Gallery: Christian Klein nursery tour
21 November 2017
Last week I visited Christian Klein in Germany. Having heard so much about his plants - both from nursery owners and fellow hobbyists - I was very excited to see his collection for myself.
The growing season for temperate plants like Sarracenia was of course over, but Chris was kind enough to show me round his tropical greenhouse. Here he grows Nepenthes, Heliamphora, Cephalotus, tropical Drosera, as well a wide variety of tropical ferns and orchids. I also had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his nursery business, recent catalog update, and approach to growing CPs. Photos are distributed throughout.
Christian’s CP business is actually just a hobby. By trade he is a professional landscape gardener, and he operates his CP nursery in his spare time as a family business with his wife Claudia and their two children. “Our daughter is 21 and she makes the seed bank. My son is 18 and he helps - a little bit - with packing.” Looking around at the piles of empty labeled bags, each an unfulfilled order, he adds: “well, sometimes he helps. Not so much today.”
Several days before my visit, Christian had updated his online sales list, an event which always results in a huge influx of emails and new orders. In lieu of a proper website, he maintains a PDF to publicize plant availability - updating this list and fulfilling the subsequent orders has become hugely labour-intensive, which is one of the reasons Christian is in the process of building a new website. This is intended to reduce admin, rather than to grow his business.
“We do not really want to make it bigger,” says Christian, “because we have orders enough! I don’t want to be a complete professional seller, because I am a collector: it’s in my genes.”
While chatting about his latest catalog update, we got talking about how certain Nepenthes species and hybrids seem to be in vogue.
“N. lowii is very very sought. It makes no difference what you’ve crossed with N. lowii, everybody wants it!” To a degree this is understandable, given how attractive these hybrids can be. Christian remarked that many are even easy growers. “The species is slow, but the hybrids are much faster. Even N. lowii x ephippiata is much faster to grow, yet you cannot see the difference in a small plant.”
Sometimes, however, this kind of widespread popularity means that more unusual crosses get overlooked. “It’s funny,” says Christian. “I have a new hybrid, N. platychila x vogelii, made by Thomas Schneider, a Nepenthes grower from Germany who has a really nice collection. This hybrid sounds very good but nobody wants it! I have no idea why. It’s such a nice hybrid, and the little plants are looking so nice, but nobody wants it. Cross anything with N. lowii, everybody wants it.”
These ‘crazes’ can come along very suddenly, and to Christian - who is not a social media user - they often seem spontaneous. “Years ago I made a hybrid, N. veitchii x hurrelliana, and at first nobody wanted it. We had hundreds of them.” When word finally got out, they instantly started selling. “It started up, and after a very short time they were all gone, because now everybody wants to have this hybrid. Maybe there was something on Facebook, or somebody online wrote about it - I don’t know!”
Some growers will pay anything to get their hands on a particularly cool plant. N. hamata ‘hairy red’, crosses with N. lowii, candy striped forms of N. veitchii, toothy species like N. edwardsiana, and some N. truncata clones will often go for hundreds of Euros on eBay. I commented on the high price commanded by the (admittedly stunning) N. truncata x lowii specimen offered in the recent Exotica Plants auction. “To be fair,” says Christian, “that is a nice plant. Mine had a pitcher of half a metre: the biggest pitcher in the whole greenhouse.”
Today, Christian propagates all his plants from cuttings, divisions, and seeds. He has offered tissue cultured plants in the past, but found it didn’t suit his collection or his customers. “The quality was always good, but we stopped because we couldn’t get the plants we wanted. Also the Germans are mostly species growers, and there was a time they had mainly hybrids.”
His focus on seed grown plants, particularly Nepenthes species, has made Christian very well known amongst other nurseries worldwide. His approach to pollinating Nepenthes is driven largely by personal preference, but with a priority order: “First is species, second is - if possible - natural hybrids, and next is… any hybrid. Whatever happens!” Naturally, he also has to consider what’s popular at any given time: “If it sounds boring I do not pollinate it. I have a big Nepenthes hirsuta with 4 or 5 flowers at the moment, but I do not pollinate everything with N. hirsuta, because it makes no sense! Nobody wants it.”
The nursery’s seed list is always fresh. “Everything is from our own stock. We have Sarracenia, we have Dionaea, Nepenthes when we have flowering plants, we have Cephalotus. We are very correct with our seeds, we never sell anything which is older than a year. Everything is fresh.” Details of current seed stocks are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
While he couldn’t name a particular specimen that was his current favourite - “it’s always changing!” - he did mention that he was keen to focus his Nepenthes growing on some of the smaller species and hybrids. “N. glabrata crosses, everything mixed with N. tenuis is also very good. Also N. ventricosa - it sounds boring but the hybrids are good. N. campanulata can be very good for hybrids too.”
What about the future of CP growing in general? While Christian was keen to maintain his nursery at its current size and not expand any further, he did remark on the recent growth of the CP scene. “It’s getting bigger. The whole thing is getting bigger. CP collecting, I mean. I can see it in the customers, I can see it in their orders, and when I speak to other people - like Andreas Wistuba - they all think it’s getting bigger.”
“I think it’s also a hobby which people like to be constant in - I know many people who’ve been growing for more than 30 years.”
Many thanks to Christian. Keep an eye out for his new website, check out his latest plant list, and subscribe to Tom's Carnivores for more nursery galleries and interviews.
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