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Green is fashionable, but few take the time to maintain it. Whether it's flowers, parks or fruits and vegetables, the people who look after these need to be trained, given the means to practice their craft and supported in their activity. Josiane Walentiny, a passionate lobbyist who campaigns for nature from the offices of the "Fédération Horticole Luxembourgeoise" is in charge of making sure this happens.
Summer is approaching and summer means cold dishes, the pleasure of maintaining a beautiful garden and a walk in the forest. Tomato mozzarella, melon with ham or peach with tuna, all of it on our terrace surrounded by the most beautiful plants; we all dream of it. But to make this possible, an organisation little known to the general public is fighting, among other things, to ensure that there is enough water to water all the fruit, vegetables and flowers in the country.
A lobbiyst at heart
This organisation is the "Fédération Horticole Luxembourgeoise". It is committed to and works on behalf of landscape gardeners, florists, flower growers, horticulturists and all green services in the country. In order to be a dynamic advocate, the organisation needs to be committed, responsive and passionate; like its coordinating secretary, Josiane Walentiny, a woman with a personality as colourful as the Dutch tulip fields.
"How beautiful this little coffee stand is. See the little flowers on the table? They are what make it so charming." From the first minutes of our meeting at the entrance to "Kinnekswiss", Josiane Walentiny is friendly, smiling and talkative. Full of energy, she decides to take us for a walk through the city's parks. It's not too cold, so it's the perfect time to visit her favourite places and let her tell us all about them. Her thoughts are an explosion of colours, she goes from tree to tree like a child in a toy shop and gives way to her character as a passionate young lobbyist.
In a perfect world, Josiane would organise a 'floral guerrilla war' throughout Luxembourg City. "We would put a necklace or a crown of flowers on Princess Amélie, we would put a bouquet in Melusina's arms. Bombs of flower petals would dominate the air and cover every square meter of the city with colour, soap in the fountains would form a giant foam bath." An explosion of happiness and positivity.
"Shall we go and see Melusina?" Josiane passes through the "Parc Fondation Pescatore", takes the panoramic lift down to the "Pafendall" and reaches the Wenzel circular walk, on the edge of the "Bock" rock. There she stops by the peach trees. "I've never seen peaches here, not even in summer." She looks at every plant and tree. Finally, she enters Neumünster Abbey and sits in a park surrounded by the building to share her story.
"I dream of putting a flower necklace on Princess Amélie and placing a bouquet of flowers in Melusina's arms."
Josiane Walentiny, coordinating secretary of the "Fédération Horticole Luxembourgeoise"
Although she was made for flowers, she got there "by detours". In high school, Josiane first went into paramedics before stopping "when I was 16 or 17". "I am too sensitive. I saw people die, it was too much for me." She then took a time out to think and, having always been "fascinated by science, biology and nature", enrolled at the "Lycée Technique Agricole" in Ettelbruck.
As a graduate of the agricultural technician diploma, a course whose specificity is that "you learn all the horticultural professions, in particular florist, landscaper and fruit and vegetable producer", she quickly realised the weak point of this type of study. "You know a bit about all the jobs, but you're not specialised in anything, whereas the shops are all specialised." Nevertheless, as she has always been passionate about floral art, she went to work as a florist with a first experience in Schifflange.
Josiane has good memories of her first experience in the world of work, as she was "finally able to put into practice everything I learned at school" and discover the obstacles of the environment. "If the weather is not as nice outside, people will buy fewer flowers, but if it is nice, everyone wants them." In addition, customer contact is important because "the important moments in a florist's year – Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day… – are the same as those for the family".
After a year as a florist, Josiane wanted to try something else in order to make use of her diploma, which had trained her in several professions. So she started looking for a job as a landscaper. "I thought it would be fun to plan and look after gardens." That's when she sent her CV to the current president of the federation, Ernest Brandenburger, who was a landscape gardener at the time, but also a young member of the organisation's committee. He recognised her potential and passed her on for the vacant position of coordinating secretary.
Perfect match – Josiane Walentiny on the perfect marriage between her and her job.
Josiane's profile immediately appealed to "the Fédération Horticole Luxembourgeoise", which gave her the job. According to Josiane, this is no coincidence, because she is made for this job and this job is made for her. Josiane calls it a "perfect match", as her general studies mean that "I know all the jobs I represent."
The Munich stopover to come back better
After "six or seven years at the Federation", Josiane resigned from her position. "I didn't want to do this any more and I had the opportunity to go and work in another sector in Munich, Germany." The company in question was planning to finance biogas plants with innovative ideas, such as generating electricity from landscapers' green waste. "I thought this was a very exciting prospect. Unfortunately, after a year, I realised that my boss and I were not on the same page."
Back in Luxembourg, it just so happened that her old job at the "Fédération Horticole Luxembourgeoise" was open again. "I thought about it for a long time and decided that it was the perfect match, the perfect job for my studies, and I took up my post. I have now been there for about 12 years."
As secretary-coordinator of a green organisation, Josiane Walentiny would like to have a garden office, but she spends her days in an office in Strassen. And her job is not a relaxing one. She has to "talk to and understand the horticultural companies in the field, knock on the right doors to solve their problems and keep abreast of innovation, especially political innovation, such as the "Green Deal". So it's a job that never sleeps." I have two spouses; after my partner there is also the federation. I am the ambassador for the issues, the advocate for Luxembourg gardeners."
Josiane is currently thinking about three main issues. The first is water. Summer will soon be here, and it will be hot. It is therefore essential for the federation to ensure that fruit and vegetable growers have the necessary water to water their gardens, "it is in the interest of our whole society, nature and the climate". Secondly, she advocates that businesses should continue to train young people. "A lot has changed in recent years. It is important that companies continue to train, because if no one is trained, there will be no more qualified workers." Finally, the last one is probably the most complex: digitalisation.
Florist or influencer?
Josiane's biggest challenge is to convince companies in the sector to get on board with social networking. So she herself has to take an interest in it and get to know it. "The florist's job is changing. If businesses want to survive in the next 20 years, they have to think about going digital."
The secretary is supported in this battle by the Chamber of Trades. Indeed, "since the reform of the right of establishment, florists and landscapers are considered to be craftsmen". "We have always had a good relationship with the Chambre des métiers, but since then the link has been formal. We are a big family and we all stand together. "The same applies to the quest for digitalisation, for which the Chamber regularly organises online meetings to promote e-service and e-artisanship.
Despite all these efforts, it is not easy. "The Covid-19 crisis proved the importance of being present on the networks for a company. Those who were present did it 24 hours a day and it was more difficult for the others. I think that the customer of the future will do Click&Collect and that shops could become workshops that only sell via social networks." Florists, on the other hand, are reluctant. "They keep telling me that they are florists and not influencers. I agree with them. From my point of view, nothing will ever replace the in-store shopping experience. The pleasure of seeing, touching and smelling the flowers … but that's the way it is. And digitalisation is also good: it has never been easier to show customers what you can do – one photo on Instagram and it’s a done deal."
Josiane Walentiny on why a florist today must also be an influencer.
The pandemic has not spared anyone, it has hurt the horticultural sector as well as others. "Parties are now held in small groups. Fewer guests means fewer flowers." However, Josiane hopes that, in the long term, the effects of the pandemic on her sector will be positive. She is pleased to see that people "have started to enjoy working in their gardens again and have rediscovered the small local businesses they have on their street corner." This is all good for the climate. The question is whether it will last or not.
"I think young people are aware of the problem – Fridays For Future proves it – but they are disconnected from nature. I hope the connection will come back." To save the planet, the awareness will have to be complete. People have to realise the beauty of plants and put nature before themselves.
"Personally, I find it fascinating when nature explodes in spring. It's a new miracle every time. My best friends tell me I'm crazy, but I'd like to someday take the time to lie on a meadow for 48 hours and watch the leaves come out of the trees. But who has that much time these days?"
"I would like to one day take the time to lie on a meadow for 48 hours and watch the leaves come out of the trees."
And why not just take the time? The "Fédération Horticole Luxembourgeoise" has taken the lead and set a course for LUGA 2023 (Luxembourg Urban Garden), a kind of fashion show of green projects throughout the city, with the aim of raising awareness of the need to protect nature; "to convince people to maintain their natural spaces and to build greener through floral facades or roof gardens". "Flower graffiti, planting workshops for the little ones and colourful parks … Everything is open, nothing is decided yet, but that is the plan."
Who knows … Maybe, finally, Josiane Walentiny's dreams of floral guerrilla warfare will come true and Princess Amélie will be entitled to her crown and her necklace of flowers.