Ludwig Taschner can nurture a rose of any name or variety; he grew one to celebrate the centenary of the Pretoria News 20 years ago.
ROSES in Pretoria are synonymous with Ludwig Taschner - a business that had its start nearly 50 years ago. Today the huge rose nursery on the N1 motorway north of Pretoria is a landmark with a lovely, momentous and colourful display of roses.

In 1971, Taschner, a German immigrant, began his business on an open piece of ground, financing it by providing one of the early, if not one of the first, gardening services in Pretoria. Today it is a family business with son Halmar the managing director, and overseeing the propagation of nearly half a million rose plants annually for countrywide distribution.

His proud father recounts with amusement that Halmar refused to study further after matric - he was head boy at the German School - but was determined to work at the nursery. His skills at school enabled him to manage a wide variety of tasks included in the retail side of the business, as well as the website and social media, with 130 staff reporting to him.

The children grew up on the rose farm. Daughter Anja studied horticulture and she and her husband manage a branch in Stellenbosch.

Her sister Heike studied interior architecture and the restaurant at the nursery, which has become a popular event venue, was designed by her. “She is a perfectionist,” her father says. This is obvious in the fine detail, all reflecting the rose theme, of course. His wife Pamela provided the delicious cakes and light meals, and ran the restaurant for some time, and although it is now managed by an outside person, the standard remains the same under the family’s watchful eye.

Ludwig’s supplies blooms to customers as well as plants through eight rose centres in the country. Exporting flowers overseas is no longer a big part of the business, although, as Ludwig explained, even a small quantity is profitable because of the exchange rate. Instead, young plants are exported to other African countries, including Kenya and Zimbabwe, where the climate is well suited to the growing of roses, which are deciduous - the 12 hours day and 12 hours night near the equator ensure the plants continue blooming - and those countries export roses overseas.

Changes in climate, technology and socio-economic factors have also affected rose growing. Rain is unpredictable (the farm gets its water from a natural tributary running into Pienaars River), technology enables instant contact with gardeners seeking advice or needing to place an order and the individual rose gardener no longer has as much time. Fifty years ago, a car was a luxury and people spent weekends at home, where the husband, mainly, tended his roses which were his pride and joy.

“In the ’60s, the Royal National Rose Society in the UK had 100000 members, mainly men. Last year they closed down,” Taschner said. “Men used to spend time in the garden growing the perfect rose bloom to compete at the shows hoping to win the trophy for the champion rose. Now they play golf instead!”

A catalogue with illustrations of 800 varieties divided in categories according to flower shape and growth habit is mailed annually to over 40000 gardeners countrywide. For the past 15 years Taschner has written a monthly e-newsletter advising gardeners on rose care, varieties and events around the rose that goes out to over 20000 readers.

Another aspect of the business is trial and release of new varieties. From a huge field planted with about 4000 plants, each different and coded by number, maybe 10 to 15 are found worthy of introduction and naming each year. Many roses have been named after celebrities, schools, cities and, of course, the Pretoria News. The creamy yellow-apricot spire “The Pretoria News Centenary”, was produced to celebrate the paper’s centenary 20 years ago, and is still available on request.