Flower Factory

Blooms don’t just "grow" at the great Dale Estate in Brampton, Ont. They are made.

IAN SCLANDERS March 15 1943

Flower Factory

Blooms don’t just "grow" at the great Dale Estate in Brampton, Ont. They are made.

IAN SCLANDERS March 15 1943

Flower Factory

Blooms don’t just "grow" at the great Dale Estate in Brampton, Ont. They are made.


EVERYONE in Brampton who was old enough at the time to remember anything still remembers how the black cloud rolled up out of the west on a June day in 1925, and how it suddenly opened, and how for ten minutes it bombarded the town with hailstones which were almost—if not quite—the size of golf balls.

Nobody was killed or injured, and elsewhere the fleeting storm would long since have been forgotten. But Brampton grows more flowers under glass than any other place in Canada—boasts the biggest greenhouse plant in the world.

The hail smashed half the glass at this plant, which is owned by the Dale Estate, consisting of 132 greenhouses that would reach nine miles if they were laid end to end.

When the black cloud disappeared in the east it left $50,000 worth of damage behind. That evening, telegraph wires buzzed with an urgent message. Brampton was calling all glass—or all, at least, of the kind wanted for repair purposes.

In the ensuing days and weeks glass rolled in by the carload, but there wasn’t enough in the whole Dominion to finish the job. Not until fall, when a shipment arrived from Belgium, was the last gaping frame refilled.

Of course all the frames could have been filled much sooner if the Dale Estate had cared to fling costs to the winds and bought any and all kinds of glass. But the type used in greenhouses (greenhouse grade) is not as expensive and not as pure as window glass. That was the stuff they were after.

There are so many tens of thousands of panes of glass in the Dale greenhouses that no one has ever tried to count them, but bookkeepers keep an accurate record of the number of blossoms grown under these panes. The annual score runs to 10,000,000 blooms—5,000,000 of them roses.

Canada’s Flower Capital

BRAMPTON, for a long long time, has supplied flowers for weddings and funerals, the Easters and Christmases, the Mother’s Days and St. Valentine’s Days, of Canadians from coast to coast.

Right now the gardeners of Brampton—a town of 6,000 about twenty-five miles from Toronto— like to feel that they are doing something to cheer people up in a war torn world, that their flowers help soften the sorrow of parting, help span the distance between lovers who are separated.

They were pleased by what happened at Christmas. At Christmas Canada’s fighting men overseas cabled so many posies to wives and sweethearts and mothers that retail florists were swamped with orders—so much so that in some cities they had difficulty making deliveries.

And, on Christmas morning, Air Force wives who had followed their husbands to remote Newfoundland bases opened long cardboard boxes and found that they contained—of all things—red roses from Brampton.

Navy wives on the Pacific Coast also got roses from Brampton—roses which had been packed with chipped ice around the stems to keep them fresh, and had been flown across prairies and mountains.

“You can’t eat ’em,” an old Brampton gardener will tell you as he cuts a rose, “so maybe, strictly speaking, growing ’em is nonessential these days. But life without flowers would be pretty bleak—in wartime especially.”

The British seem to figure it the same way, for British greenhouses still grow a certain quota of flowers, and even now we are importing bulbs from English gardens for our flower beds in Canada.

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Brampton’s career as provider of posies for the country at large, and also for customers across the border, started away back in the ’eighties. It started because a young man named Harry Dale, a market gardener, planted a climbing rose in a hothouse where he and his father, Edward Dale, raised vegetables.

The bush grew like Jack’s beanstalk and burst—out of season—into a cloud of blossoms. Harry found these blossoms easy to sell—decided there was more money in roses than in lettuce and radishes.

He tried to convince his father, but Edward Dale had a notion that greenhouse flowers were a newfangled fad that wouldn’t last, and that vegetables were safer and surer.

Harry went his own way, built his own greenhouse, grew flowers, grew wealthy, and grew famous. When he died in 1900 his one small greenhouse had multiplied to many large greenhouses, and his roses were already known from one coast to the other. He was a widower, and the property passed to his children, all young, to be carried on as the Dale Estate.

There were huge greenhouse plants in Russia, in Belgium, in Germany, in England. Year after year the Dale plant was extended until it outstripped them all.

Floral Route March

WHEN the present manager, W. A. Beatty, sets out on a thoroughgoing tour of inspection, he can count on tired feet and a hike that even a sergeant-major would call a good stiff route march.

There are thirty-two miles of walk through the greenhouses— not counting the 2,000 feet of underground passages which link them together. The area of exposed glass in the greenhouses is thirty-five acres. They are heated by ninety miles of steampipe; have other miles of water pipe and pipe to carry liquid fertilizer.

The boiler furnaces burn 20,000 tons of soft coal a year. Watering the flowers takes as much water as is used in all the homes of Brampton’s 6,000 people.

And that’s only part of the story because the outdoor operations cover 250 acres.

This gigantic flower factory keeps from 300 to 400 gardeners busy the year around.

It grows most of Canada’s orchids. They’re more glamorous pinned to your evening gown, lady, than they are in the raw. The blossoms are gorgeous but the foliage is awful— dull, scrawny, scabby leaves and stems that look like something in the window box your Aunt Jenny forgot to water.

But don’t let us disillusion you. They are still rare and wonderful— and very hard to raise. They come, originally, from the jungles of Africa, of South America, of southern Asia; and brave men have faced more danger and endured more hardship to bring an orchid back alive than Frank Buck ever experienced in his pursuit of man-eating tigers.

Dale’s orchid superintendent, W. T. Perrett, will tell you that a single orchid plant of a tremendously rare variety once sold for a price reported to have been $20,000. He himself, in his apprentice days in England, coaxed into bloom a type of orchid which hadn’t been seen in that country in fifty years, thereby earning for his employers the neat and unexpected sum of $3,000 for one small plant.

It takes six or seven years to raise an orchid from seed, and if you want to try you should be able to get a few seeds at a bargain because each flower yields from 50,000 to 100,000 of them, according to Mr. Perrett. But you won’t have any luck unless your home is warm and damp and just a bit like a Turkish bath.

In Dale’s orchid houses they are grown in pots on long shelves which are arranged stepladder fashion, each shelf higher than the other. The smallest pots are on the lowest shelf. Each year a plant is transplanted into a larger pot, to allow for its growth, and moved up one shelf. After it has finally spent a year on the top shelf, in the biggest pot, it is broken up, replanted in smaller pots, and its several parts are returned to the bottom shelf.

The commonest commercial variety is mauve—the shade of mauve often called “orchid.” The white ones are rarer, bring higher prices, and the waxy and beautiful green ones—if you want a hot tip—stay fresh so long that you’re likely to get tired of them before they wilt.

Then there are blue ones—very pretty—and yellow ones and pink ones. They sell, wholesale, at anywhere from twenty-five cents to three dollars, depending on size and variety, and each leaves the greenhouse with its stem encased in a little vial of water.

Dressed in dirt-streaked overalls, hands caked with mud, a gardener will sometimes stop and wonder where they go—these flowers with so much glamour.

“Bet that one will seal a courtship,” he’s likely to chuckle. Or, these days, “When she gets that she’ll know Johnny still loves her even if he is across the sea.”

The official score for orchids at the Dale Estate—200,000 a year.

Roses Are Grafted

FIRST thing you find out, going through the greenhouses where they grow 5,000,000 roses annually, is that none of them grows on its own roots. In the process by which the finest roses are developed the emphasis is all on the shape and color of the blossom and the size. This has a tendency to weaken the roots and stems.

The gardeners get around that by grafting the stock that produces the most beautiful blossoms to the roots of the Manetti rose, a hardy semiwild variety. The Manetti is cut a few inches from the root, and the shoot is grafted on and held in place by wax. After this bit of surgery the

composite result is placed in a closed case where it is kept very warm and— because the little shoot has no way of getting moisture from the soil until nature welds it to the root—under high humidity.

After three weeks the lid of the “incubator” is opened for a short time each day to accustom the “patient” to a more normal atmosphere; in four or five weeks shoot and root are forever joined and ready to he moved into the regular rosehouses and start their joh of sprouting buds and blossoms.

Apart from assuring healthy roots, the grafting has another advantage. It enables a skilled gardener to take one particularly fine rosebush and subdivide it into 1,000 particularly fine rosebushes in a single year.

Maybe you have heard about the “Better Times” rose, currently the biggest seller on this or any other continent, and the kind there are most of in the Dale greenhouses.

It started off as what gardeners term a “sport”—a gorgeous red bloom that should, from its ancestry, have heen pink. It was found one morning, right at the depth of the depression, in the big Hill greenhouses in Chicago.

The Hills promptly realized they had hit a jackpot, christened the freak bloom Better Times, went to Washington and succeeded in patenting it. It became the first patented rose in the United States. Well, the grafting started. The one rose became a thousand, and a million, with the Hills drawing a patent royalty on every plant sold in the United States. Better Times indeed! In fact, wonderful times.

The Dale Estate imported several hundred of the plants and began growing Better Times in Canada. So long as these roses are sold in Canada, no royalty has to be paid, because our patent laws don’t cover flowers.

On your way through the rose houses, where beds of tall rosebushes seem to stretch out almost to the horizon, you learn from Harry Dale, nephew of the founder and research expert of the Dale Estate, that the name has a lot to do with the popularity of a rose.

“The Better Times is a remarkable rose,” he says, “hut there is also the fact that its name just happened to catch the public fancy at a time when we were emerging from the depression.”

“Talisman” was another name which went over with a bang. One definition of the word, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is “something that produces extraordinary effects.” In this case the extraordinary effects were that as soon as people read about Talisman roses in the social columns, they had an urge to rush right down to the florist’s and buy a hunch.

Songs Popularize Flowers

ANEW song hit will influence flower sales. The memorable ditty of a few years back, about a “little white gardenia,” caused a run on these fragrant and lovely blossoms. Similarly, when a song writer produced a ballad in which he asked the florist to give him one dozen

roses, put his heart in beside them, and send them to the one he loved, there was a noticeable pickup in the demand for roses.

And did you know that styles in roses change?

Thirty or forty years ago there were only two popular kinds of greenhouse roses—“The Bride,” which was white, and “The Bridesmaid,” which was pink.

Then, somehow or other, red roses got to symbolize romance, and the popularity of whites and pinks faded. Ten years ago only five per cent of the Dale roses were white. That was all the buyers wanted. Now the white roses are making a comeback and the Dale greenhouses have increased their ratio to ten per cent.

In carnations—of which the Dale output is 1,500,000 a year — and ’mums —700,000 a year—public taste in floral colors has shown a corresponding trend.

Records show that through the years many kinds of roses have made a triumphant debut, have held the stage briefly, then have disappeared. The famous “American Beauty” was one of them. She was a beauty, all right, but she had a major failing. She bloomed at a particular season, couldn’t be persuaded to bloom the year around.

That’s of prime importance to greenhouse men—having roses that will bloom all year. The florists have to keep their stores open all year, and there’s no closed season on the events for which customers buy roses.

Every day of the 365, pickers go through the Dale rose houses, gather stock for the market.

The blossoms are graded before they are shipped. Length of stem is the main thing the graders have to watch. As a general rule, the longest stem produces the most perfect bloom.

At the Dale Estate the top grades are “autographed,” which doesn’t happen to roses anywhere else in the world. A stamping device perforates the name “Dale” on one of the upper leaves. The autograph idea is patented, can’t be used by competitors, and has helped spread the fame of the Brampton roses.

Easter isn’t so far away and Easter is lily time, and they have lilies too in the Dale greenhouses—tens of thousands of them.

On your way to the lilies you pass through the gardenia house—the white blossoms grow on little trees and make the air heavy with their fragrance — and through a section which is full of red poinsettias, a hang-over from last Christmas.

“Poinsettias,” Harry Dale remarks, “are funny flowers. When you cut them they bleed to death unless you are quick to dip the stem in boiling water or a sulphuric acid solution to seal it.”

Poor Easter Crop

BUT here’s Easter coming up— huge beds of daffodils and tulips, each 600 or 700 feet long, and beds of Easter lilies.

It’s going to be a poor year for Easter lilies. The bulbs used to come mainly from Japan with Bermuda

supplying the balance. We are not, naturally, doing any business with the Japs these days, and the Bermudans, their island transformed to a defense base, are growing fewer lilies than they did before.

War has likewise left us with a scarcity of lilies of the valley which are grown in Germany on the banks of the Rhine. We used to import the “pips”—roots with buds on top. Planted in sand, they would bloom in eighteen days.

Nevertheless, the British have come through well with big shipments of daffodil and tulip bulbs. And in British Columbia, of recent years, the growing of bulbs has become a profitable and fairly extensive branch of agriculture. Thus florists’ shelves won’t be exactly bare.

You may have wondered how greenhouses get their tulips and daffodils to bloom at just the right date. It is done partly by careful timing and partly by forcing. The bulbs are planted outside in the fall, under two or three inches of soil over which is spread a thick covering of straw. The mysterious process of growth gets under way, but is very slow, due to the cold. Your skilled gardener knows approximately how long it will take them to bloom once they have been transplanted to hothouses, chooses approximately the right time.

Thereafter it’s all done with heat. The inside beds into which the bulbs are transplanted have steam pipes running beneath them. You want a flower right away quick, so presto!— you just turn on more steam. Or if they show signs of blooming too early, you turn the steam down.

If an enquiring reporter wandered around all the miles of Dale greenhouses, asking everybody he met how to be a good gardener, he’d get the same answer from them all. He’d get it from Bill Aitchison, the braw Scot who is rose superintendent, and Bob Herbert who has worked for the Dale Estate half a century, and Tom Davis who has worked there equally long.

They would all tell him that to be a good gardener you have to cultivate infinite patience. Patience, they say, rather than the mystic touch that people call “green fingers,” is the secret of success.

Well, there must be a lot of it in the neat town of Brampton where they not only have the biggest greenhouse plant in the world but several other greenhouses, such as Walter Calvert’s, which are small only in comparison, and would be tremendous anywhere else.

Mr. Calvert, one of the country’s largest forcers of spring flowering bulbs, and the other greenhouse men of Brampton are all Dale “graduates” — former Dale gardeners who set up in business for themselves.

And they are all proud of the fact that every train which stops at Brampton takes away a shipment of flowers—flowers to be sold clear across the nation as well as in a big section of the United States.

Sometimes, wandering among their carnations, their ’mums, their narcissi, they ponder on the whimsies of fortune. They wonder what their town would have been like today if old Mr. Dale hadn’t planted that climbing rose among the vegetables in his father’s hothouse.