Jaro Berghoef from Berghoef Plants grows a colorful range of Beleaf Begonias from breeder Koppe. And for sure it's about time that the world gets to know these outlandish plants. Jaro proves that non-flowering plants are way more than 'just green decorations'. No way, not with begonias! And he has also proven that a grower can break the entrenched pattern of 'more-is-more' by primarily auctioning its products. It took a daring move that Jaro openly talks about in this exclusive interview.
Jaro Berghoef has been actively growing plants for over two decades. Long before he was born, Berghoef Plants began its rich history that evolved from the cultivation of strawberries and buxus to kalanchoe and cyclamen to begonia rex.
Today, none of this remains, because Jaro specializes in large-scale cultivation of the Begonia Beleaf series from breeder Koppe Begonia.
"Besides growing our plants, we have also done propagation in the past. We stopped this when we moved to our current 1.8 hectares premises where our large-scale production of end-products is much more efficient."
Beleaf is a series of leaf begonias from breeder Koppe Begonia. It has become a well-known product grown by selected quality growers. They do not carry flowers but must get their attention value entirely from their striking leaves. A rainbow of colors makes it a perfect choice for all ages, all styles, and occasions.
Jaro Berghoef says about this plant:
"We have grown the good-old begonia rex varieties for many years. When the Beleaf series came, we decided to test these and grow them simultaneously and compare. The difference between the begonia rex and the Beleaf series is the compactness of the plant. Beleaf is much more compact, which makes the attention value much higher.
What I love especially about this product line is the big range of color drawings and leaf shades. When you look closely you will see that some varieties have a kind of metallic layer. I think that this gives a really beautiful effect."
Not everyone is as sharp on the clear distinction between the begonia rex and the Beleaf series. This is what Jaro found out when he was visiting the flower and plant markets. He noticed that for many retailers 'a begonia is a begonia'. They put all leaf begonias together on the tables and shelves, which made it more difficult for consumers to recognize the unique qualities and added value of the Beleaf begonias. It stood there as 'just another begonia'.
Jaro made a plan on how to stand out, and this started with a big decision: less is more. Instead of growing more and more begonia varieties - Berghoef cultivated over twenty-five at one point - Jaro decided to cut down on the number of varieties drastically and continue with just the Beleaf begonias from breeder Koppe Begonia.
The relationship between Berghoef Plants and Koppe Begonia started about ten years ago. Berghoef made room in his greenhouses for the Beleaf series that nowadays counts almost a dozen varieties in many spectacular colors. Jaro starts adding up his Beleaf varieties:
We try to make a blend of begonias that are perfect to mix & match. All my cultivation tables are standing next to each other, so the production must be synchronized among the varieties. I cannot use a variety that grows a lot faster or slower than the current ones we grow here.
Once or twice a year I am invited by Koppe to see the new varieties. We assess if a variety is an asset to my existing assortment and then we make a decision."
We do not have a marketing machine of our own. We have salespeople who visit our clients and trade fairs and we have found a sales partner in Vireõ. That's how we basically create our brand awareness. So, we appreciate that Koppe Begonia is taking the marketing off our shoulders, for instance by letting me as a grower talk about my nursery and about the Beleaf series in an interview like this.
For many retailers, and especially for consumers, the price is not the main factor. Only the wholesale trade is fully focused on the price. However, we should be talking not only on the price, but also about sustainability. The cultivation of begonia has a very low impact on the environment, leaving a minimal footprint. I would have more possibilities to tell this to the world when I had a marketing department of my own."
Seven years ago, grower Berghoef made a bold and brave decision to shift his focus from the auction clocks to direct sales to wholesale traders and large retailers. Convinced as he was, and still is, that his Beleaf begonias are better than the regular leaf begonias and, therefore, should get a better price Jaro stopped.
Jaro is very open about the initial negative impact of this difficult decision, but how he became a winner in the end:
"I canceled all my clock supply at once. I started offering my begonias at a higher price for direct sales. Everyone thought I had gone crazy. The first period after this was a real struggle because my production went on and I needed to find direct sales. Honestly, I thought that this would pick up faster, but it didn't. During the first year, we discarded a lot of plants. I have seen the tears in the eyes of my employees who are so proud of their products. But it was necessary, and everyone here realized this.
Finally, after a year and a half demand picked up and customers started to accept our prices, seeing the extra value of the Beleaf begonias. I have no price discussions anymore with my clients.
A side effect of more direct business is that I can give more service to my customers, like special labeling, a special sleeve, a special mix tray, and so on. All things that create added value for my customers too!"
Then came corona, which worked out pretty well for Berhghoef Plants in terms of business. After a few weeks of anxiety came relief because people were buying more and more plants. The lockdowns forced consumers to spend more time at home, and what better way to make this bearable than with a beautiful plant?
By the way, Jaro Berghoef has not completely abandoned the auction, because he occasionally still puts his plants there. But this has become the exception.
Indoor Decoration Options
A grower like Jaro Berghoef thinks further than merely cultivating a nice plant. The decoration value in shops and homes is important when deciding which products to grow. Surely, Jaro has Beleaf begonias in his own home, a good way to test various setups combined with different pots.
"Beleaf begonias fit in practically every interior. It's everyone's friend. By playing with the pot-plant-combination this begonia fits easily in anything from an old-fashioned to a modern home. I like to use pots in coppery ceramic colors, which makes the begonia look sleek and trendy.
Beleaf begonias are a very grateful and easy-to-maintain plant with a long lifespan and a high decoration value. The plant will not die on you when you forget to give it water on one occasion. After watering, it will bounce back in minutes.
And finally, look closely at the wide assortment of Begonia Beleaf. Pick your own style. These plants are anything but dull, and not just reserved for the traditional middle-aged plant buyers, but also for a new generation of environmentally aware and fashionable plant-lovers."
Outdoor Decoration Options
Did you know that Begonia Beleaf does very well outdoors as well for a big part of the year? With a little shade, Beleaf can be grown in your garden, in a tub or basket from April to October. Just be sure to bring the plant indoors or on a closed patio for the winter.