By Carl Muir
“Welcome to Grandma’s Old Bach” Greg Pilcher laughs as he welcomes me into talk plants, bees, surfing and collaboration at Tairua’s Garden Shed. Greg has such a laid back cruisy demeanour it feels like things here might just run on Coromandel time. But the more we talk it seems that Greg is busier than the bees buzzing around the bright California poppies at the base of his converted shed.
The Garden Shed is a nursery, garden centre, surfboard repair centre, art space, headquarters for the Tairua Boardriders club and new event venue among other things. “I’d like to think of this space as an open community collaboration” says Greg “it is morphing organically every day as I listen to what people are looking for. I like that a lot.”
Next month the Garden Shed celebrates its first birthday. The project has been a big life change for Greg who last year left a 17 year teaching career, one he says was very fulfilling. “I loved helping others to learn as a teacher. Now it is time for me to do some learning! It has been a bit of a leap of faith, and I am having to learn new skills every day but that is what life is all about. I gave the business ten weeks over last summer to see if there was legs in it, and it certainly felt that way. Now my wife Debbie and I have given it 2 years to turn a profit. Every cent we earn at the moment is getting reinvested to grow the business. It is a bit of an experiment but I like the direction it is taking.”
The grounds of the The Garden Shed are bursting with goodness. Fully grown lettuces grow in wooden pallets converted to lettuce racks. Long lines of tomato plants in buckets take centre stage - each with mobile phone numbers written on them. I ask Greg what that is all about “Well, bach owners can come and buy their tomato seedling in spring, I keep them here, nuture and water them, then they pick it up when they turn up for summer. I quickly saw there is a market for selling fully grown plants that are pretty much ready to eat.” It is little touches like this that are sure to earn the hearts of locals and bach makers alike.
Quirky touches abound around every corner at the Garden Shed and give it that uniquely Coromandel feel. Stained glass sculptures grace the walls of the two converted sheds, filled with quirky beach artwork, surfboards and tie dye clothing. Repurposed homemade outdoor furniture, made out of old pallets and recycled timber are dotted between the rows of various flaxes, shrubs and trees . “Reusing and repurposing is a big part of what we are all about. This site reminds me of the real Coromandel. It is not new, it is not flashy. We converted the existing sheds rather than building new. There is too much rubbish in the world and society seems hellbent on removing plants, trees and even bees from our eco system. On the other hand, we are all about repurposing, recycling, planting more, bringing back the bees, eating well from your own garden and creating less waste.”
“What I love about gardening is that you see the result of your work” Greg not only grows and sells plants but has also branched out into contract landscaping. Asked what motivated the career change into being a green thumb, Greg says “I love having plants around me, it reminds me of being in my Nana’s garden! I grew up in the garden with my grandparents and my mother. They were all avid gardeners. Over the years I have learnt a lot from them and friends with gardens, things like collecting seaweed to help with the nutrient base. You are always learning!”
In the space of our hour talking Greg gets all sorts of people wander in for a look, talk or purchase. Some are in search of goodies for the garden, some just in to pick Greg’s head about the surf “what do you think that bank down the south end will be like today?” A lady called Dalila from a neighbouring day spa pokes her head in to inform Greg the Community Pantry she has just installed outside is now finished. Anyone in the community can drop off excess fruit, veges and food to share with others.
“That is what I love about Tairua.” says Greg “The town has a lot of people with cool ideas, but better still those people aren’t afraid to get stuck in and turn them into fruition. That pioneering spirit is still alive and well. Tairua has a great natural vibe, and the people here maintain that vibe.”
“It is all about supporting other people’s ideas and that gives people ownership of the space.” One of the shed doors has a “customer wishlist” blackboard - as Greg says “if someone asks “can I get this?” I will find a way to find it and stock it. If someone suggests something that might benefit the community, we’ll find a way to do it.”
Surfing is Greg’s main passion and that passion has been incorporated into the Garden Shed with his surfboard repair service. Working with surfboards was his first career - shaping surfboards in Whangamata for 10 years from the age of 18. That led on to studying at university then teachers college and teaching. “What I love about surfing is that every wave is different. You are always challenging yourself to do things better, and part of that is reading the ocean. You don’t have to rely on anyone else other than yourself. The waves teach you to be humble, they can really slap you around if you get it wrong.” Surfing has taken Greg abroad to Fiji, Tahiti, Australia, Samoa and Northern Sumatra. “I love the camaraderie, you can travel to different parts of the world where you don’t speak the same language, but hand gestures and body language are enough to connect, surfing is our language and we get each other..”
“The taro is my favourite plant because I know if I am eating it I am in Samoa, and the hibiscus is my favourite flower. I had a good friend wander in here the other day and said the place reminded her of Samoa, with all the colours. I think that is a good indication we’ve got it right, aye!”
So what other goodness is Greg brewing up? “I’m keen to see the space at the Garden Shed become about enjoying fresh homegrown food as well - a food truck is about to be located on to the site”. And next weekend ‘The Garden Shred’ is set to take place. The team from Oh Boy Taco’s will be on site serving up there famous tacos, as will the team from Kuaotunu brewery ‘Bluebridge brewery’, there will be live music, surf videos and plenty of good vibes, “We put 100 tickets up for sale for the event and it sold out in two days. What an epic response! I’d love to see it become a regular event, maybe even once a month.”
I came away from my time with Greg thinking that what he is up to pretty much encapsulates the term ‘Coromandel Goodness’ to a T. If ever there was a reason to have a party, one year in business doing good things like this is plenty reason enough. We wish them all the best with their event next weekend and a bright future!