With 2018 rapidly approaching, this is the perfect time to reflect on the past year and set goals for the new year. This is the second post in a two-part series on this topic. To read about my achievements in 2017, please click here. This post will focus on my goals for 2018.
Here are my five main business goals for the new year:
1. Improve the newsletter for Anita’s Garden
One of my main goals for 2018 is to improve the format of my gardening newsletter. I’d like there to be more of a link between my blog and the newsletter, as at the moment I feel that I’m simply reproducing content. I’d also like to shorten the length of the newsletter without sacrificing the breadth and depth of content. At 15-16 pages, I feel that the newsletter in its current format is simply too long and there is a risk that readers may lose interest.
I have received very positive feedback on the content of the newsletter, but one reader commented to me that he wished he was able to view the document on his smartphone. I take all feedback very seriously and started to look into ways to make this possible. I’m a brand ambassador for the on-line New Zealand gardening retailers Awapuni Nurseries and New Zealand Bulbs. The marketing liaison for both businesses is the wonderful Gemma Collier of Collier Maddigan, who I’ve gotten to know really well over the past few months. Gemma writes a regular newsletter for Awapuni called Cultivated News, which is circulated by email. She advised me to look into using Microsoft Publisher for generating my newsletter as opposed to using Microsoft Word, as I have been doing in the past. Publisher is apparently the programme to use for creating newsletters. I had no experience with Publisher, nor did I have it installed on my laptop as the Microsoft Office 2010 package I purchased six years ago didn’t contain that programme. However, a few weeks before Christmas, my cousin Daniel who is an IT guru and heads up the IT department at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) very helpfully installed Office 2016 on my laptop, which includes Publisher! I am having a little play around with the programme at the moment and will see if it is possible to generate a newsletter template which is user-friendly on a smartphone and is an improvement on the old format.
2. Develop my presence on social media
As mentioned in my previous blog post which covers my achievements of 2017, I created social media accounts for Anita’s Garden on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest and Snapchat. Remaining active on social media, in addition to maintaining the garden, propagating plants, running the nursery and the many other activities that form part of my business is admittedly exhausting. However, I firmly believe that social media is the most effective way, both cost-wise and in terms of outreach, to market a business in the 21st century. Of course, this might be a bit different for professional services in sectors such as law. Client confidentiality restricts what you can write about in order to market your business. You can’t exactly tweet about your current cases or transactions! In addition to learning how to use social media, it took me awhile to adjust to being so open about my passion for gardening and share what I have learnt over the years with other gardeners. This is one of the things I love most about my business.
In 2018, I would like to focus on building my Pinterest account. Up until now, I used Pinterest as a personal tool and had a variety of boards on different topics I was interested in. I only re-pinned posts from other people. Now that I have converted my personal Pinterest account to a business one, it dawned upon me that you can actually create pins yourself! This is of course how content on Pinterest is generated. Duh! This is a great way for me to assert myself as a business owner, establish credibility in the marketplace and build my brand. Of course, it takes time but I’ll get there eventually.
3. Get my own domain name
This year, I’d like to get my own domain name for my website. It’s not expensive to do. In fact, I wanted to register my own domain name for Anita’s Garden in the first instance. However, my cousin challenged me to set up a free website first to see if I would actually maintain my blog. I think I’ve proven that I’m committed to blogging regularly based on my track record of posts. Having my own domain name certainly won’t change the quality of the content on my website but will give it a more professional look overall. I hope to make this happen sometime in 2018.
4. Develop Anita’s Garden
As discussed in my previous blog post, in 2017 I added a mini-orchard to the garden. In 2018, I would like to develop our rose garden. At present, we have a collection of 17 standard roses. In the winter, I will be adding 10 standard David Austin varieties to our garden. This is in addition to our two existing David Austin varieties, Sharifa Asma and Winchester Cathedral. I love old-fashioned English roses and am very excited to expand our collection this coming year.
5. Unveil my mystery project!
In 2018, I hope to roll out my brand new venture. I’ve been busy working on something new behind the scenes. As if Anita’s Garden wasn’t enough to keep me busy! As discussed in a previous blog post, I famously always said that owning a business was one of two things I’d never do (the other was to become a politician). I therefore can’t believe that I might launch another start up! As someone who was always very risk-adverse (which is typical of most lawyers), I must say that being a business owner has made me more daring. I’m not afraid to put myself out there. Sometimes, you just have to be bold. As discussed in my last blog post, in 2017, I became a brand ambassador for some leading New Zealand gardening retailers after approaching them directly with a proposal. Sure I was a little nervous about their reaction, but the worst thing they could have said is no.
I’m now preparing to trial an entirely different project in parallel to my existing business. If it takes, it takes. It’s a bit like my philosophy when propagating plants by cuttings. There is a lot of truth to the expression nothing ventured, nothing gained. Are you thinking of launching your own start up like me? In the words of Nike, my favourite spots brand, just do it! So what if it fails (like a lot of start ups do)? Just be super-cautious like me and avoid investing capital! Instead, invest your ideas, time and energy. Even if it isn’t a success, at least you’ve given it a shot and learnt something in the process. Don’t worry if others laugh at you or talk about you behind your back. I have discussed the issue of negativity and put-downs from others at length in a previous blog post. There are some people who will always have something to say, and it will usually be negative. It’s best to avoid these people, or at least try to limit contact with them if you can help it. At least you’re using your time constructively, which is more than can be said for people with nothing better to do but sit back and rejoice in other people’s downfalls. As I have said before, people who use their time so unproductively probably don’t have much of a garden, if that’s any consolation.
With 2018 rapidly approaching, this is the perfect time to reflect on my accomplishments during the past year, as well as set goals for the new year. I have divided this topic into a two-part series of posts: (i) Achievements of 2017; and (ii) Goals for 2018. This post will focus on my achievements in 2017. I will cover my goals for 2018 in a separate post to follow this one.
There are some years where you feel that you haven’t really achieved that much. 2017 definitely hasn’t been one of those years! One of the partners at my previous law firm Bell Gully told me that she is really impressed by how I’ve managed to pack so much into a relatively short space of time. Looking back, I can’t believe what I’ve managed to accomplish. I can only hope that 2018 is even more productive than this year!
Here are what I consider my top five achievements of 2017:
1. I started my own business
In May 2017, I launched my own start up, Anita’s Garden. As discussed in a previous blog post, my business grew organically from a hobby and I left my career as a commercial lawyer to pursue Anita’s Garden full-time.
I spent a two-week holiday at our bach in Tauranga Bay creating a website by myself on Weebly, no mean feat for someone who is completely hopeless with technology! A month later, I began writing a gardening blog that remains active to the present day. Soon afterwards, I set up various social media platforms to help promote my business. I created a Facebook page and set up accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat. In spring, I started writing a gardening newsletter filled with information about what to do around the garden and advice about how to grow different vegetables, flowers and herbs. I am pleased to have a growing database of readers.
In October, I opened my boutique plant nursery to the public and made a range of plants available for sale, including vegetable and flower seedlings I had propagated by seed, herbs, perennials, roses and fruit trees. I also received several requests for mail orders, which I successfully processed and arrived in excellent condition on the overnight courier service.
In addition to retail sales, I have also supplied a number of services to the public. I led my first tour of the garden for a walking group from a local church, conducted a gardening workshop for the children of a law school friend that are being home schooled and supplied flowers for a tangi (funeral) in Northland.
Finally, I discovered Vistaprint, who supply business owners with fantastic marketing materials. I have designed my own business cards, brochures, calendars and t-shirts (which form part of my work uniform).
2. I became a brand ambassador
In addition to setting up my own business, I also became a brand ambassador for a number of leading New Zealand gardening businesses. You can read more about my thoughts on being a brand ambassador in this blog post. Building on our pre-existing relationship over the years since I started gardening, the idea is to work closely with one another and promote each other’s businesses.
3. I finally got a smartphone (and learnt how to use it!)
I actually wanted to put this at the #1 spot! It marks a huge milestone in both my professional and personal life. For years, I have resisted getting a smartphone, much to the chagrin of family and friends, who always complained that they could never reach me. In April 2017, this all changed when I got myself a smartphone. Why did I live in the dark ages for such a long time? The real reason was simply that I felt that I had enough to do each day without the constant interruption of checking a gadget every few minutes because I received an email, text or phone call. In my former career as a lawyer, we were expected to carry a blackberry with us at all times (and respond to it!), including over the weekends and during holidays. I hated seeing that flashing red light notifying me that I had received a message. I could never quite relax in my free time and I vowed that if I ever left the legal profession, I would go completely incommunicado. Sans smartphone, I managed to zone out and accomplished quite a bit over the years, including creating our garden from scratch. However, setting up my own business changed things. All of a sudden, people had to be able to contact me to line up appointments to visit the nursery otherwise I wouldn’t have any customers! I have to admit that my phone is probably my most indispensable business tool. I use it all the time to communicate with customers, take photos of the garden and remain active on my social media accounts, which is essential in order to market my business effectively. Now that I have a smartphone, I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it!
4. Addition of a mini-orchard to Anita’s Garden
2017 was also the year that we started to add fruit trees to Anita’s Garden. Up until this point, the garden contained only roses, vegetables and flowers. In March, two American wwoofers helped me plant a dwarf banana tree called Misi Luki in our garden. In April, I planted eight blueberry plants in containers and planted a further three different Feijoa varieties into the ground. In winter, I planted a range of dwarf deciduous fruit trees in containers, including eight different apple varieties, five different peach varieties and three different nectarine varieties. We also have an apricot tree, a pear tree, two guavas and two fig trees. I also planted a raspberry, a boysenberry, a blackberry and a hybrid berry against our trellis at the back of our house. The raspberry and boysenberry have been cropping prolifically since November. The blueberries and dwarf fruit trees are absolutely laden with fruit, which is very exciting! In October, I planted a dwarf avocado tree called Cleopatra, which is an exciting addition to the market. I can’t wait to start reporting on its progress in years to come. My customers to the plant nursery were so impressed by our mini-orchard and I became inundated with requests for fruit trees. I managed to source two lots of fruit trees which I made available for sale and hope to continue to supply them to customers in future.
Click here to view the entire range of fruit trees in our home garden.
5. We became woofing hosts
Towards the end of January, mum and I hosted our first wwoofers. You can read more about the Wwoof scheme in my previous blog post on this subject. Wwoofers are travellers with working holiday visas that receive accommodation and meals in exchange for some assistance around the garden. The scheme has enabled us to meet some lovely people from all around the world. We really enjoy educating others about organic and sustainable growing practices. We have found that wwoofers have, in turn, taught us a lot about gardening as well.
Set out below are some key points to help you keep your garden looking good all summer long.
Watering the garden
Water early in the morning or in the evening
Water deeply, not superficially
Aim to water the roots, not the leaves
Make sure you water any potted plants really well. They may need doing twice daily as they will dry out quicker than plants in the ground. You’ll know they’ve been adequately watered when you see the water coming out from the drainage holes at the bottom of the containers.
You may want to consider installing irrigation. This can be quite simple or complex, cheap or expensive depending on your garden.
Make sure you get someone to water your garden while you’re on holiday.
What is mulch? Mulch is a layer of material that is spread across the ground. Why do we mulch? Mulch is applied to retain moisture and control weeds. It also adds nutrients to the soil eg pea straw contains nitrogen.
What can you use? Pea straw is my favourite but you can get other kinds of mulch. If you’re using pea straw, wet it down well with the hose so it doesn’t fly away. I have also used Kolush Manuka and Seaweed Garden Mulch, which is exclusive to Palmers Garden Centre. I used this product around our lemon tree and all our standard roses. I have been very impressed by the surge in flowers soon afterwards and highly recommend this product to other gardeners.
Don’t use mulch in areas where you want to sow seeds directly because they won’t germinate through the mulch.
Liquid feeding/slow release
Liquid feeding nourishes plants, helping them grow strong and develop flowers and fruit.
Liquid feed on a weekly basis. You can use any plant food formulated for this purpose. I like Seasol as it is an organic tonic made from seaweed extracts. If you have a big garden, try to get one which you can attach to your hose. Otherwise dilute in a watering can according to the instructions on the back of the bottle. Alternatively, you can use a slow release fertiliser to feed plants. This will keep them going for up to six months.
As your garden produces, continue to pick veggies to encourage the formation of further flowers and fruit. If veggies are left sitting on a plant for too long, it drains their energy and inhibits the development of further fruit. This is particularly true for zucchinis, but applies to eggplants, tomatoes etc.
So far, most of my growing guides for flowers have been for annuals or bulbs/tubers. Over the next few weeks, I would like to cover some of my favourite perennials. In last week’s newsletter, I covered coreopsis. This week, I would like to cover another of my favourite perennials, lavender.
To quickly recap, the difference between annuals and perennials is that annuals will grow, set seed and die after one growing season (meaning that you will have to resow them unless they self-seed freely), whereas perennials stay alive in the ground and will reflower in subsequent seasons. By their nature, perennials are low maintenance plants. I think there’s a place for both annuals and perennials in any garden. Anita’s Garden contains both annuals and perennials. This is the reason that there are normally flowers in the garden year round, which is very important to us.
A perennial that has been in our garden since I started gardening five years ago is lavender. This wonderful plant is extremely hardy and has beautiful purple flowers. But the main reason why lavender will always feature in our garden is because it is a fantastic bee attracting plant. From September onwards, bees are drawn to the garden by our lavender. This greatly assists with the pollination of our fruit trees, which are blossoming at the same time. Our favourite lavender plant is a grafted standard lavender called The Princess, which is in a large container near our front door. It has lovely purple flowers which draws the bees from September through to December. Lavender plants have been a very popular seller in my nursery, which is another reason why I wanted to provide readers with advice about how to grow and care for plants. I hope that this guide will encourage others to give this beautiful, hardy bee magnet perennial a go, too.
Sowing lavender from seed
Lavender can be started from seed. It takes approximately 90 days from the time of the germination of a coreopsis seed until flowering, which isn’t too bad.
Lavender can be started from seed indoors in October or even earlier if you live in a more temperate zone and have a hot house to protect them from the cold. Lavender seeds need warmth in order to germinate. I germinate seeds in punnets filled with seed raising mix from Gardn Gro. I like Gardn Gro’s seed raising mix as it is very fine in texture, enabling seeds to push through the mixture easily as they rise to the surface. I place the punnets inside plastic incubators which you can purchase from garden centres. I then place the incubators on a heat pad indoors and spray plants with water once daily or twice if the seed raising mixture is very dry. If you don’t have a heat pad you can also use your hot water cupboard which will also provide seedlings with a warm environment so they can germinate successfully. At this time of the year, it should be fine to leave your punnets outside to germinate, as the temperatures at night have been becoming warmer.
If you’re planning to grow coreopsis from seed, you’ll find that they come in an impressive array of colours, sizes and heights. Egmont Seeds stock the following varieties: Bandera, Bandera Pink, Dentata, Hidcote and Lavance. To order seeds from the very extensive Egmont Seeds range, visit http://www.egmontseeds.co.nz/.
How to care for lavender seedlings
For new gardeners, those who don’t wish to start their lavender seedlings from seed or if you’ve simply left it too late, plants are available for sale in nurseries from October onwards. Awapuni also sell high quality, large grade lavender seedlings and plants delivered direct to your door. Look out for varieties called Hidcote, Lady, Dentata and Munstead varieties. If you order 7 or more bundles of seedlings or at least 9 established plants, delivery is free.
How to care for lavender plants
Lavender needs at least 6 hours of sunshine per day, so be sure to plant seedlings or plants in the sunniest spot in your garden. Before planting lavender seedlings and plants, take the time to prepare the bed properly so plants receive adequate nutrition. Dig the area over that you wish to plant your seedlings in. Mix plenty of compost and some sheep pellets into the ground. I highly recommend Gardn Gro’s Wonder Nuggets, which are 100% organic and function as an excellent fertiliser. Rake the ground so that it is nice and level. Be sure to water plants every day, preferably early in the morning or in the evening. Liquid feed lavender weekly during spring and early summer to encourage the growth of healthy leaves and the formation of flowers.
As stated above, lavender is a perennial which means that they will reappear in your garden next season. It’s therefore a good idea to give some thought as to where you want to plant them, given that their location in the garden will be permanent.
Remember that lavender can also be propagated by cuttings, so you will be able to increase your stock in future even if you start with just one plant. It’s very easy to do this and a very cheap way to generate more plants as you only need some plastic pots and potting mix. Give it a go. You don’t have much to lose! Cut off pieces from the plant with sharp secateurs and try to take the cuttings on an angle. Dip cuttings in some rooting gel to improve the strike rate. Check cuttings after a few months to see which ones “took” and developed roots. Swap your spare plants with friends so you can share excess and obtain different varieties. After around 4-5 years you may notice that your lavender plants start to get rather woody and need to be replaced. It’s therefore a good idea to think ahead and take cuttings every year so you’ll be able to slip in a replacement for the outgoing plant, which will save you from having to purchase a new one.
Asparagus is the only vegetable that I can think of that is a perennial. All other veggies are annuals, meaning they grow, set seed and die, only for the cycle to resume the following season. Granted, it does take three years until you can start harvesting asparagus spears if grown from seed (you can deduct one year if you purchase one year old crowns such as the ones I’m selling in my plant nursery). But with a little patience, it’s a great long term investment as once established, asparagus will continue to crop for 20+ years. It’s therefore worth putting in the effort to set up the area you want to plant asparagus in properly but once this ground work is done, asparagus requires very little maintenance and can be left undisturbed in the ground. Given how expensive asparagus is in the supermarket, it’s worth considering growing some of your own. It doesn’t take up a lot of space and is very easy to grow. We set up an asparagus bed about five years ago and it’s honestly one of the best things we have done in the garden. Every September and October, we are able to harvest 1-2 bundles of asparagus per week from a relatively small space in our city garden.
Asparagus is rich in fibre and very low in fat. It also contains many vitamins, including vitamin A and C, as well as minerals such as iron. Asparagus can be consumed in a variety of ways. Asparagus always tastes best eaten as soon after harvesting it as possible. My favourite way to eat asparagus is freshly steamed. We don’t add anything to it, not even butter, salt or pepper. It’s simply delicious eaten like this on its own. Asparagus is extremely versatile and can be used in other dishes such as frittata. Chances are you’ve been invited to a party or function where you’ve been asked to bring a plate. You can pretty much guarantee that someone will bring asparagus wraps – spears of asparagus wrapped in buttered bread.
You can expect to pay an average of $3 per bundle in supermarkets in New Zealand during the spring when asparagus is in season. Homegrown asparagus tastes so much fresher, sweeter and tenderer than store bought spears. With the help of this guide, you’ll hopefully be on your way to growing your own asparagus successfully in the garden.
When to sow
As it takes three years until maturity, you can pretty much sow asparagus from seed all year round. I prefer sowing asparagus in the spring so it can develop over the summer. I plant seedlings out in early autumn so they have time to become established before the cold weather sets in.
To soak or not to soak?
Some gardeners prefer to soak hard-coated seeds prior to sowing them, including asparagus, in order to aid germination. Other examples of seeds that gardeners might soak include edible sweet peas, snow peas, ornamental sweet peas, beans, corn and okra. I generally soak asparagus seeds for a few hours prior to sowing them.
If you’re planning to grow asparagus from seed, you’ll find that they come in an impressive array of colours. Traditionally, asparagus is green but it’s also possible to find purple asparagus, which looks quite cool. There are quite a few different varieties on the market in New Zealand, but the one which Egmont Seeds has available is called IC157 F2 Hybrid. This is a proven variety of asparagus that is tolerant to rust. It produces high yields and the spears are large in size. To order seeds from the very extensive Egmont Seeds range, visit http://www.egmontseeds.co.nz/.
Growing asparagus from seed
Asparagus can be started from seed indoors in October or even earlier if you live in a more temperate zone and have a hot house to protect them from the cold. Asparagus seeds need warmth in order to germinate. I germinated seeds in punnets filled with seed raising mix from Gardn Gro. I like Gardn Gro’s seed raising mix as it is very fine in texture, enabling seeds to push through the mixture easily as they rise to the surface. I placed the punnets inside plastic incubators which you can purchase from garden centres. I then placed the incubators on a heat pad indoors and sprayed plants with water once daily or twice if the seed raising mixture was very dry. If you don’t have a heat pad you can also use your hot water cupboard which will also provide seedlings with a warm environment so they can germinate successfully.
From now on, it’s warm enough to simply sow asparagus seeds in punnets filled with seed raising mix and simply leave them outside to germinate naturally.
How to care for asparagus seedlings
For new gardeners, those who don’t wish to start their corn seedlings from seed or if you’ve simply left it too late, plants are available for sale in nurseries from September onwards. Palmers stock asparagus seedlings. Awapuni also sell high quality, large grade asparagus seedlings delivered direct to your door. If you order 7 or more bundles of seedlings, delivery is free. At the moment, Awapuni has the variety Mary Washington in stock.
I also have a variety of asparagus seedlings available for sale in my own plant nursery. I am currently selling one year old green Mary Washington asparagus crowns in punnets of 6 plants for just $2 each. This means that you can knock off one year and they will start cropping in just two years from now! I am also selling purple asparagus seedlings in punnets of 6 plants for $2 each. To reserve yours, please text me on 021 02762091.
How to care for asparagus plants
Be sure to water plants every day while they are still in punnets or seed raising trays, preferably early in the morning or in the evening. In November and December, plants are in their most active growing phase. Liquid feed asparagus weekly to encourage the growth of healthy, strong leaves.
How to prepare an asparagus bed
For the best results, pick a sunny spot in the garden that receives at least six hours of sunshine per day. Make sure that the soil is well drained in the area you are planning on growing asparagus. Add compost, sheep pellets and some general garden fertiliser. Dig into the soil and rake the area so that it is nice and level. Space the plants at least 5 cm apart. To give you an idea of how many plants to put in, from our bed of approximately 20 plants, we are able to harvest 1-2 bundles of asparagus per week when it is in season.
Note that after asparagus has finished cropping the plants go to seed. They send up very tall fern-like foliage which can look untidy, which is why our asparagus bed is at the back of the house where no one but us can see it.
Harvesting your asparagus
The asparagus crowns underground will send up spears each year (even in the first three years, but they will be immature and thus unsuitable for harvesting). Pick spears as they crop up and are large enough to harvest, as this will encourage the growth of further asparagus.
I launched my start up, Anita’s Garden, about six months ago. It’s a good time to look back and reflect on how my business has evolved in that time and discuss my vision for its future. In this series of articles, I will draw on real-life experiences and examples and share a bit more about my journey as a business owner. I’m a very transparent person. In my business dealings, I like everything to be put on the table. I’m also very open to sharing my ideas on how I am running my business, as well as how I think a business ought to be run. As always, there’s a lot of ground I’d like to cover. This is the third post in on this subject. In Part I of this series, the issues that I touched upon were thematic in nature. In Part II of this series, I focussed on some practical matters that pertain to the day-to-day running of the business. In Part III on this subject, I would like to share some thoughts about some broad issues related to running a business.
1. Your most valuable asset as a business owner is goodwill
A business accumulates assets over time. What is an asset? Put simply, an asset is something of value that is used in the course of running the business. I firmly believe that a business’s most valuable asset is its goodwill. In accounting terms, goodwill is an intangible asset, making it difficult to quantify. It sits on the balance sheet of the business and is often overshadowed by tangible assets, which can be converted into cash more easily. The value of goodwill is only realised when it comes to selling a business. What is goodwill? A business doesn’t simply trade on its name. Over time, it develops a reputation. As discussed in a previous post, reputation refers to what a person or business is in fact. Image is what a person or business appears to be. If you are interested, you can read more about my thoughts on the issue of reputation in my Honours seminar paper and dissertation which I wrote as part of my law degree.
I have already become aware of the importance of my reputation as a gardener when I approached some leading businesses in the industry to enquire whether they would be interested in me becoming a brand ambassador and retailer for their products. Many already knew of me and had been following the development of my garden after it was featured in the New Zealand Gardener magazine. This helped me to break into the field (no gardening pun intended) and establish my business.
2. Running a business requires you to draw on many different skills
As discussed in a previous post, in order to run a business successfully, you need to be able to draw on a broad knowledge base and skill set. Having a commerce degree or an MBA may be helpful in understanding how a business operates and how to manage one, but this is only the starting point. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have neither a commerce degree nor an MBA, yet this hasn’t stopped me from creating and running my own start up.
As I was telling one of the partners from my team at Bell Gully, my previous employer, becoming a business owner has brought together so many different threads from my life. The hard work that I have put into different jobs and activities along the way has really paid off. My Bachelor of Arts helped me develop strong writing skills, which are useful for writing my blog and weekly gardening newsletter. My previous experience in retail while I was a university student has helped me run my plant nursery. It also gave me a very good understanding of how a business functions from the bottom up. I sometimes use French when communicating with the wwoofers who stay with us and help around our garden if they come from France. Learning accounting while at secondary school helps with record keeping and the overall management of my business. My knowledge of maths is also quite helpful when making calculations in order to price stock appropriately. Law is central to my business as everything is regulated. I’ve found my legal skills useful in reading terms and conditions attached to trade by suppliers and also in negotiations in the course of my business. To read more about my thoughts on the subject of negotiation, please click here.
3. Be prepared to get your hands dirty as a business owner
A lot of people have asked me why I would leave a good job in a nice office with a panoramic view of Auckland Harbour for one where I have to work hard physically outdoors and get my hands dirty. I have also been told that I should be paying someone to do gardening work rather than being a gardener myself. There are a few things I would like to say in response. When I worked as a lawyer at Freshfields, the firm’s clients were some of the largest companies in Europe. Their core business wasn’t exactly the stuff of glamour and was rooted mainly in secondary industries such as manufacturing. One of the large cases I worked on while I was an associate in the International Arbitration group of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Paris involved a dispute arising from the construction of a nuclear power plant. Even as a lawyer, I spent a lot of time on the actual construction site which isn’t exactly glamorous. Business owners often end up spending a lot of time on the factory floor. It’s good to be on the ground of your own business, even if you can afford to hire staff to help you with day-to-day activities. It helps you to engage with your business more closely as well as identify ways that it can be improved and developed. Don’t forget that some of the world’s most successful empires (and indeed many of New Zealand’s largest companies in the primary sector) were founded upon sheer determination, sweat and labour. The partner I did all of my work for while I was a lawyer at Bell Gully had a client who is one of New Zealand’s largest companies and manufactures whitewear. You can’t own a business like this if you don’t know how a washing machine is designed, manufactured and assembled. You need to spend time on the production line in order to understand your business well, even if you enter a business at a high level as an investor later on.
4. Distinguish yourself from your competitors
In order to succeed in business, you need to distinguish yourself from your competitors. Try to stand out. Be innovative. Find your niche and create a market for your products and services. For me, one of my selling points is my worksite. Most garden centres are located in a physical premise that is specifically fitted out for this purpose. I run my boutique plant nursery from home against the backdrop of our garden. My customers all love wandering around the garden for ideas and inspiration. It’s also really handy as I can refer to our own garden and show customers how to plant what they have purchased into their garden. As a boutique business, I offer a more personal service. Coming around to purchase plants from my nursery is akin to a personal shopping experience, which you wouldn’t find if you went to a large chain or even an independent garden centre. I also take orders on request, so I’m able to supply exotic herbs and veggie seedlings to my customers, many of whom come from countries in Asia such as Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Fiji, India and South Africa. These customers have a hard time sourcing these items for their cuisine from local garden centres who mainly sell run-of-the-mill varieties. It’s gratifying to be able to link people with their culture through the garden and help them re-connect with their roots.
5. Be very clear about the terms of payment
In business, you need to establish an hourly charge out rate for professional services, much like lawyers and other trades. Obviously, retail sales are different because you are selling a product, not a service, but the price of course reflects overheads, including staff salaries. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have experienced some difficulty in developing a fee structure for my business because I didn’t know what I should charge for my services. My business is quite unique and it’s hard to find a comparator to create rates. I also feel really awkward about asking for and accepting money from other people, which is why I’m not really cut out for being in business. Unfortunately, I have learnt the hard way after having a bad experience. I was left with an unpaid account which I have written off as a bad debt. This is partly my fault, but I look at it as a learning curve, much like life itself. It’s not nice to be left feeling that someone has taken advantage of you so I had to pinpoint where I went wrong so I didn’t make the same mistake next time.
So what happened? In a nutshell, some work was done for a friend on a by donation basis. Due to the circumstances surrounding my services and products, as well as the fact that we were friends, I told her that the payment could be made later. It has been more than a month and the payment (whatever it would have been) is still outstanding. As she was a friend, it is awkward asking her for the payment. I had a chat to my cousin, who is a successful engineer with extensive experience working in the telecommunications sector in New Zealand, Italy, Brazil and the USA. He now runs his own business. Nick advised me to put everything in writing beforehand and berated me for not knowing better as I am after all a lawyer! Nick told me to create a pro forma invoice specifying my hourly charge out rate, any overheads, costs of materials and so on and agree the amount with the client beforehand. In cases where work is done on account, for example, landscaping, he recommended that I make a time estimate and ask for an upfront payment prior to commencing work, with the balance to be settled upon completion. This makes perfect sense and I should have done this from the start, but you learn from your mistakes.
As you may recall, on 31 October we received a visit from my friend Aimee Walker and her lovely three children. Aimee lives on the North Shore with her husband Dave and their kids. Aimee and I became friends while we were at law school. Although we stayed in touch over the years, we hadn’t seen each other in 13 years! Aimee recently decided to home school her kids and came to Anita’s Garden for a day of gardening education for Mischa, 11, Isabelle, 9 and Lucas, 2. Together, we compiled a little report that covers what we got up to during the day.
In July of this year our family embarked on a new adventure – homeschooling! We’ve been taking a theme each term and exploring how various subjects and disciplines intersect with it and this term we’ve had nature and the garden as our overarching theme. I wanted the girls to have a greater awareness of their environment and to start thinking about how we could pursue a more self-sustainable lifestyle moving forward. We’ve been dabbling in a bit of bird-watching, keeping a track of the different species that frequent our backyard; beginning to grow some seedlings that we got from New World’s ‘Little Garden’ promotion and have focused our cooking nights on using seasonal produce (once a fortnight the girls make a main and dessert that is connected to our current theme – last term was Italian, nom nom!).
I’ve known Anita since we were at Law School together and had enjoyed seeing her Facebook posts and pictures of what she had started with her garden, so I thought this term presented us with the perfect reason to make a trip across town and check it out for ourselves. I also want the girls to learn from people who are passionate about what they do and their area of specialty because we all know passion is contagious.
As you’ll read, we all instantly knew when we’d arrived at the right property when we saw her thriving and extensive garden. From the moment we arrived, Anita and her Mum were warm and inviting, opening up not only their garden but also their home. The information and activities that Anita had planned for the kids to do had been thoughtfully prepared and it was an incredible opportunity for us to glean from her expertise. We were stunned at the variety of produce that she has been able to grow and can’t wait to go back and see how her mini orchard is going.
What Anita has accomplished at Anita’s Garden is truly inspiring and while most of us will not be able to establish a garden on the same scale, her work gives us a window into what is possible and reminds us that we do not have to dream of moving to the countryside to be able to take steps towards a more sustainable lifestyle. We can start right where we are!
Which is exactly what we’ll be doing – here’s hoping my children have greener thumbs than their mother!
At first I was unsure which garden was Anita’s. To me, they all looked the same. But as we drove further down the street I knew which garden was hers - it was the only garden in the street that was full of colour and flowers… Lots of flowers.
One of the first things Anita did with us, was to take us through the garden. It was so incredible to see the plant nursery, the veggies, and the flowers. We were a bit hungry afterwards so we had lunch (it was delicious!).
It was exciting getting to harvest the veggies, my sister Isabelle and I harvested Kale, Broad Beans, and Silverbeet. I also loved getting to plant the tomato plants. We started by putting some dirt in the bucket then we put in the tomatoes and then we filled up the bucket with more dirt, added some fertiliser and then watered them. I think my brother Lucas enjoyed playing with the watering cans!
I think it would be hard but fun to be a gardener. Weeding the garden would be hard work and if the plants didn’t grow that would be terrible, horrible and NO good. But, it would be fun to be a gardener because you could watch the plants grow, get your hands dirty, and eat the food that you’ve grown!
Recently Mum took Misha and I to Anita’s Garden because we are learning about nature and planting vegetables. When we arrived we knew it was her garden because there were so many different plants on the front lawn.
One of my favourite things was the tour of the garden. I saw lots of beautiful fruits, vegetables and flowers. I thought the flowers were so pretty so I took lots of pictures.
Another one of my favourite things to do was plant tomatoes. The first thing we did to plant the tomatoes was put soil into plastic buckets, then we watered the soil. After that we put the tomato plants into the buckets and then watered the soil again. Then we got a piece of string and a long bamboo stick and tied the tomato plant to the stick so the plant wouldn`t fall over. After we finished planting the tomatoes we did some harvesting. We harvested silverbeet and broad beans - it was so much fun.
When my friend Aimee contacted me and asked if she could bring Mischa and Isabelle around for a day of education at Anita’s Garden, I immediately said yes. Aimee and I attended law school together and though we had not seen each other since graduating from university, we remained in close contact with one another even while I was living and working overseas. It was a fantastic opportunity for us to catch up, as we live on opposite sides of Auckland from each other. Home schooling is becoming increasingly popular in New Zealand. As a lot of you will know, I am a huge fan of education of any nature. I was therefore instantly on board with teaching the girls all about how food is grown and giving them a practical exercise so they could get some hands on experience in the garden.
I hadn’t met Aimee’s children before so we began with some introductions. We then took a detailed tour of the garden. The swan plants were a talking point for us. The girls had already studied the life cycle of the monarch butterfly and really enjoyed looking at the many caterpillars on the plants. Another stopping point was my patch of wildflowers. Everyone (including Lucas) was taken aback by the number of bumble bees drawn to the blue flowers. After our tour, we took a break for lunch, enjoying some fresh produce from the garden. Afterwards, the girls each planted a cherry tomato in a container to take home and look after. We also harvested some vegetables together – broad beans, kale, silverbeet, leeks and celery. There was also plenty of produce from Anita’s Garden and some plants for the Walker family to take home, as you can see from the photo. All in all, everyone had a wonderful day. This is something that I would really like to continue to do in future. I also really hope that Aimee and her family return to Anita’s Garden in autumn, so the girls can see how the garden has evolved and learn more about the harvesting process. I will follow up with another report later in the season which covers their next visit.
Okra (also known as Ladies’ Fingers or bhindi) is one of my favourite Indian vegetables. The origin of okra is contested, but it comes from Africa and South East Asia. While a little more challenging to grow in New Zealand’s more temperate climate, it is nonetheless possible to grow okra successfully, at least in the Auckland region and further north.
Okra is traditionally green, but it is also possible to find the seeds for burgundy and orange okra in New Zealand. Homegrown okra tastes so much more tender and fresher than imported okra, which can sometimes be quite tough, not to mention expensive. Okra is a very versatile vegetable. It is highly prized in Asian cuisine and makes a wonderful addition to curries. It is also used in gumbo (a type of stew) in the southern states of the USA. We enjoy it cooked in a pot with a little onion, chilli and turmeric. It doesn’t take long to cook and is so delicious! We like having okra as an accompaniment to dahl and curries.
The main trick is to not sow okra too early in the season. My other tip is to try growing okra in containers if like me, you don’t have luck growing okra in the ground. I hope that with the help of information in this guide, you’ll be able to grow some of your own successfully this season.
In my experience, okra should be started undercover in mid-November and no earlier. Don’t forget that okra is a subtropical vegetable that performs best in really hot weather. While it’s natural to want a head start on the season, my advice is to not be in a rush to sow okra seeds and plant out seedlings. There is often a dramatic difference between day and night time temperatures at this time of the year and the weather can still be quite temperamental. Young seedlings are particularly tender. Once they’ve been hit by a sudden cold snap or exposed to consistently low temperatures, they never really recover. It’s therefore a good idea to wait until mid November to start sowing okra seeds, when temperatures are warmer. This way, the seedlings you plant out in December will be a bit more established and strong enough to survive any setbacks along the way. This might seem very late and many people are simply too impatient to wait, but in my experience okra started any earlier almost always ends up dying at some point simply due to the temperatures being too cool.
Whether you can grow okra successfully or not does depend on where you live. New Zealand’s climate varies dramatically from region to region and I do have to remember that not all of my audience lives in Auckland or even New Zealand for that matter. My personal gardening experiences are limited to our urban homestead in the Auckland region, so please take this into account when considering my advice. On the same token, what grows well in my environment may not necessarily thrive in your own microclimate. In my opinion, it is possible to grow okra successfully in Auckland and north of Auckland. It may be possible to grow okra successfully in other parts of New Zealand, in certain parts with the help of a glasshouse.
Sowing okra from seed
Now is the perfect time to sow okra. It can be hard to find okra seedlings at the garden centre, so why not try growing okra from seed? It’s very easy, provided you sow seeds when it’s warmer. Okra germinates relatively quickly, so it will only take about 10 days to two weeks until your plants reach a stage where they’re large enough to transplant outside, either in the ground or in pots.
As okra seeds have a very hard coat, I find it helpful to soak seeds for a few hours prior to sowing. This improves the rate of germination.
Even in November, I still raise okra seedlings undercover to protect them from fluctuating night time temperatures. Okra seeds need warmth in order to germinate. I germinate seeds in punnets filled with seed raising mix from Gardn Gro. I like Gardn Gro’s seed raising mix as it is very fine in texture, enabling seeds to push through the mixture easily as they rise to the surface. I place the punnets inside plastic incubators which you can purchase from garden centres. I then place the incubators on a heat pad indoors and spray plants with water once daily or twice if the seed raising mixture is very dry. If you don’t have a heat pad you can also use your hot water cupboard which will also provide seedlings with a warm environment so they can germinate successfully.
If you’re planning to grow okra from seed, you’ll find that they come in range of colours. Egmont Seeds have two varieties, Burgundy and Emerald Green. I’ve grown both of them in the past, with great results. To order seeds from the very extensive Egmont Seeds range, visit http://www.egmontseeds.co.nz/.
I have green okra in my nursery at present and am selling punnets of six seedlings for just $2 each.
How to care for okra plants
Being sub-tropical, okra needs at least 6 hours of sunshine per day, so be sure to plant seedlings in the sunniest spot in your garden. Before planting okra seedlings, take the time to prepare the bed properly so plants receive adequate nutrition. Dig the area over that you wish to plant your seedlings in. Mix plenty of compost and some sheep pellets into the ground. I highly recommend Gardn Gro’s Wonder Nuggets, which are 100% organic and function as an excellent fertiliser. Rake the ground so that it is nice and level. Add some tomato fertiliser to each plant’s hole at the time of planting, to give plants a strong start to life and encourage fruiting.
Alternatively, you can grow okra in pots. We grew okra in both the ground and in containers one summer. We found that plants grown in pots were bigger and more fruitful than their counterparts in the ground. The soil temperature in containers is warmer than the ground and black pots will radiate the heat. Pots are also prefect if you’re short on ground space or want to devote the area to crops that need room to spread, such as pumpkins and melons or root crops such as potatoes and kumara, which require depth in order to grow successfully.
Be sure to water plants every day, preferably early in the morning or in the evening. In December, plants are in their most active growing phase. Liquid feed okra plants weekly to encourage the growth of healthy leaves and the formation of flowers, which will develop into fruit.
Pollination of okra
Okra are self-pollinating and do not require the assistance of insects or the wind for pollination, unlike a lot of other summer vegetables.
Harvesting your okra
It can take what seems like forever for your first okra to be ready for picking but be patient! In early summer, it will usually be cooler so it might take awhile for them to grow to full size. You can pick okra at any stage. I prefer to pick them when they are smaller because they are tender and you can stay on top of your harvest. If left on the plant for too long, okra can become tough to chew. Got a glut of okra that you can’t get through all at once? This is quite a nice problem to have! Okra can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 weeks prior to consumption, or you can give some away to family, friends and neighbours.
So far, all of my growing guides for flowers have been for annuals or bulbs/tubers. Over the next few weeks, I would like to cover some of my favourite perennials. The difference between annuals and perennials is that annuals will grow, set seed and die after one growing season (meaning that you will have to resow them unless they self-seed freely), whereas perennials stay alive in the ground and will reflower in subsequent seasons. By their nature, perennials are low maintenance plants. I think there’s a place for both annuals and perennials in any garden. Anita’s Garden contains both annuals and perennials. This is the reason that there are normally flowers in the garden year round, which is very important to us.
A perennial that I only discovered last season is coreopsis. This wonderful yellow flower is so cheerful, easy to grow and once established in your garden, will pop up year after year without you having to worry about resowing or replanting seedlings. The flowers are on long stems so they are perfect for picking and placing in a vase inside, or adding to other floral arrangements. One of our Early Sunrise coreopsis plants is flowering at the moment, so it seemed like a good time to write a blog post about how to grow them. I hope that this guide will encourage others to give this beautiful, hardy plant a go, too.
Sowing coreopsis from seed
Coreopsis can be started from seed. It takes approximately 100 days from the time of the germination of a coreopsis seed until flowering, which isn’t too bad.
Coreopsis can be started from seed indoors in October or even earlier if you live in a more temperate zone and have a hot house to protect them from the cold. Coreopsis seeds need warmth in order to germinate. I germinate seeds in punnets filled with seed raising mix from Gardn Gro. I like Gardn Gro’s seed raising mix as it is very fine in texture, enabling seeds to push through the mixture easily as they rise to the surface. I place the punnets inside plastic incubators which you can purchase from garden centres. I then place the incubators on a heat pad indoors and spray plants with water once daily or twice if the seed raising mixture is very dry. If you don’t have a heat pad you can also use your hot water cupboard which will also provide seedlings with a warm environment so they can germinate successfully.
How to care for coreopsis seedlings
For new gardeners, those who don’t wish to start their coreopsis seedlings from seed or if you’ve simply left it too late, plants are available for sale in nurseries from October onwards. Awapuni also sell high quality, large grade coreopsis seedlings and plants delivered direct to your door. Look out for Amulet, Early Sunrise, Rising Sun and Sunburst varieties. If you order 7 or more bundles of seedlings or at least 9 established plants, delivery is free.
I am also selling established coreopsis plants in my nursery this year. I have ten each of the varieties Early Sunrise and Rising Sun. Each plant is a very large grade and comes in a potting bag, so it’s ready to plant straight into your garden. The plants are actually in flower at the moment and they look lovely! They are just $5 each. Please text me on 021 02762091 if you are interested in purchasing plants. Please specify which variety you would like and how many plants you require.
If you’re planning to grow coreopsis from seed, you’ll find that they come in an impressive array of colours, sizes and heights. Egmont Seeds have a variety called Sunfire, which has received the Fleuroselect Quality Mark, widely recognised by gardeners and professional growers worldwide. To order seeds from the very extensive Egmont Seeds range, visit http://www.egmontseeds.co.nz/.
How to care for coreopsis plants
Coreopsis need at least 6 hours of sunshine per day, so be sure to plant seedlings or plants in the sunniest spot in your garden. Before planting coreopsis seedlings, take the time to prepare the bed properly so plants receive adequate nutrition. Dig the area over that you wish to plant your seedlings in. Mix plenty of compost and some sheep pellets into the ground. I highly recommend Gardn Gro’s Wonder Nuggets, which are 100% organic and function as an excellent fertiliser. Rake the ground so that it is nice and level. Be sure to water plants every day, preferably early in the morning or in the evening. Liquid feed coreopsis weekly to encourage the growth of healthy leaves and the formation of flowers.
As stated above, coreopsis is a perennial which means that they will reappear in your garden next season. It’s therefore a good idea to give some thought as to where you want to plant them, given that their location in the garden will be permanent.
Planted out your summer garden but unsure about how to take care of your precious plants? Want to make sure you get the most out of the money, time and effort spent on your summer garden? Come along to a workshop at Anita’s Garden and learn about how to look after your plants so that they thrive this summer!
The duration of the workshop is one hour.
Saturday 2nd December 2pm
Sunday 3rd December 2 pm
Location: Anita’s Garden, Papatoetoe, Manukau.
Spaces are limited. There is a cover charge of $10 per person.
To register, please text me on 021 02762091 or email me at email@example.com.