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Nursery Tour To Canberra

By Jason Hilborn, from Gardenworld Nursery in Melbourne, Australia.

What better way to get a taste of winter, than to step out of chilly Melbourne for a day and take a trip up to an even chillier Canberra in the middle of June. That is what myself and 4 other nurserymen or should I say nursery people embarked on recently. The primary purpose of our trip to Canberra was to visit a garden centre known simply as ‘Rodney’s Plants Plus’ to check out their new outdoor undercover area. Rodney’s Plants Plus is owned and largely run by Rodney himself.

Rodney’s Plants Plus has been in operation for over 30 years. The nursery is one of four nurseries, all on the same street and all within walking distance of each other. A unique setup in itself, to see so many nurseries so close. Does it create some tough competition between them all? Not the way Rodney sees it. In fact he says it’s a good thing. It is a destination. It makes people come into the area. Rodney says each of the nurseries offer something different. But if you want our thoughts, Rodney has put himself well ahead of the pack again with his latest construction.

It was great to meet and talk to Rodney and hear his story of why he did what he did. In the past 2 years, Rodney has made a big investment in the nursery to build an outdoor undercover nursery area, making his nursery an ‘All weather nursery’. The outdoor area covers 1500 square metres and is concreted throughout. Rodney says the undercover area makes the temperature 4-5 degrees warmer in winter while making it 7-8 degrees cooler in summer. That factor alone can make all the difference in a customers willingness to shop when the weather is not as conducive to walking around a nursery. This latest construction increases Rodney’s likelihood of getting people in the door on a day when customers may have otherwise stayed away.

Undercover nursery areas are something that are more commonly heard of throughout the UK and Europe but Rodney is now bringing the concept closer to home. This is largely important in Canberra, as the weather can be extremely miserable, especially this time of year. The thought of walking around a nursery when it is raining, is freezing cold or alternately stinking hot can be quite an unpleasant one.

Back here in Melbourne we too appear to be experiencing both cold and wet winters more commonly again. The term we seem to be using more and more again now is ‘a good old-fashioned Melbourne winter’. Winters are now back to the way we remember them being, for the drought is now a distant memory. We now hear ourselves saying, ‘I wish it would stop raining’, whereas previously we were found saying ‘we need rain, when is it going to rain again’. We cannot forget our summers either. They too can be almost unbearable, and especially when the mercury exceeds 40 degrees. These are the challenges that we as nursery people face. The ebbs and flows. The cold and the hot. We truly are in a seasonal industry.

We took to Canberra with the thoughts that we too may look to follow in Rodney’s footsteps one day. The nursery at Gardenworld is fortunate as we already have a number of good undercover areas. We have a large indoor plant and giftware area as well as covered walkways between the different businesses on the Gardenworld complex. Much of the other businesses are covered as well. It would be fair to say we already have it ‘pretty well covered’ mind you a large covered outdoor area would be a further luxury. Who knows, one day we may construct more covered outdoor areas in our nursery too just as Rodney did.

After a quick stop off for a bite to eat for lunch we rounded off our day in Canberra with a visit to Heritage Nursery. Upon arrival a well-known guy within the Horticultural industry called Bruno greeted us. Bruno is the owner of Heritage Nursery and oozes enthusiasm and passion like no other. I always love meeting people in the Horticulture industry who have been doing it for many years yet show the same enthusiasm as if they started yesterday. His nursery is located within 10km of the CBD of Canberra. It is what I would regard as an old fashion nursery. We were there at the perfect time to see them preparing all their bare root plants for sale. The time of year when we as nursery people can literally get in and get our hands dirty. Bruno doesn’t do things by halves either. He had plenty of bare rootstock to sell and it is that confidence that we as fellow nursery people love to see. It was clear that Bruno is in his element when he is out there getting his hands dirty, in amongst all the winter seasons’ stock of fruit trees, ornamental trees and roses.

The battle for these nurseries though, is the cost of freight to get plants to them. This is something I don’t think I really appreciated until I was there actually hearing it coming from both Bruno’s and Rodney’s mouths. They do not have so many of the wholesale nurseries that they deal with, at their doorstep as we do in Melbourne. This fact alone makes it quite commendable that these guys continue to operate and do it as well as they do. I guess it is something that they have learnt to deal with over time.

Meanwhile back in Melbourne, we all love our gardens, I mean, why wouldn’t you. It is just so relaxing, a place to switch off and unwind, it gives so much pleasure and really when you think about it, we are blessed. We are blessed because we get a true taste of all the seasons. There is a season for everyone. The cold winters, the hot summers, the brisk autumn mornings and with it the autumn colour on the trees. Then there is spring, when all the stunning blossoms appear on the trees and the fresh new leaves appear on the previously bare deciduous trees. It’s not bad when you think about it. In fact, time for me to go, I think I can hear the garden calling me now.

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