Volvo branches out at German tree and plant nursery

Volvo_Bernhard von Ehren, managing director.

Expectations are high among staff at the Hamburg-based tree and plant specialists Lorenz von Ehren Nurseries as they await the arrival of a new L120 wheel loader to join their fleet of Volvo machines.

Founded in 1865, Lorenz von Ehren is the oldest and one of Europe’s largest tree and plant nurseries. Established by Johannes von Ehren, the son of a Hamburg sea captain, it remains a family-run company, now in the hands of managing director Bernhard von Ehren, the fifth generation.

In 1904, Lorenz von Ehren, son of Johannes, succeeded in hauling a 40-year-old weeping beech over a distance of 9km – an enormous effort at that time. Fast forward 110 years to October 2014, the nursery shipped a 12m high 63-year-old oak tree to London via ferry as part of the transformation of Kings Cross station. That tree (Quercus Palustris, or pin oak) is now the focal point of the 27-hectare green site in one of the capital’s most vibrant districts.

The company now boasts client from Switzerland to Russia. “Today, we have more than 500,000 trees and shrubs under cultivation across 550 hectares of fertile soil in three locations,” Bernhard explains. “Giant oaks are among the spectacular mature species we ship to many European countries.”

With 1.5 million of the nursery’s trees and plants delivered to destinations across Europe every year, thousands of its plants are on the road every day, with mature trees such as the oaks proving to be the most challenging. Stepping in to offer a helping hand, the latest Volvo addition will transform and accelerate the process of transplanting many large, mature trees cultivated by the company, including the delicate 40-year-old oaks.

Growing stronger

Lorenz von Ehren Nurseries has relied on Volvo equipment for many years. Currently, its fleet is made up of eight wheel loaders – L35B, L60F, L70D and L90C – and the highly mobile EW160D wheeled excavator.

Trees and plants require considerable time and ample space to grow, and around 170 nursery staff are involved in the cultivation of sites in Hamburg, Bad Zwischenahn and Rellingen. Among the avenues of trees and parkland are specimens that have reached the grand old age of 100 years.

During the growth cycle, the trees are transplanted every four or five years, giving staff the opportunity to trim the root ball. The traditional approach to digging up giant trees at the nursery requires the use of two machines. First, an EW160D wheeled excavator has the job of digging around the base of the tree to free the root ball. Then, a Volvo L90C wheel loader takes over, lifting both tree and root ball out of the ground using a standard fork attachment. The tree is then carefully secured and lowered onto the back of a truck for transport.

“There are only a few nurseries able to provide such fully-grown trees,” says von Ehren. “We are known throughout Europe, and landscape architects and even individuals come from afar to inspect our trees and choose what they want.”

This process currently takes up to one hour but will be totally transformed by the arrival of the new L120. Equipped with a four-tonne, 2,000mm hydraulic tree spade, the Volvo wheel loader will lift the tree and root ball from the ground in less than five minutes, while keeping them intact. The new tree spade has four blades, capable of effortlessly extracting a 2m-wide root ball from a depth of 126cm.

Buliding for a greener future

Now standard equipment across the plant nursery industry, the concept of the tree spade attachment was initially developed by a specialist tree-spade designer in Nuremberg during a collaboration with Lorenz von Ehren Nurseries. However, continuing the evolution of construction equipment, the Volvo L120 is being customized with a joystick specially designed for manipulating the four-tonne spade.

“The joystick is an innovation we have helped design,” says production manager Kay Hackmack. “It controls each of the four blades of the spade individually, while steering the wheel loader,” he explains. “The spade is also equipped with a camera inside the blades to give the operator extra visibility and precision.”

The nursery has been working for some time with a smaller version of the system for handling younger trees that need regular replanting. A 1,400mm spade attachment is fixed to a Volvo L60F wheel loader and helps free each tree from the ground in a matter of minutes; in this way, up to 100 young trees can be replanted in just one day.

In the future, the nursery’s much larger and older trees will undergo a similar experience. “We will be able to prepare trees must faster using the L120 and the time saved will be valuable,” says von Ehren.

“The oak trees being uprooted now were planted by my father, and the ones we are planting now will be harvested by my children 20 years from now,” he explains, adding: “How do we know what conditions they will have to face in 20 years’ time?” For the answer, von Ehren has turned to modern science.

Green pioneers 

September 2015 saw the nursery celebrate its 150th anniversary by organizing the Lorenz von Ehren ‘Green Pioneers’ Symposium together with the European Garden Awards.

“While technology, environment and fashions have changed, our basic motivation has remained the same: we love trees,” affirms von Ehren.

“We have been supporting science and research projects for decades and urban trees are currently the focus of attention. We know that in 20 years’ time we will have to provide trees which are resistant to heat, frost and climatic fluctuations.”

The nursery’s innovative approach to cultivation has received notable recognition. Awarded the highest Ecoprofit (Ökoprofit) certificate by Germany’s Regional Plants Certification Association for environmental programs, the nursery added to its collection of prizes and honors in November 2015 when it won the prestigious TASPO Award, presented by the industry news weekly for the green market, as ‘Nursery of the Year’’.

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