By Gretel Sneath
A heady scent fills the air at Wagner’s Rose Nursery in Kalangadoo, where a line of ancient red gums forms a dramatic backdrop to rows of exquisite colour.
The Limestone Coast farming district is well known for its apples, cherries and potatoes, but now it’s also firmly entrenched as a rose capital, after a former Adelaidean caught whiff of its potential.
Rose grower, Brian Wagner, shifted his business to the state’s south-east corner almost 20 years ago, seduced by the area’s rich loamy soils and abundance of groundwater.
His nursery now produces around 800 different rose varieties each season, with plant health and perfume the key priorities. The roses thrive in the fertile paddocks and are the best the world has to offer.
“We are the sole South Australian agent for a French breeder called Delbard Roses, and we are also the agent for David Austin roses, and a couple of Australian breeders that are starting to do quite well,” Brian says.
Wagner’s Rose Nursery supplies garden centres nationwide, sells locally at farmers’ markets and also via a thriving mail-order trade.
“Most of our roses are transported by road; we put them in large cardboard cartons lined with plastic and they can last for weeks in these boxes,” Brian says.
Business well and truly bloomed when Brian and his photographer wife, Benedetta Rusconi, branched out into online sales 18 months ago, but now the export market also beckons, with the Wagners recently filling their first international order.
In June, 600 plants were packaged and freighted to Vietnam on the back of a weekend nursery tour.
“A bloke phoned and asked if he could come out one Sunday for a walk around and I was thinking it was going to be a retail order, but it ended up being quite significant,” Brian explains.
Since then, a second larger order for Vietnam has been placed, with shipments also heading to New Caledonia and Dubai.
“While it took a bit of time working out the process of meeting all of the official shipping requirements, we’ve got a bit of a template now,” Brian says. “It’s quite incredible given that exports weren’t ever something we had considered or promoted, but I think that having a professional website certainly helps – the customers found us online and they could see we had a great product.”
All photographs courtesy Benedetta Rusconi.
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