarkets too, but I gave that up. The production costs kept increasing, while the prices kept going down.”
I understand you grow tea plants too?
“Yes, I started with those a few years ago. But the plants are still too small. It takes five to ten years for the plants to start producing and you need a large acreage if you want to produce enough volume. We’ve already increased our production from 3 to 10 ha. We’re hoping to pick the first leaves in two years’ time.”
What’s the current business climate like?
“2009 to 2015 were dramatic years. During that period, our turnover decreased by 10% each year. Many companies didn’t make it through that time. But others, including ours, survived. In recent years, the annual turnover has been increasing again by 10% per year.”