For the love of lilies

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Flowers are picked before they start to bloom. Picture: RNZ/LEAH TEBBUTT

In the past, Colin Birch would venture down a country lane every week to collect a bunch of lilies for his wife Mary.

Then the couple began looking for a new business venture.

Mary, who worked in governance, and Colin, who owns a separate refrigeration business, were seeking something new in their lives. Then a lily nursery came up for sale.

“We jumped at it, we went and saw them the next day after we heard about it,” Colin says.

“As I’d been buying lilies from the company for years, I knew the owners, so it was really a mutual agreement that we wanted to take it over and they were happy to put it in our hands.”

The original owners started Lilies by Blewden from an asparagus field, nearly 30 years ago.

“They could see that we had the passion to take it on, obviously change things as we want but keep the essence of what we do, which is absolutely first-class lilies,” the couple said.

This was in the middle of 2020. As Colin puts it, it was after the first lockdown when New Zealanders sat smugly thinking life was back to “normal”.

But, of course, New Zealand’s pandemic response was not over yet and what ensued for the couple were rollercoasters and steep learning curves.

“Massive amounts of traditional business disappeared, so it has been challenging,” Colin said.

However, the couple maintains they walked into the venture with eyes open and have since adapted to selling at markets as another form of business.

After their initial down period, Colin could now see the growth begin. It’s given him space to renovate the heating technology used throughout the four greenhouses, across 10 acres.

“It’s an archaic oil burner, that burns about 40 kilos of oil an hour… It’s hideous.”

With refrigeration skills up his sleeve, Colin has opted to use hot water distributed through pipes — not too dissimilar to radiators.

“The benefit we’re going to get out of it is going to be immense, in that the quality of the heat in the greenhouses will be transformative, the quality of the delivery of the heat, transformative, and the change from waste oil, transformative.”

Lilies by Blewden supply their flowers across New Zealand, through wholesalers, New World, and from the gate.

  • Leah Tebbutt is a RNZ reporter/producer. Any views expressed are not of this newspaper.