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With Valentine’s Day approaching, the Aleia Roses company at Avenida de las Rosa 1 near the town of Garray in Spain has in recent weeks been working overtime again. Because doesn’t a loved one long to give the most beautiful gift of its kind – The Red Naomi – on the 14th of February? The finest red roses in the world are grown under the Spanish sun, albeit with Dutch technology.

Spain and The Netherlands competed against each other for the football World Cup in South Africa ten years ago, yet both countries now form a golden duo in the province of Soria. Spaniard Luis Corella is the founder of the extraordinary innovative project where the queen of flowers has been cultivated inside a 14-hectare futuristic greenhouse for several years already.

Tomatoes in Mexico

Corella’s dream of growing roses came to life one day after an adventure which involved growing tomatoes in Mexico came to an end. Corella: “Growing fruit and vegetables was quite normal in Spain, but hardly anyone did anything with flowers. Why not?’ I wondered. I saw a lot of potential in that. But it was a waste of time approaching Spanish banks. Flowers in a greenhouse? They didn’t see anything in that.”

Corella was forced to rely on help from The Netherlands – the Land of Flowers. Yet the Spaniard had something to offer which is much more scarce in The Netherlands: hours and hours of sunshine. On an abandoned industrial estate in Soria, Corella discovered everything he needed. Sunny days, cold nights and a river with clean water. The largest and most modern rose greenhouse in Europe was built with the support from the Dutch horticultural construction company Dalsem from Den Hoorn and the research and development department for plants and flowers at Wageningen University.

Photo Koen Greven

And with great success. Of the approximately one hundred million roses that will be traded by FloraHolland next week around Valentine’s Day, more than one million come from Spain. The crown jewel is a full-bodied rose with as much as eighty petals. The stem varies in length from seventy to ninety centimetres. The approximately forty million roses that Aleia Roses produces each year are shipped for the most part directly via trucks to Dutch flower auctions. Even roses that are sold in Spain usually go to The Netherlands first.

Linked to Wageningen

The greenhouse in the north of Spain is a laboratory in more ways than one. The computers are continually linked to the ones of the experts in Wageningen via a high-tech system. This keeps an eye on every step of the process. A special crop protection system runs right throughout the entire cultivation process in order to tackle pests as organically as possible. The CO2 level in the greenhouse (which is essential for the growth of the roses) is enhanced with CO2 from the combustion of biomass in the power station nearby.

Corella has an eye for innovation and sustainability. However, above all he hopes to be able to convey his passion for roses. Flowers are seen as a ”lame” and most of all as an ”expensive luxury” in the southern European country. Nevertheless, there are three times a year when a Spaniard can’t ignore them. Namely: Mother’s Day, All Souls’ Day and Valentine’s Day. Because then all of a sudden everyone wants to present the finest rose in the world as a gift. Or even better, get it from a secret admirer or a not-so-secret suitor.

Read other columns from Koen Greven about Spanish innovation here.