Miss Mandy is who Amanda Gilbertson would be, she says, if she didn’t have a husband or children. And yet Amanda’s own life has become just as exciting as that of her pink-haired, gin-drinking alter ego!
In 2020, for instance, she “accidentally” purchased a lifestyle block in Pyes Pa on the outskirts of Tauranga, along with 2,500 calla lily bulbs and three caravans, and at the tail end of 2020 started Miss Mandy’s Flower Emporium, a pick-your-own flower farm on the outskirts of Tauranga. It’s about as far from Amanda’s previous corporate life as you can get.
“We didn’t move here with a plan,” she says. “The property had been a commercial orchid operation but it was going to cost as much to demolish the sheds as it was to renovate them so we started to think …”
Inspired by a venture she saw online, Amanda prepared a business plan to convince husband Roger. “The Facebook page I saw had 9,000 likes which seemed to me to validate the idea. We’re in a tourism area, not far from town and this combines a lot of our skills. But ‘suck it and see’ is our daily mantra.”
Roger, “an active relaxer”, renovated the buildings, and their two teenage sons provide muscle as needed. “The inputs and learning were in 2020, we took the feedback and reviewed after the season was over in 2021.”
Her parents find her career pivot from corporate to compost more than a bit amusing. “They had Top Trees Nursery in Clive, and were the first to do a mop top, and Mum’s good at marketing. So here I am, at long last, fulfilling my genetic destiny.”
Plants flowering for summer included cosmos, strawflowers, sweet peas, zinnias, hydrangeas, dahlias, snapdragons, alstroemerias and some callas, with a bed of nasturtiums and marigolds for children to enjoy.
Although the property has three rainwater tanks and a stream to draw on, Amanda says a long dry spell in late January and into February of 2021, her first year in business, was tough. “What have I learned? That hydrangeas are water intensive,” she laughs. “We’ll be doing fewer of them in the future.” The ones that stay have had an orchid drip-irrigation system fitted, while the ones that came out have gone into her garden.
“I learned that there are snapdragons that will do well in the heat – unfortunately, they weren’t the ones I planted. We’re quite hot and sheltered so finding out about heat-tolerant snapdragons means I can try again next summer.
“And I have totally fallen in love with zinnias. I didn’t know they were so amazing.”
For the first season everything was grown in raised beds or, for the hydrangeas, in plastic grow bags. Then she had an idea to dig up a grassed area beside a growing shed and plant shorter, pollenless sunflowers in a range of colours.
“Oh yes, I’m going to expand. More perennials and beds of everlasting flowers such as statice, pincushion flowers [Scabiosa] and tall verbena. And I quickly learned to put succession planting into practice.”
Growing everything in a commercial garden mix for her first season gave Amanda time to build up a mulch heap and an informal composting system.
“I learned so much in a year,” she says. “I couldn’t talk about gardening like this when I started.
“I think we’ve missed a generation who know how to grow flowers,” she says. “But I tell people with small sections or with balconies that you can grow cosmos in a pot, dahlias in a pot – you don’t need the space you think. It’s been lovely seeing the joy that wandering flowerbeds and picking a bouquet can bring.”
“If you want perfect flowers in a florist-quality bouquet, this is not the place for you,” Amanda says. “These are garden flowers that you can throw into a vase and enjoy, redoing and replacing them as needed.”
Amanda has trained as a marriage celebrant to host micro-weddings (fewer than 20 people) among the covered flower beds, and a smaller shed is now a gift shop where Amanda’s tapped into her creative side to make jasmine vine wreaths and repurpose vintage embroidery, as well as showcase her range of hand-made crayons, another new business.
“I want everything to be as natural as possible and as local as possible,” says Amanda, who has sourced offcuts of New Zealand wool used in rug making to tie picked flowers.
She would be delighted if others were to use her business as inspiration. “There’s plenty of room in the market and it’s the sort of thing that’s perfect for a woman. We’re all part of a Facebook group and support one another.”
For more information or to book a visit to Miss Mandy’s Flower Emporium see the website. Opening in 2022 is likely to be mid-December.
A shorter version of this piece was first published in NZ Gardener and appears here with permission.