Grant Eyre, general manager of Growing Spectrum Nurseries, lives a life surrounded by plants, at work and at home.
Of course, you might expect a nurseryman to have a nice garden. As I wander up the driveway I am suitably impressed. It’s only been a couple of years since Grant and his partner Theo moved to their new country home and started planting.
Already the colour-coordinated flower borders, two to three metres wide, are packed with interesting shrubs and perennials, a tapestry of foliage textures with splashes of late autumn colour set against immaculate sweeping lawns and grandstand views of verdant Waikato pastureland. As the morning mist rises, the volcanic peaks of Kakapuka and Pirongia reveal themselves.
A garden looking this good in May will be magnificent at peak flowering time. I’ll have to invite myself back in spring. But it’s Grants most recent creation that I’ve come to see today. I find him inside his happy place.
When Grant found the inspiration for his greenhouse on Pinterest he thought, “We can build that, but better!” And so they did. The first job was to gather the old timber windows. Searching on Trademe, Grant says he was surprised how many people wanted to get rid of old windows, for free. “They were just glad that someone was coming to take them away.”
The design process that followed was like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. All the windows were meticulously measured and then cut out to scale on pieces of paper. “Once we had our four walls figured out we laid out the actual windows, building a frame around them as we built it up from the ground,” explains Grant. “If that sounds easy, it wasn’t!”
Luckily Grant has friends with skills, so the structure was completed within a few weekends. “I couldn’t have done it without the help of a friend who happens to be a builder, with all the equipment needed to make the job easier.”
Grant decided not to repaint all the window frames, preferring to retain their rustic recycled charm, but the entry door to his pride and joy is painted a welcoming bright red (Resene Pohutukawa). He is delighted both by the looks and the functionality of his greenhouse, which is roughly six by four metres square, dimensions that were determined by the size of the windows. The high stud under a corrugated polycarbonate roof makes the space feel airy and bright with plenty of height for hanging things. Two crystal chandeliers - more treasures sourced on the second hand market - sparkle among the hanging plants.
With a brick floor to trap the suns heat, it’s warm and cosy inside Grant’s greenhouse on a crisp autumn day. There is no need for heaters and ventilation is easily achieved by opening a couple of windows. “Most of the windows still work and have all the brass fittings still attached. When it’s closed up it’s fairly airtight, so it gets quite warm. A couple of the windows have insect mesh over them so can leave them open without the bugs coming in.”
To prevent direct sunlight burning his plants in summer, Grant uses shade cloth as curtains on the inside of the north facing windows. He also makes good use of the shade house that he has built on to the south side of the greenhouse. “In summer I move some of the plants away from the heat out to the shade house.” In September he makes space in the for all the vegetable and flower plants he grows from seed.
A large garden needs lots of plants, especially perennials which Grant is enjoying growing from seed. He doesn’t have heat pads or an automated misting system for his propagation. Unlike the big greenhouses at his workplace he says, “It’s all hands on in here! It’s warm enough not to need heat pads and I enjoy watering by hand.” His precious plants are treated to pure rainwater collected from the greenhouse roof. This is gravity-fed directly into the greenhouse from a couple of tanks he has set up just outside.
His potting bench is a repurposed old stainless steel kitchen sink, perfectly situated to catch the morning sun. Along the southern inside wall of the greenhouse, an strip of ground has been left unpaved growing summer crops. This extends the growing season for crops like tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants. This last summer he grew a great crop of melons, the extra warmth inside his greenhouse meaning he could get the plants off to a strong start well before it was warm enough to plant outside.
Complete with its own little deck and accessible from the house via a paved walkway through the vege garden, this greenhouse is an enviable haven. “It’s far better than I imagined it would be,” says Grant. “It looks great and it’s really useful. I can go and hide out in there on a rainy day and pot plants until the rain stops.”
He relishes the solitude of time spent pottering about in his very own space but will happily share a cuppa on the deck with Theo and the dogs, Angus and George. Theo has his own domain - a large formally laid out vegetable garden, which in peak season provides family and friends with as much as they can eat. But that’s a story for another day.
What are some of your earliest memories of gardening?
I came from a farming family and it was a long way to town so we were fairly self-sufficient from Dad’s large vege garden. Mum had a traditional country garden with lots of shrubs and large perennial borders, beds of annuals and big rose gardens.
What is it about gardening that you find most rewarding?
Mowing the lawns! I love mowing the lawns and doing the edges. It makes everything else look great. And being able to pick flowers to give to people. There’s always something to pick. I’ve never had a large garden before so I’m really enjoying being able to plant lots of perennials and to give everything a try.
What is your biggest gardening challenge?
The dogs! They have no respect for the garden and love to take short cuts through the perennial gardens. I’ve tried to colour co-ordinate the whole garden, so when a yellow Dahlia comes up and flowers red it can be challenge! There ’s been quite a bit of shifting of plants.
Who are the gardeners that most inspire you?
The two favourite woman in my life. My mum! She always had beautiful gardens full of flowers and colour, always with something to pick. My old boss, Carol Fraser. She taught me about ‘structure’ and having art in the garden, and not to be afraid to pull things out and try something different!
Can you describe your dream garden?
Sissinghurst in England! It may be the world’s most famous garden, but it’s everything I like in a big country garden; garden rooms, masses of perennials, structures, and everything colour co-ordinated.
What advice do you have for a beginner gardener?
Give anything a try! Don ’t be afraid of making mistakes. Enjoy the successes and learn from the mistakes. Gardens are very forgiving! Start with good soil and you’ll grow great plants.
What would you say to someone interested in a career in horticulture?
It’s a brilliant career! Go and get some training and get a job in a garden centre or a nursery and you’ll never look back. I have been in this industry for over 40 years and loved every moment of it.
Grant's bespoke built greenhouse has envious views across Waikato pastures
Mesh cloth across windows helps keep bugs out and filters bright afternoon sun
A collection of grey and green succulents with a splash of colour from geraniums and coleus.
Grant enjoys the sunny deck with companions Angus and George
The shadehouse is attached to the south wall of the greenhouse