Visitors who venture onto Quesnel Road in Saint-Anicet will no doubt marvel at the jewel of a business owned and operated by Roger Quenneville and Liliane Beaupré – and for good reason. On the north side of the quiet road, a swath of pastel coloured spots smile in the hot August sun. Thousand of dahlias growing on over 1,400 plants, including 270 varieties, form long, perfectly straight rows, where tourists and locals alike are picking gorgeous bouquets all for free.
Welcome to Productions Saint-Anicet, one of only two dahlia producers in the province of Quebec. Without any fanfare, the small Haut-Saint-Laurent business exports dahlia tubers to the United States, across Canada, the UK, Belgium, Poland and even Russia.
“Since we launched our transactional website five years ago, the number of orders has continued to grow,” says Roger, while watching his wife welcome new visitors under a blazing sun. “And, our Facebook page brings us a lot of attention. But it is not all happening on its own, we work hard!”
Fortunately, hard work never worried the couple, both in their fifties, who sold their 700-acre field crop farm in 2005, while reserving a “small” 100 acre plot for other ventures. “We wanted to create a new livelihood,” says Roger, who explains he grew up very close with his maternal and paternal grandparents. Between the two houses, both his grandmothers tended dahlias. “I helped them when I was a child. That may explain why I have always liked dahlias, but I am not sure…”
Roger and Liliane began by planting fifty varieties of dahlias in 2007, mainly sourced from producers in Oregon and Washington State. The number of plants began to grow as fast as their tubers, which clearly enjoy the soil in this south-facing plot on the Quesnel. With the help of their website and Facebook page, the gardens at Productions Saint-Anicet draw hundreds of visitors from various regions of Quebec from midsummer to early fall.
“This is the first time I have come here and I was not disappointed,” says Alexis Lacombe, her young son perched in her arms. “The people of Saint-Anicet should be proud to have such specialized dahlia producers, who are present on the international market,” adds the resident of Saint-Lambert. “Plus, its super nice!”
It is a deserved compliment. A culture along the same scale as Cocoxchitl, the name the Aztecs chose for the dahlias from Mexico, Central America and Columbia, requires hard work. Harvesting the tubers from nearly a thousand and a half plants requires five employees. First, the tuberous roots must be removed without breaking the collar, a job that can take up to two weeks. Any clumps of soil must then be removed, the tubers cleaned and placed in cold storage. In January, the roots are gently separated one by one. Orders are placed between October and May, and are prepared as of March for delivery through the mail. Inspectors from Agriculture Canada then come to check the tubers, which have been washed literally with a toothbrush. “We ensure there is not even a speck of dirt because, as we export, we absolutely must avoid the spread of any virus. For us, it is a question of reputation in Quebec, in Canada and internationally.”
In early May, the dahlia tubers are planted. Everything is done by hand: hoeing, weeding, laying stakes, and drip irrigation, etc. As of early August, the couple spends their days in the garden as visitors begin to arrive. “People come and leave with a bouquet of flowers they cut themselves,” says Liliane, clippers in hand. “In addition to the pleasure of walking along paths lined with thousands of beautiful flowers, they also do our advertising.”
The couple dream of one day becoming hybrid producers and possibly even creating their own exclusive Montérégie varieties. “It’s still a hobby, it is not yet a livelihood,” says Roger, who sits on the Board of the Quebec Dahlia Society. “But it pays for our vacations at least … and we have the pleasure of doing something a little different.”