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The Tesselaar story
Is Anthony Tesselaar a modern plant collector? Maybe so, but really, his business is about collecting new and interesting plants from breeders around the world; testing them thoroughly, for consistency, easy care and environmental compatibility and then making them available for everyone to enjoy - "This is what I really enjoy."
Saying this, Anthony Tesselaar hints at the philosophy behind Anthony Tesselaar Plants, to make gardening easy. "Having grown up literally in the industry, I can see the value of de-mystifying the act of gardening for those who don't happen to have the knowledge. Everyone should be able to enjoy the satisfaction and rewards that come from a garden."
Happily, this personal philosophy has been rewarded with success - and everyone is benefiting.
Anthony is the fifth of seven children born in Australia to Cees and Johanna Tesselaar who immigrated from Holland to Australia on their wedding day in 1939. Themselves both children of commercial bulb growers, Cees and Johanna brought their knowledge with them and set up business in the mountains near Melbourne.
"They were very lucky - they sensed that there would be few bright opportunities at home. They later realized that they had caught the last boat out from Holland to Australia, in June 1939, just before the Second World War."
"Everyone in our family was involved in the business; just as my parents had helped out around their families' farms, we were doing chores as children, and as each of us finished school, we joined the business. My father made it clear that we didn't have to stay forever; but that it wouldn't hurt for us to put in two years before moving onto something else."
Cees's approach seems to have been a sound one. All of the children either worked or still work within the horticulture industry - four have established businesses and their contribution isn't limited to their own businesses. Most have served on industry boards (Anthony having served eight years on both State and National Nursery industry Boards - five of those as President), while the yearly Tesselaar Tulip Festival (which began in 1954 to help raise funds for the Red Cross) continues to help promote the bulb and flower industry. The Tesselaar spirit of giving was probably fostered through experience.
"We're part of a community, predominantly Dutch, which had settled in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and my parents were committed to nurturing and supporting it. When the war ended, and the first immigrants from a war ravaged Europe began to arrive, we were literally the first stopping-point for many families - and this went on until the early sixties. Many community projects - to help support especially the very old and young immigrants - were developed by our parents."
Much of this was formally recognized in 1982 by the Dutch Government, with Cees Tesselaar receiving the highest civilian award for his services to the Dutch community in Australia by being Knighted in the Order of Oranje Nassau.
As for Anthony, he did his two year apprenticeship within his father's business, and after two more years decided to give something back to society. He spent a year working on a very remote Aboriginal reservation in the North West Kimberley region of Australia. "In that desert environment, there was nothing and yet everything there at the same time. Looking back, it was a life changing experience - it was seeing mother nature at its most beautiful."
Anthony returned to work in the family business, gravitating naturally to marketing and promotion where he quickly found his niche. The family business became the largest floricultural business in Australia, with Anthony focusing on the marketing and promotion areas including managing the annual Tulip Festival and the largest Australian plant mail order operations with up to 5 catalogues per year.
In 1989, he heard about a new plant and, using his expertise in marketing, set about developing a new concept in plant marketing which he used to launch the Flower Carpet® rose - celebrity status. It was one of the most successful launches of any new plant product in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA. Other plants soon followed.
In 1994, with his wife Sheryl, Anthony established Anthony Tesselaar Plants to concentrate solely on the marketing of these new and exciting plants on a world-wide basis. Together, with a team of expert staff, they visit plant breeders around the world to find, not only the most beautiful plants, but also that they are the easiest for anyone to grow almost anywhere.
"For us to add something to our collection; obviously it has to be better than anything already out there. This is just one of the boxes on our check-list which includes the most important one - what I call the 'wow' factor. If, after walking along a few miles of plants, I see something very special, I know it will give other people a real thrill as well. We have a lot of fun hunting for these best plants and sharing them with everyone."