Wildflower World

Editor’s note: Publishing this article now may seem “out of step” but wildflower seed can be sown in autumn for a spring display. On with the story …

Harvesting seed from their cottage garden planted an idea with Liz and Geoff Brunsden – one that has blossomed into them owning this country’s largest mail-order plant business.

Geoff and Liz Brunsden have planted wildflowers outside their Tauranga office. Photo: Sandra Simpson

When they bought a home in Te Puke in the early 1980s it came with a hobby apple orchard, which the Brunsdens redeveloped into a cottage and woodland garden they named Windrest Cottage, eventually opening it to the public.

“When we started planting the garden we had no idea we would go as far as we did, in opening it up,” Geoff says. “But it was a garden of passion and taught us so much about what plants were compatible with a cottage garden and the Bay of Plenty climate.”

They quickly found the northern European plants they liked didn’t do so well and turned their attention to the United States, which offers a wider range of species growing in a wider range of climates, although they have never imported a new species into New Zealand.

The couple began to make up their own mixed packets of seed for sale at Windrest –  the beginnings of Wildflower World.

“We have a photo of us packing seeds at our kitchen table,” Liz says, “and I can remember saying that one day we would laugh about it.”

I’ve had a small wildflower garden this summer courtesy of a seed packet gift from a wedding. This is the garden in its early stage. Photo: Sandra Simpson

They visited the National Wildflower Research Centre in Texas in 1997 and spent a month looking at how they might use wildflowers in New Zealand.

The Texas Highway Commission annually plants some 400,000ha of wildflowers beside roads, claiming a reduction in both litter and average speeds.

“I jokingly said on the plane home that it would be a good idea for Transit New Zealand,” Geoff says. “Three years later I finally got the message through.”

Wildflower World has supplied mixes for planting on roadsides and in central medians, mostly around Northland and Auckland, for 10 years, convincing Transit (now the New Zealand Transport Authority) that the flowers would save money on mowing and that people would love them.

Both turned out to be the case and the use of wildflowers is now in NZTA’s national landscaping document, although their use isn’t as widespread as Geoff would like.

“We’ve lost some of our original sites due to road widening and median strips being sealed,” he says. “When I get the time I’d love to sit with NZTA and talk about the use of wildflowers, purple tansy in particular, as carbon scrubbers. There’s so much we still don’t know about the beneficial effects of these plants.”

A monarch butterfly feeds on a coreopsis flower at Te Puna Quarry Park. The butterfly garden there grows wildflowers every year.

They select Wildflower World plants for their non-invasive habits, to provide continuing colour through the growing season and to suit local growing conditions.

Once flowering is over, the plants can simply be mowed and the site made ready for re-seeding. The Brunsdens recommend an annual 50 per cent re-seeding of any wildflower garden, and particularly meadow gardens, mostly because of this country’s strong-growing grasses.

They import some 200kg of seed each year, which doesn’t sound like much until Geoff points out that Linaria maroccana (toadflax) has 15,000 seeds to the gram, or soldier poppy (Papaver rhoea) 7000.

The couple created nine wildflower gardens when the Ellerslie Flower Show was in Auckland sites but now concentrate on retail bulb sales at the Christchurch event.

“Growing a garden that’s 2-and-a-half hours away is pretty tricky,” Liz says. “It meant many, many trips up there – and then most people thought we had just moved the garden in.”

The couple added Kaydees, a mail-order plant company based in Tauranga, to their business in 2006, renaming it GardenPost, and in 2008 moved both businesses to one headquarters in central Tauranga.

Ironically, they often re-export their wildflower mixes to the United States, partly because it’s cheaper for purchasers there.

My little wildflower patch had distinct phases of flowering – this phase saw soldier poppies and cornflowers, among others, flower at the same time. The California poppies flowered for months and have seeded down for spring.

GardenPost has several specialist suppliers around the country, although these growers are “dropping like flies”, Liz says, as they retire or go out of business.

“The big garden centres take bulk lines,” Geoff says, “so you don’t get the variety any more — they have one list for the whole country.”

GardenPost’s suppliers include some cut-flower exporters who are prepared to make bulbs available to gardeners, including a nerine grower in Whakatane and a calla grower in Te Puna, while an Invercargill trust supplies old-fashioned woodland plants. They also have the support of a bulb wholesaler who buys all over the world.

“It’s nice that they don’t perceive making bulbs available to the general public as a conflict,” Geoff says. “They look on us as a market tester — we can tell them within two weeks if something is a goer.

“People are still really interested in anything new and interesting, but it has to be attractive too.’’

Both businesses are located on the same website. For more information phone 928 4517 (Tauranga area) or Freephone 0800 752 686.

This article was originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been edited slightly.

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