MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Azienda agricola Brianza di Spertini Giuseppe

Historical Profile

From the kitchen to the nursery

Pietro Spertini was born in Laveno in 1900 as the son of an artisan construction worker. He began working as a cook at a young age, initially in Milan and later in Rome and New York. It was there that he met Caterina Francino, a seamstress of Italian origins born in London, to whom he was married in 1924. Four years later, Pietro and Caterina returned to the town of Laveno in Italy, where their eldest son Luigi was born in 1929, followed by their daughter Marta in 1932.

Upon returning to his homeland, Pietro Spertini gave up cooking to dedicate himself to a new occupation as a gardener and florist.

In 1935, he founded a sole proprietorship company as a street merchant trading in plants, flowers and seeds. The company’s administrative offices were located at the family’s residence, at no. 4 Via San Fermo. In addition to selling flowers with his wife, Pietro also managed a nursery and orchard owned by the Company Ceramica Italiana Laveno, located on colle Brianza, which the company used as a “sanatorium” for workers suffering from silicosis.

In 1948, the company obtained the license required to operate out of a fixed location, selling “garden seeds, flower seeds, flowering plants, garden plants, fruit trees and ornamental trees”. Thus, in 1956, Pietro ceased his activities as a street vendor and opened a family-run shop at no. 31 via Labiena.

Luigi Spertini, whose studies had originally focused upon agriculture, went on to become a professional building surveyor and later began working with his father in the fields of nursery care and landscaping.

In 1959, he joined his father’s company, thus giving rise to the de facto company “Orticoltura Pietro Spertini & figlio”. When his father left the company the following year, it was replaced by the sole proprietorship company “Azienda agricola Brianza di Spertini Luigi”. The new company had 20 employees, 12 employed at the nurseries and 8 employed at the warehouse and administrative offices on via San Fermo. Meanwhile, the ownership of the shop on via Labiena was transferred to Pietro’s wife, Caterina Francino.

Garden design

In 1961, Caterina Francino ceded the management of the shop to her daughter Marta, who thus founded the sole proprietorship company “Spertini Marta” for the sale of plants, flowers and seeds, which was located at no. 35 via Labiena. The shop succeeded in establishing itself as a place where aspiring florists could come to learn the trade, a number of whom went on to become well-known professionals. Marta Spertini continued with her business activities up until 1972 when she decided to go to work with her husband, the owner of the nearby company “Floricoltura Lago Maggiore”. In 1962, Luigi Spertini married Rosa Monteggia, who also joined the company to take care of its administrative aspects: the couple had four children: Giampiero (born in 1963), Marina (born in 1965), Giuseppe (born in 1967) and Carlo (born in 1971).

With a local context characterized by the presence of relatively few plant nurseries and the wide availability of agricultural land, Luigi Spertini succeeded in significantly expanding his company in terms of both physical size and sales.

New greenhouses, inspired by the Liguria model, were soon constructed. Over time, the nurseries on colle Brianza were expanded to cover nearly 7 hectares, including the cultivation of acidophilic plants (such as camellias, azaleas and gardenias), which were in high demand and are still produced by the company to this day. Some of the trees dating back to the early sixties have now reached heights of 5 to 6 meters. The company later went on to establish its current operational headquarters in Cittiglio, with its indoor nursery. Furthermore, thanks to the residential development of the time, the company also became involved in the design, construction and maintenance of parks and gardens, including a wide range of complementary works.

The company’s agricultural production and landscaping activities were soon flanked by the sales of vegetables, flowers and apartment plants. In 1975, the company’s head offices were transferred to a new location on the same street, at no. 12 via San Fermo.

Pietro Spertini, who had long since retired from the company, passed away in 1976 following a lengthy illness.

After overcoming the energy crisis of the early seventies, Luigi Spertini hired a number of land surveyors from other regions in order to increase the staff’s level of specialization. Although the work was still strongly characterized by manual and physical labour, this development eventually led to the introduction of new cultivation techniques.

Luigi Spertini, who had already become a founding member of Consorzio Florovivaisti Varesini (the Varese Nurserymen’s Consortium) in 1972, also served as a councilman for Confagricoltura Varese (the Varese Confederation of Agriculture) during the 1980s.

The third generation: the Spertini Brothers

In the early 1990s, with its 35 employees, Agricola Brianza was considered to be one of Lombardy’s most important nurseries. Its clientele was generally comprised of supply chain companies and private subjects, most of whom were located in Northern Italy and in certain European countries (including Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and England).

Upon Luigi Spertini’s death in 1992, the company was inherited under the name of “Azienda agricola Brianza degli eredi di Spertini Luigi” by his wife, Rosa Monteggia, and their children, including Giampiero, who joined the family business upon completing his university studies and after various work experiences. Although the company was closed in 1996, the business continued under the sole proprietorship company “Azienda agricola Brianza di Spertini Giuseppe”, with the sales activities and a good part of the nursery facilities being located in the town of Cittiglio.

Carlo Spertini registered his own sole proprietorship company, known as “Piante Spertini di Spertini Carlo”, with the Varese Chamber of Commerce that the same year, specializing in the cultivation of plants and flowers.

Both companies began operating in 1993, and both have offices at no. 12 Via San Fermo, in Laveno.

While each of the Spertini brothers is in charge of a specific field, their organizational roles are, in fact, interchangeable. Giampiero is in charge of external planting and landscaping projects, while Giuseppe and Carlo, both of whom underwent specific training to become land surveyors at the school in Minoprio, respectively take care of the garden showcase and the production aspects. Their sister, Marina, earned her degree in political science and is not involved in the family business.

Recent changes

The new millennium has been characterized by continuous and rapid market changes, which have actually obliged and encouraged the Spertini brothers to implement various modifications to the family business. These include the further mechanization of the agricultural work (even the finishing stage, which was previously performed exclusively by hand) and the modernization of the irrigation and fertilization systems.

Meanwhile, the greenhouses in Laveno have been abandoned, the number of potted plants ready for use has been increased, and the garden maintenance activities have been intensified.

The diffusion of the “green culture” has resulted in an increasingly attentive clientele, with demands that have to be met in “real time”.

Due to the veritable explosion and diffusion of available services, the competitive environment has also changed drastically.

According to a survey carried out by the Associazione produttori florovivaisti varesini (the Varese Nurserymen’s Association - an organization that was founded in 2000 by the consortium co-founded by Luigi Spertini and for which Carlo currently serves as president), in 2008 there were 400 nursery companies operating in the “città giardino” (or rather, Varese and its surrounding province), most of which employed 1-2 individuals and were established in the wake of the crises that had arisen in other areas of the primary sector (and non).

The decrease in garden areas, both in number and in expanse, as well as the resulting decline of nursery production contracts, has often lead nurseries to specialize in other areas (such as building, with the construction of swimming pools and the relative accessories, and tourism, with the creation of accommodations and restaurants within existing business structures). In this increasingly open global market, today’s competitive pressure does not only come from countries that have traditionally offered efficient logistics and sales systems, such as the Netherlands and Germany, but also from new and emerging producers in Eastern Europe.

With the goal of spreading the “green culture” and attracting the younger generations towards an often under-appreciated business activity, the Piante Spertani company holds training workshops in collaboration with various schools.

The company also offers on-site tours and other informative events, which are aimed at promoting a better knowledge of the nursery sector, thus providing a significant contribution not only to the creation of wealth and an appreciation of this distinctive professional skill, but also to the preservation of the environment and the lifestyles of the citizens themselves.