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Commitment to quality

Commitment to quality

Commitment to quality

If you have ever planted an ornamental or native plant bearing the Gardening Solutionz label in your home garden, you have a quality plant from Ambrosia Nurseries near Christchurch.

One of New Zealand’s largest plant suppliers to garden centres nationwide, Greg Kitson, who co-owns Ambrosia Nurseries with his wife Christine, says they set high standards for themselves, aspiring to the best.

“We’re our own toughest critics and have learned that if you’re not using quality plant material for cuttings, you won’t grow a quality plant,” Greg says. “I’d say 80% of your growing is done at that propagation stage.”

Back in the early 1980s, the Kitsons’ nursery business included the manufacture and supply of compost and potting mix to large retail chains. In time, they decided to concentrate on plant propagation and supply as a more sustainable business model. By 2009 they had 20,000 m2 in production, with 6,000 m2 under cover at their Selwyn Road site. In 2020, the operation has doubled in size to 40,000 m2 and includes 10,000 m2 under cover for more than 200 varieties of ornamentals and 100 different perennials.

Specialist seedling suppliers provide certain product lines while the bulk of cuttings for propagation are taken from mother plants onsite. In the peak of spring dispatch, they keep 30 staff busy and as an example of the operation’s scale, 80,000 lavender cuttings were taken in January 2020 alone, with 400,000 lavender cuttings for the whole season. Greg normally travels to the northern hemisphere each year to view and secure new varieties for the New Zealand market. Plant tissue for culture and propagation is only permitted under strict biosecurity standards for accredited nurseries. A large factor in their successful growth has been a commitment to streamlining their production processes with various pieces of specialised equipment from Europe such as the nursery-specific forklift which can pick up 200 potted plants at a time. “Two years ago, we were doing all our dispatch by hand. The first forklift was so successful, we bought another one this year and both units are now busy virtually fulltime.”

Greg says automated potting, grading and dispatch tables have also increased throughput incrementally. “Now we’d be stuck without this equipment and have got to the point where we need to expand again, so that’s a sign of how successful the automation has been for us.”

Like every New Zealand business, COVID-19 impacted Ambrosia Nurseries. “We lost out on a lot of sales during the initial lockdown but caught it up within two months which was quite staggering. The time of year meant that no plant material suffered, everything just grew bigger for another month and we could have three staff onsite each day to water and weed. Garden centre demand continues to be strong with people seemingly spending money on their properties not overseas travel.”

Greg dubs the connection with Fruitfed Supplies an essential service. “We have a lot of respect for Stuart Paull, our Technical Horticultural Representative from the Christchurch branch. He works closely with our production and propagation teams and his professionalism comes through.”

Stuart’s contributions include advise and supply of a range of crop protection products as well as propagation equipment and other nursery-specific products.

Managing Ambrosia’s continued growth is ongoing with attention paid to quality and production timelines. “If you’re growing good plants, there’s no reason to think garden centres can’t sell them.”

An interesting side-note to Ambrosia Nurseries’ large scale operation is their role as the sole retail distributor of the rare and unique Wollemi pine, Wollemia nobilis, fossils of which have been dated to 200 million years ago.

Fossils were all that were known of Wollemi until 1994 when a tree was found in the Wollemi National Park 150 km from Sydney. Most of the Wollemi in New Zealand have been grown in parks and botanic gardens until Greg was able to secure the rights to propagate limited numbers of Wollemi for New Zealanders to plant the historic tree in their own gardens.