Brimming with history, pride, and innovation, Graff Breeding is a family-owned Danish horticultural gem. Established in 1930, the company is currently managed by three generations, with a presence at each level of the organizational structure. From the wise guidance of 87-year-old Erik Graff, responsible for its elite stock, to the dynamic management of CEO Poul CCO Jacob, and CFO Helle, the family's essence is woven into every leaf and petal.
Helle Graff has been so kind to take the time for an extensive interview, in which she elaborates on the company's rich history, assortment decisions, innovative power, and why the letter Q is so important for Graff Breeding.
From Carnations to HibisQs®, Qismas Star®, Qdeville®, and Qdula®
Graff Breeding's genesis started with Aage and Inger Graff Kristensen in 1930, marking the early days of specialization in cut carnations. The path led to developing their own unique strains, paving the way for subsequent generations to blossom into specialized breeding with a European market. The entrance of Poul Graff changed the company's destiny, steering it towards hibiscus and eventually creating the independent breeding company Graff Breeding.
The story of Graff Breeding is also a story of trademarks and continual development. The innovative HibisQs® trademark was introduced in 2009, setting the future course for a quality label of hibiscus. By constantly developing new genetics, Graff Breeding introduced also a series of poinsettias, dipladenias/mandevillas, and lastly, a lavendula.
That letter 'Q' comes back all the time with brands of Graff Breeding. Is there any reason for that?
"Yes, there is a reason for this. When we re-introduced our own hibiscus in 2009 and decided to work with a 'partnership model', direct contact between breeder and grower, we decide to work under a new trademark/brand. So, I developed HibisQs®. I found that the Q in HibisQs® was: 1) A feminine letter, 2) related to unique & quality products, 3) easy to recognize - we do not believe plant-people will "know" the trademark HibisQs®, but we hope they will recognize it when they see it again, because it comes very close to the name hibiscus.
Today we work with different lines/segments of HibisQs®. We have:
- PatiQ®: Varieties for bigger pots, to color up your Patio, Terrasses, Gardens etc.
- BeautiQ®: Varieties for medium size pots, to color up your home, windowsill, and other bright spots in your house.
- Qte®: Varieties for smaller pots, to color up your balcony, your do it yourself gardener combinations and smaller window in urban apartments.
- pinoQio®: Varieties with very small flower (maximum 10cm diameter), but more flowers / rich blooming, for all pot sizes – to color up your life.
Today, all our other products/crops have also been implemented with a 'Q' in their trademark: Qdeville® for mandevilla, Qismas Star® for poinsettia, and Qdula® for lavandula."
The HibisQs® Brand
What sets HibisQs® apart is not only its enchanting appearance but its lasting quality. From longer-lasting flowers and colored buds to continuous blooming, HibisQs® promises a captivating experience. Even the 'tulip effect' with colorful buds adds another layer of consumer value.
"We are continuously inspired by nature, its shapes, and colors, and we trust in our ability to bring forth hibiscus many jewels through our breeding. This great passion brings awareness to us all, as we know that coexistence with nature is an inevitable and giving part of life. Being part of the process of breeding beautiful living plants brings so much satisfaction, and our hope is to share this joy with others. In other words, we work with nature – and try to optimize nature, by speeding up the evolution.
What does this mean? We constantly try to optimize our HibisQs® assortment – to meet the consumers' needs and expectations – combined by following UN-17 goals; the priority sustainable development targets set by the United Nations in 2015.
Today our breeding goals are our USPs: Longer lasting flowers, colored buds, continuous blooming, and pest resistance."
These USPs originate in some of the hibiscus' natural behaviors for which Graff Breeding is finding solutions, turning the vulnerability of a product into an asset:
- Longer lasting flowers
- The flower of a traditional hibiscus last from hours to one day.
- Why? The plant protects itself and its generations by dropping the flower before it is infected by pests or insects.
- Through breeding and selection, our HibisQs® flowers today last from three days and up. So much more consumer value.
- Colored buds
- The bud of a traditional hibiscus is green.
- Why? Again, the plant tries not to attract pests in order to protect reproduction.
- Through breeding and selection, our HibisQs® buds today have the same color as the flower. Furthermore, we start developing the buds, so the bud it selves, is a color-full decoration. We call this the 'tulip effect'. Again, much more consumer value.
- Continuous blooming
- The traditional hibiscus blooms for (+/-) 21 days and then it stops for 21 days.
- Why? The plant protects itself. If there were a pest attack, the insects would leave when the plant stopped blooming. Reproduction must go on.
- Through breeding and selection, our HibisQs® today continue flowering for months.
- Stress. If Hibiscus meets 'stress' (placed very dark, too wet, too cold, etc.) as a natural protection, it stops using energy on blooming – but concentrates 100% just to survive. Do not worry, with a little love, when the opportunity comes to see the sun/light it will come back after +21 days and continue to bloom and 'color up' your life.
- Pest resistance
- This is our new target. We believe that in breeding and selection, we can have the company working 100% organically in 2025, and our global partners will have the opportunity to do the same from 2030. All due to our breeding and selection work today.
From Exotic Blooms to Global Partnerships
With a penchant for blooming tropical and Mediterranean-related blooming products, Graff Breeding has crafted an array of lush flowers that radiate beauty and life. Starting with hibiscus, the company has expanded its assortment, meeting the varying demands of growers and nurseries across the globe.
Their close and committed collaboration with selected growers in various geographic regions has not just cultivated loyal partnerships but also nurtured shared passions for unique and exotic flowers.
Hibiscus - A Tale of Love and Care
We are proud of being one of the biggest (if not the biggest) IP-protected hibiscus breeders, which is why Graff Breeding's devotion to this particular plant is more than just business.
"In 1985, we started up as 'hobby breeders', and in the late eighties, we had our own first selections. In 1991, we joined forces with a bigger US company. We split again in 2006, and in 2009 we introduced again our own, now called HibisQs®, assortment.
Our partner nurseries are very different, with different requirements and expectations. We enjoy working with them all, from one of the biggest nurseries in the world in Miami to a small family nursery in Nepal. It's an amazing gift to be able to meet and work with people all over the world, that share the same passion for the uniQue exotic hibiscus."
The Market for Hibiscus
From growers in Finland in northern Europe to Spain in the south, from Ontario in Canada to Florida in the US, and from China to Japan, HibisQs® has found its way into various markets. Whether it's garden centers (like Blume 2000), florists (like Dehner, Pflanzen-Kölle, Plantagen, etc.), DIY markets (like Lowe's and Home Depot), or supermarkets focusing on plants (like Salling Group, Coop, Kaufland, and more), hibiscus is sold widely, beautifying spaces indoors and outdoors.
Known for its exotic allure, hibiscus is cherished as a plant that can transform homes, gardens, and lives, symbolizing a tropical treat for plant enthusiasts.
The Legacy of Graff Breeding
Graff Breeding's story is a vivid tapestry of family bonds, innovation, nature's brilliance, and relentless pursuit of excellence. From a modest beginning in 1930 to a global leader in breeding hibiscus and other exotic plants, the company has nurtured a legacy that's as vibrant and flourishing as the plants it breeds.
Hibiscus is celebrated for its vibrant beauty and long-lasting presence. The personal connection is beautifully illustrated by the hibiscus thriving in the gardens of the Graff family itself.
The future seems promising as Graff Breeding sets its sight on pest resistance, further enriching its breeding goals. With a profound respect for nature and a dedicated commitment to improving and optimizing its products, Graff Breeding stands as a symbol of horticultural passion and excellence.
"Global warming increases demand for blooming tropical and Mediterranean plants. Combine this with the multiple uses of the plant; as an indoor plant in early spring, a beautiful patio plant coloring up your home and garden in summer, and when fall starts to come by using the single flowers as table decoration, on serving trays, in small vases. That is in trend with the development we see both in society in general and among many flower enthusiasts especially. So yes, we believe in an exciting HibisQs® future together with our partners and the many, many loyal hibiscus customers throughout the world."
The beautiful Hibiscus plants, adorning windowsills and gardens around the world, are a testament to a company that truly knows how to 'color up' life.