A Garden Edge Farewell

It’s time to ‘pull up stumps’ so to speak and I believe the Monthly Chronicle needs a new face to continue to inspire gardeners with their seasonal horticultural advice. I’ve been writing The Garden Edge column in the Chronicle for many years and have really enjoyed contributing in some small way, to the success of this fiercely independent local newspaper.

What has always appealed to me about the MC is that it really takes local matters to heart and is passionate about being a forum for the best outcomes possible in a part of Sydney that is seeing massive change, not always for the better.

There has been a constant change in all things horticultural since Hilary and I arrived in Sydney in 1983. We owned and operated Rast Bros Nursery in Kissing Point Road, Turramurra for 23 years and apart from a few challenges along the way, managed to re-establish the Nursery as one of the premier ‘plant places’ in Sydney. Coming into the garden centre industry as a complete novice was a challenge but we worked hard and made a success of Rast Bros, no small thanks to all the fantastic customers over the years and some great staff members. Our proudest achievement was being voted the Best Garden Centre in Australia by the visiting International Garden Centre Congress delegates in 1998!

Challenges – there were a few! Before our first year was up, we endured significant flooding in November 1984 – the nursery was inundated with paths ripped up, the showroom flooded and many plants destroyed or swept away down the valley. But worse was to come some seven years later on 21 January, 1991. It was late in the day and a vicious tornado swept in from the west – we could see a greenish tinge to the sky and things didn’t look good!

Rast Bros was in the narrow path of utter destruction. Cyclonic winds were recorded and massive trees were uprooted, over 7,000 homes were damaged and power cut to 164,000 homes, in many cases for well over a week as so many of the roads were completely blocked by storm debris. The nursery took another huge blow with hail being the main offender. It just ripped the plants to shreds. Trees came down and poor old Rast Bros looked a mess. But our plight was nothing compared to other souls in the neighbourhood.

From bad things, good things come and this gave us the opportunity to really look at our nursery and make some significant changes to how we operated, and the general layout of the place, and from that day some two weeks after ‘The Storm’, we never looked back until the day we closed the gates for the last time on 31 July, 2007.

One significant ‘event’ that affected the entire nursery and garden industry was the introduction and strict enforcement of severe water restrictions from 1 October, 2003. The way the bans were promulgated and worded with minimal consultation with our industry meant plant sales stopped dead for many months, and the losses were never recovered. It was hard on growers and retailers alike and it really changed forever the attitudes of the gardening public.

During my 32 years involved in horticulture in Australia I’ve witnessed many changes, not always for the better. The garden enthusiast has a much smaller choice of interesting plants to choose from. Drive around any suburb and one sees gardenias, buxus, standard iceberg roses, evergreen magnolias and so on – very boring and totally lacking in imagination. Thank goodness for the annual Plant Collectors Fair!

After the seven days a week nursery life, I spent about five years as a consultant to the NSW Nursery Association and since then have kept an active interest in our great horticultural industry. I’m not bowing out – just moving on and consider it a privilege, in some small way over the 30 odd years, to have helped gardeners and the nursery and garden industry.

Happy and successful gardening to you all – Peter Whitehead

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