All these years, it has been yellow roses. Always.
Thirty-six years later I come to find out it is the white lilac or purple rose I should have been getting from my husband. Yellow signifies friendship and joy. But the purple, ah, enchantment and love at first sight!
They have all three gorgeous hues at Trebol Roses in the tiny village of La Carmela, near Nazon-Biblian, just 45 minutes from Cuenca. In fact, they have every shade you can imagine in 25 varieties flourishing over 30 acres.
A group of us recently toured the farm, just weeks before Valentine’s Day. Workers had two million stems to deliver within three weeks. That explains the frenzied pace in one of the 18 greenhouses we visited.
Women – and they are primarily women due to their gentle touch – each are assigned 20 flower beds. They are responsible for the health, care and feeding of blooms within those beds. At just the right time, blooms are selected for cutting – itself a learned talent.
I watched, mesmerized, as women deftly plucked certain blooms, snipped the stems and rolled them into dozens. There is an art – the product of long experience – to finding the rose that is not yet open, but will be fresh and ready to blossom at exactly the right time after reaching the consumer.
The cut flowers are wrapped and packed onto a hand-pulled trolley to get them from greenhouse to receiving room without damage. There, the stems are plunged into nutrient-filled water barrels for up to three hours until they can be processed.
Moving barrels of roses to the main floor, they are assigned stations. There, women are surrounded by shelves where they classify the blooms according to color and stem length. The sorters scarcely looked up as I passed by, intent on their work. The roses flew out of the barrels and into their proper places as the women categorized by feel and a quick glance.
Then, the roses are carefully and protectively packaged for shipping and moved into cold storage. Each package of 25 stems receives a unique barcode that allows Trebol to traces the roses all the way back through handlers to the bed it came from.
Susy and Rosana Malo, a delightful pair of Ecuadorian sisters who are fourth generation business owners, were our hosts for the day. And yes, Rosana sometimes shortens her name to Rosy, an irony not lost on any of us.
Rosana explained that the family business began as a Panama hat export business in 1910. A few years later, her grandparents introduced dairy cows to the land. Susy and her husband now run the 100-year-old dairy farm while Rosana and her husband direct the rose plantation, founded on just two acres in 1997.
The dairy farm has 300 cows that are milked twice a day, producing 2,000 liters, mostly sold through a Guayaquil factory under the Toni brand name. There’s a nice symbiosis to the farms as the cow manure is an important element in fertilizer for the roses.
It was Rosana’s idea to start the rose farm. She had a lot of persuading to do, especially when it came to the men in the family.
“I had to convince them that it was going to work. I asked for just two acres to start,” she said. “Even my husband thought it was a crazy idea.”
Still, they gave in to the “experiment” and Rosana took a year to learn the business. She hired 30 workers to start.
Now, business is booming. Ecuador has a perfect climate for roses with four seasons in a day. Ecuador generally enjoys 12 hours of sunlight, with the sun passing at just the right angle to encourage straight stem growth. The water is pure, scientifically rated the best in Ecuador.
The workers are like family; Rosana told us, as many of them grew up together, playing in the fields and attending the same school. About 150 people work the farm year-round, with another 50 hired on during peak seasons like Valentine’s Day.
Their loyalty is evident. They are working almost 16 hours a day to meet the Valentine’s Day demand. In return, the family provides the workers with transportation to and from their homes, snacks, meals and even vitamins. Rosana grimaced as she entered an area where lively salsa music is playing. “And whatever music they need to encourage working, they get,” she said, smiling.
During peak periods like January, Trebol roses emerge from the farm every evening in two refrigerated trucks bound for Quito. Buyers can send or receive roses by ordering directly from the farm and they are delivered by FedEx in just five days. By going directly from the farm to consumers, the roses enjoy a vase life of as long as 15 days, Rosana said. That compares to the four or five days roses normally last if they are bought from “middlemen” such as florists or other distributors.
Also of note, the company contributes a portion from all sales to Community Charities through social projects locally. The owners are committed to helping the less fortunate residents in their area and both are regular volunteers in Cuenca’s soup kitchen operated by expat Bob Higgins.
So here is the burning question. Why is there no scent on a farm full of millions of roses?
“The freshest roses have no scent,” Rosana explained. “If you smell a scent, it means the roses are decaying and will have a short vase life.”
Fifty percent of the farm’s production is the popular “Freedom” red rose. Rose names are international based on established varieties. This particular crop is being babied through production with tiny brown sacks covering the buds.
“The buds need more warmth to grow larger,” she said.
By the way, there are no black roses. What might sometimes be referred to as a black rose is actually a dark red rose. Only one variety can be successfully dyed, a pinkish rose called Mondial. We saw beautiful examples of this process in the multicolor stems named Rainbow Tinted Roses.
The United States and Canada are the farm’s biggest markets. Russia is a close third. The Russians like the Iguazu, with long stems up to 40 cm, for its large blossom and long stems.
“Roses are a cultural tradition in Russia,” Rosana said. “With nine to ten months of cold winter, it is important to have color inside the home. And they know their roses!”
Rosana’s favorite is the High & Magic rose. It has a deep, bright color and a longer vase life at 25 days than most varieties. And what do you give the owner of a 20-acre rose farm for special occasions? “A trip to Europe?” she offered, with a laugh.
As if the educational tour is not enough, the sisters invited our group into their beautiful hacienda for a delicious lunch. Susy also happens to be trained in the culinary arts. She used the opportunity to demonstrate her considerable cooking skills and to give a quick class in grilling vegetables.
After the delicious meal, our group has time for a quick tour of the hacienda and substantial gardens. It is time to leave the peaceful, rolling countryside.
Most of us took roses with us, as if to prolong the experience. Trebol Roses is, after all, a slice of heaven, just a short drive away.
The next rose farm tour is a special one on February 12 at 10 AM. Find out more at http://www.ecuadordirectroses.com or Ecuador Direct Roses on Facebook. Ecuador contact is Karla at 0969041385 or firstname.lastname@example.org International calls are taken at 805-259-3630.