October 19th, 2020A life-saving project within your back fence
“It feels like coming home,” says John Kent, who was raised on a Darling Downs dairy farm.
“This,” says his partner, Cathy Jacobs, “is another piece of the jigsaw”.
“This” is Spring Hill Nursery and Garden, which has changed hands after three decades.
For John and Cathy it is a place of joy after years of working internationally and interstate. Yet the question remains: why would someone move into a new business in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression?
“We did our research,” she says. “We paused at the first lockdown, but this is the rest of our lives. We wanted the lifestyle but we also did the numbers and found that nurseries are doing okay.
“This is more than just a nursery,” she adds. “It’s a place to come and feel serene.”
To heighten this sense of serenity they are adding a café so visitors can stroll among the plants and gardens, with their handsome espaliered trees, the pears, apples, peaches and blueberries, as well as prolific blackberries.
After the coffee there are plans for a giftware shop showcasing local artists and food producers. Then there is the “grand vision” to involve the community.
In all of this they are eager to pay tribute to the vision of the former owners, Sandy Mitchell and Glenn Boxshall. “Glenn and Sandy built this beautiful place from nothing and we want to honour their legacy by continuing the range and quality,” says Cathy.
Then there is the third member of John and Cathy’s team, their 24-year-old daughter Georgie, a former jillaroo in outback Queensland, now studying horticulture.
Sidling up for a pat is Lola, the seven-year-old collie, trailed by Boo, a Black Russian cat who seems to believe he’s a dog, and Belle, the shop pug.
Back in the outer eastern Melbourne suburb of Ashburton are 17-year-old high school student Charlie and another daughter, Olivia 21.
Cathy and John worked in London for ITN and the BBC respectively. John moved into consulting and major events, taking them to Adelaide, Sydney, Abu Dhabi and Melbourne. Cathy has now swapped her role at ABC News Victoria to concentrate full-time on her love of gardening.
Along the way they lived in Adelaide and Sydney, so at first it’s a bit surprising to learn that they fell in love with Spring Hill Nursery. That is until John talks of a garden as an example of a living work of art.
Here among the “thousands” of rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, roses and seedlings on two acres, or 8000 square metres, they are working on building up native stock.
Their pleasure has been increased by the warmth of the welcome from locals. Such people are easy to spot, apparently, because when a frost-susceptible plant is mentioned, they often respond: “We have a greenhouse.”
They are also skilled at packing seemingly awkward or over-sized plants into vehicles.
Gardeners, says John, are always willing to try something and see what happens. “It’s endlessly fascinating…a life-saving project within your back fence.”
Words: Kevin Childs | Image: David White