Red roses in a glass greenhouse

It's no secret that roses are the most popular flowers on Valentine's Day but rarely do people know what happens before a dozen fresh flowers find their way to someone's beloved.

Few people know why the rose has become a symbol of love, or how the modern day Valentine's Day celebration evolved from its roots in an ancient pagan fertility festival.

Still, the giving of roses on Valentine's Day has become a very popular practice, and this is why Island Rose, the Philippines' first and largest retailer and wholesaler of roses, makes millions from selling freshly cut roses straight from their farm.

In 2008, the company received the Philippine Marketing Association Agora Award for Outstanding Achievement in Entrepreneurship. In 2003, the International Trade Center named Island Rose as one of the country's best practice models for small and medium enterprises.

Fresh cut roses are delivered straight from the Tagaytay farm. Since they began full-scale rose production in 1983, Island Rose has established itself as the leading environment-friendly farm, capable of delivering between 100 to 1,000 dozen flowers a day.

Around eighty percent of their sales come from online transactions, which they set up in 2000.

All this is accomplished with around 30 workers and 100 arrangers who come in for the peak seasons.

Even with their top-of-the-line technology and their smooth production process, polished from over 20 years of experience, growing the flowers is no bed of roses for Island Rose. A week before Valentines' Day, they invited the Manila media for a peek in their Tagaytay farm.

The company has an automated glass greenhouse which lessens the need for repetitive tasks like fertilizing and watering the plants.

The greenhouse also adjusts according to the temperature, which is generally low in the Island Rose's 5-hectare farm in Tagaytay.

"Kapag mainit, automatic siyang bubukas. Kapag malamig, automatic naman magshade," explained Treelizer CEO James Amparo, noting that Island Rose has the only fully automated glass greenhouse in the Philippines.

Though Island Rose used to depend on chemical fertilizers, which not only make the soil acidic but destroys the farm's natural balance, they now use Treelizer, which also works as a soil conditioner and insect repellent.

Treelizer is the latest addition to the Island Rose recipe for success. Made from molasses, fruit and vegetable extracts and other minerals, the organic fertilizer has made the farm's roses healthier.

"Mas mahaba at mas tumaba ang stems, pati hindi na masyadong nagkakasakit," says farm manager Francis Librando, showing the roses with stems that have increased a couple of inches, some as long as three and a half feet.

Thanks to organic fertilizer, roses grow as long as three and a half feet.

"Mahirap talaga kapag nagkakasakit, kapag may mga spidermites," says Librando, adding that the farm still uses chemical sprays to get rid of mites.

"Kasi yung iba kapag nagkakasakit, sumuko na. Lalo na yung mites, ang mahal mahal ng gamot, tapos hindi pa totally macu-cure yung mites. Kaya kapag wala kang tiyaga, hindi na lang. Tiyagaan talaga," says Librando, who has been with Island Rose since the company began 27 years ago.

While other suppliers have given up, Island Rose remains determined to continue their tradition of delivering fresh flowers daily.

A civil engineer, Librando was responsible for planning the farm, which is remarkably well-designed.

All the pipes are underground, and since the flowers are grown in the greenhouse, few pests can get in, and the insects are allowed to thrive outside.

Good for a lifetime

The greenhouse is expensive but Francis explains that a typical greenhouse will need to be replaced after three to five years, while theirs is good for a lifetime.

The glass greenhouse has a sprinkler system that directly sprays water and fertilizer to the root area.

In the glass greenhouse, row after row of long-stemmed red roses grow until harvest time.

When the roses are ready for picking, the workers harvest the flowers according to length.

Roses with longer stems are usually used for large bouquets, while those with medium stalks end up in flower arrangements.

The select stems are what they use for gift orders, which peak just in time for Valentines Day.

Rose-picking is not as simple as it may seem, either. The best time to pick one variety could be the worst for another.

These sunny roses express joy and gladness. "Iba-iba ang maturity. May variety na kailangan ganito na i-harvest kasi mabilis siyang bumubuka," explains Librando.

12 varieties of roses

Island Rose's 12 varieties of roses are tended to with utmost care inside the greenhouse, which costs approximately P20 million.

The company grows popular Dutch and French variety flowers, including the vibrant Red France, the pristine Gloria, and the charming lavender Cool Water.

The variants are named by their breeders, a fact less interesting to buyers than the significance of the different colors.

Pink roses symbolize grace, while peach conveys friendship, admiration and sympathy.

White symbolizes purity and yellow expresses joy and gladness. Orange carries enthusiasm and desire, and of course, red means love and passion.

Whichever color suits your sentiments, you can be sure that a bouquet from Island Rose is fresh, and grown with plenty of love for the environment. – VVP, GMA News