“Breed from a grower point of view”, that is Hartwig Bull’s general slogan in breeding. This German grower initially started breeding for his own use, but soon realized that he could not meet the demand for his own-bred summer and fall varieties, which are Rudbeckia ‘Sunbeckia’, Echinacea ‘SunMagic’ and Helianthus ‘SunCatcher’. Over the years, increasingly more growers in Europe started to grow them and, after trials in 2020, his varieties are now also making headway in North America where Flamingo Holland Inc – well known in the market and specialist in tissue culture products – is exclusively representing Bull’s ‘Sunbeckia’ and the ‘SunMagic Vintage Series’. ‘SunCatcher’ is available as a liner from Flamingo Holland and as a URC from Kientzler.
Hartwig and Ulrike in front of the Rudbeckia ‘Sunbeckia’.
Taking over the family business - keep the successful products, stop with the non-profitable products
Hartwig Bull is trained as a grower, he received his master's in horticulture, took extra seminars in horticultural economics, and worked in Denmark, the Netherlands, and the US. After his experience in foreign countries, he went back home to Gönnebek, a little small village in the north of Germany, in the little federal state Schleswig-Holstein, known for the black and whartwifite cows (the holsteyns) and famous Holstein horse breeding. Hartwig and his wife Ulrike took over the family business, Bull Gartenbau, of his parents in 2019. Taking over the business threw up questions like, ”take over and continue” or “take over and change”. Ulrike, trained in banking and investment was helpful in controlling and analysis. So step by step they put all crops and processes on the test bench and kept the successful products and stopped with the non-profitable products.
Today they are producing 25.000 m² under glass-covered greenhouses and 60.000 m² outdoor area (500.000 spring crops like Viola, Primula, Bellis, etc, 350.000 bedding plants in 5” pots, 10.000 hanging baskets, 300.000 perennials in 3 and 4L Containers, and 350.000 Oxails “Iron heart” for New Year’s Day). All products are sold to local wholesalers in the local area and Hamburg but also to big distribution organizations in Holland, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, and France.
Hartwig Bull in the field with Sunbeckia’s
Focusing on niche products
Unlike many other breeding companies, Hartwig and his team started from the beginning with breeding on different crops. The goal was to leave the field of mainstream production and find a niche. “Since the first 6 months of a year are covered with a lot of products to make pretty good money provided you produce a good quality in a good assortment but what happens in the second period of the year?”, he asked himself. Therefore, Hartwig decided to select different crops flowering from July till October, a period of the year where a lot of business is just done to cover costs. So he started breeding on Rudbeckia hirta, Perennial Helianthus types, and Echinacea.
Breeding was already done by his father, so knowledge of breeding was already laid in the cradle. Hartwig general motto or slogan inbreeding is: “Breed from a grower point of view”.
The product had to be good for his business. So he tried to achieve varieties that are self-branching (easy growing and perfect quality), compact (looks nice in proportion, and good for loading, shipping and therefore keeps costs in transport low), with eye-catching flowers (to inspire the retail, consumer, and have a long-lasting garden joy), and, of course, with a good shelf life.
Creating familiar products in a new style
Starting in 2009, Hartwig and Ulrike Bull and their team introduced varieties that are known already a long time but now in a new style; namely Echinacea ‘SunMagic’, Rudbeckia ‘Sunbeckia’, and Helianthus ‘SunCatcher’.
Clockwise: SunMagic Vintage varieties; Fuchsia, Lavender, Pink, White, Ruby, and Red.
Echinacea ‘SunMagic’ is a new Echinacea line, known for its good branching. The first product was the ‘Vintage Red’ and in 2021/22, 5 new colors will be added. “It is a ‘must have’ Echinacea on the patio.”
Clockwise: Sunbeckia Carolina, Sunbeckia Juliana, and Sunbeckia Luna.
Rudbeckia Hirta is a key item in many grower’s summer and fall programs. With its cheerful yellow blooms, the plants brighten consumer landscapes and patios. With the addition of the Rudbeckia ‘Sunbeckia’ series, consumers and growers alike will be amazed by the size of the flower and the ease of growing the plant. Easily recognizable for its large and long-lasting blooms, this series is quickly proving to be a standout. This new series currently has 13 varieties and is well-branching with strong, sturdy stems. ‘Sunbeckia’ requires no pinching and flowers spring thru fall. Plant height is approximately 14-16”. ‘Sunbeckia’ is zone 7-10.
Helianthus ‘SunCatcher’ is a zone 5 perennial that is loved by bees; “a perfect pollinator plant”, according to Bull. “On top of that, it is perfect for mail order and has a super garden performance."
Even though Hartwig, in the first instance, bred all varieties for his own use, he protected his varieties with a patent. It soon was shown to be a good move as it is the first step to move forward to give the varieties to licensees. First Ulrike and Hartwig struggled on this but finally, they realized that their production is not big enough to cover all of Europe. Interested young plant producers have been found in Poland and the Netherlands. According to Bull, the big tag or label which goes along with every plant helped a lot to find the necessary attention in the market. Wholesale organizations, Big Box stores in Germany as well as retailers and consumers became aware of his product.
In Europe, the demand increased sharply, and their own-bred varieties are currently grown and sold in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, France, the UK, Poland, and other Eastern countries. The first steps in Denmark are made as well.
North America is another market they have been targeting for several years and now, after several trials and Zoom and Teams video meetings in 2020, their products are finding their way to this market as well. Bull’s Rudbeckia ‘Sunbeckia’ and the Echinacea ‘SunMagic Vintage Series’, will be exclusively represented in North America by Flamingo Holland Inc, well known in the market and specialist in TC.
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