Get inspired with We Grow Plants

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Bill’s nursery is filled with the most unusual and exotic plans I’ve ever seen; it’s definitely worth a visit.

Can you tell us how you got started in the industry; have you always had a green thumb?

I grew up in Northern Greece during the uprisings of the 1950s. We were very poor, enduring five months of snow and cold conditions. My siblings and I were sent out by our mother to collect the first spring weeds to make soup. I was taught at a young age which weeds were edible and which were not – also, their medicinal values. I guess you could say that was my introduction to the world of plants.
We owned Wyee service station in the early ’70s and decided to “do something” with the block of land next door, which is now Wyee Nursery. We went from there into wholesale for many years and started selling at Maitland Markets across six sites.
After 20 years in the business, we got the opportunity to sell at the recently opened Newcastle Flower Markets in Sandgate. Here, we were offered a huge permanent area, and we jumped at the idea, as it meant much less lifting, loading and unloading, and the availability to our landscapers is much improved. 
We still grow most of what we sell, so this position allows us the freedom to be at the farm and grow, and for the Newcastle Flower Markets to sell our product. We spend all day Friday in at the shop, restocking, rearranging new stock and helping out with customer queries. We currently work with around 25 landscapers and garden designers around the Newcastle region.

What makes this climate perfect for growing?

This area is particularly good for growing plants. The nights are not too cold, and the days not too hot; in fact, it’s warm enough all year round. In addition, we are pretty protected from the frost in winter.

You have many unusual plants available. How many varieties do you sell, and what would you consider to be the rarest or most unusual?

We grow a range of mainly exotics, from strelitzia the popular giant bird of paradise, to shade lovers like the Heliconia and spiral ginger, which satisfy the current tropical trends. Also, hedging screening and trees. Our specialty and passion, however, extends to arid climate plants such as aloes, agaves, gemniflora, yucca fillifera, agave blue glow, agave dragons toes, agave whales tongue, cowboy cactus, trigona, ingens, golden barrels, Turk’s cap and other hard to find species. Dragon trees have become hugely popular, and our early foresight into this trend has us producing good quality, advanced species of this slow-growing, long-lived wonder.

Like fashion, indoor plants also go through trends. What seems to be trending now?

Indoor trends are, of course, the ficus lyrata or fiddle leaf fig, for reasons that can be understood. It has a long life span, is easy to care for, demands little attention and fills large spaces. This is a common choice in pubs, bars, salons and homewares shops; it adds lushness and volume. Its towering height brings charm and comfort to a space. Dragon trees, aloes, agaves and pots with cactus are very desirable as landscaping choices.

For those of us who possess a brown thumb, what varieties do you recommend?

Peace lilies are wonderful indoor plants for beginners; they tell you when they are thirsty by dropping their leaves a little, then respond almost immediately when watered. They love cool, shady rooms. Warmers spots in the house are better suited for fiddle leaf fig or rubber plants, umbrella trees or philodendrons; the shape of the plant determines the best suited to the room.

Gardening and landscaping has changed considerably over the past 10 years. What do you feel people are wanting from their garden?

The most popular plants from any era, ’60s ’70s, ’80s always return; we are in a resurgence again with the ficus Lyrata and the hanging baskets of the ’70s and ’80s. They come around again because of their ability to outperform the rest.
Low maintenance is the first agenda when we meet plant hunters; we are a time-poor society. Our range encompasses a broad range of low maintenance options. They are resistant to pests, do not require a lot of water, minimum cutting back and are tough in the elements, whether coastal, a hot, sunny courtyard, low airflow with high humidity, windy and exposed balcony, indoor and dark or indoor with full sun, or arid conditions with poor soil and west-facing exposure.

What should you take into consideration when planning a garden?

Aspect — sun first and foremost. Then wind direction, soil quality and its ability to hold moisture. 
Which plants are going to challenge what I plant? Does the neighbour have large overhanging trees? As their root systems will threaten the life of my garden through reduced nutrition and water, also making it difficult to cultivate, due to large roots.
Access to water, and then how well or little it drains is important. 

You’ve been involved in some amazing projects. What has been a highlight?

We’ve done some big jobs in the Hunter Valley that have taken months to gather stock for. We have the ability to source more unusual and super-advanced sizes, which takes time and coordination. We’re working a lot more with landscapers over the last ten years, and that is easier for us since we don’t have to do a lot of the thinking and negotiation, but does take away an element of the pleasure of seeing satisfied clients.
Some of the highlights are when you have a client who will listen to advice. Large jobs, small jobs – they are all highlights – but when the client listens and sometimes has to make significant adjustments to the planting schedule, you drive away knowing this garden will bring endless joy and live long.

What are some of the challenges facing wholesale nurseries these days?

Water shortages are a huge challenge. This forces suburban nurseries to use town water when their dams run dry. This can run into thousands of dollars a day. No water forces rural nurseries like ours to cut losses on certain stock and stop watering sections, hoping that you can resurrect at least some of the stock when it rains. Hail can also damage stock; a dragon tree can take four years to recover serious hail damage. Wind can rat the leaves of large plants like strelitzia nicoli and dries the soil out quicker than a hot, sunny day.

Where can we find out more information?

We are open by appointment to landscapers and large quantity buyers. Please call 0476 796 579, so we know you’re coming.
Newcastle Flower Markets, retail outlet at 1 Rural Drive, Sandgate. 
Or visit our Instagram @wegrowplants.

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