Delta Gardens

July 2017

A family flower production and retail business in Manawatu.

Flower growers Neville and Sheryl Dickey have created a thriving family business growing and selling flowers direct through two florist shops run by their daughters, Margaret and Suzanne. A canny eye for trends keeps them ahead of the curve. 

In the early 80’s Neville was looking to get out of pharmaceutical research and into a business where he could be his own boss. From an early age he’d had a strong interest in flower growing. As a lad of 12 he’d saved odd jobs money to buy his mother a Christmas Lily for Christmas. This lily became his first success in flower growing – he harvested the seeds and grew many more. 

Fast forward to 1983, and Neville and Sheryl moved to Palmerston North. Initially leasing land, they grew vegetables and set up a vegetable stall to sell their produce. Neville reckons he made more in a month at his stall than in a year in his previous line of work. 

From there they opened a vegetable and fruit shop in town however within a couple of years they could see tides were changing. They had supermarket people coming through photographing their bins and within a year of that, bulk produce and produce bins were introduced to supermarkets. 

They shut up the vegetable shop and realized Neville’s boyhood passion – flower growing. “We can sell more flowers than spuds – people are conscious of spud prices but not so much flowers”. 

This canny ability to assess the markets has served them well. By 2017 they owned 12 hectares of river silt land in Longburn – with 1.5ha in greenhouses. Neville says it is ideal for growing flowers as it is very free draining. The property is well protected from wind and they’ve also got their own water and use a pressure driven irrigation system. 

The majority of their flowers supply their two family-owned florist shops in town, with the excess being picked up by the Palmerston North and Wellington flower markets. 

Initially they set up a ‘bucket shop’. Neville had spotted a property with good parking on a main route to the hospital and knew it was the perfect spot for a flower shop. They supplied bunches of flowers of the same variety that they’d wrap in green paper but soon customers were wanting to mix bunches and then they were asking for different paper and ribbons and so the shop became the first of two, with Margaret and Suzanne becoming self taught florists and taking over the helm of each shop. 

Neville and Sheryl still grow some vegetables and fruit but only to open the property up in December each year for a ‘pick your own’ experience, where families come to harvest their own potatoes, carrots, raspberries and other produce. 

The Dickeys grow over 40 varieties of flowers and associated greenery across four distinct seasons. The aim is to keep the flower shops well stocked year round. In June each year the Dickey’s sit at the kitchen table and draw up the planting plan for the upcoming year “on the back of an envelope” – and in pencil so changes can be made. Despite the casual nature of the note taking, this plan is a careful one that incorporates crop rotation, sets out where the flowers will be planted, and what will be grown across each 13 week season, as well as what new varieties they want to introduce and others they’ll retire. 

Neville now has an archive of 30 years of data. Flowers are dictated by fashion and fads, and Neville reckons they’ve seen most flowers cycle round a couple of times within that 30 years. 

Neville says, “We’re very aware of changing trends and in many ways we set the trends”. For example at the inaugural Ellerslie Flower show in 1994, Neville grew sunflowers on a collaborative plot with Massey University. Sunflowers didn’t figure on the florist shop landscape at that time but quickly took off from there. Today they continue to be popular and the Dickey’s grow them year round. 

Now they’ve introduced blue and white tweedia and are presently the only commercial growers in New Zealand. Tweedia is a popular Japanese wedding flower and has quickly become very popular here. 

How does Neville keep abreast of trends? He say’s he’s the one that whenever there is an overseas wedding in a TV programme or a funeral on the news, he’s looking at the background to see what flowers are in use – a good recipe for predicting trends and surviving the world news! Overseas trips and nursery visits also help them to identify what is coming through.

Suzanne and Margaret are able to feed in from their point of contact with the customers and social media too. 

They buy in a few extras like Adriatic lilies and roses that Neville believes are best left to specialist growers. They have also quickly identified varieties that aren’t economic and these get dropped quickly – such as Lisianthus

Ask what’s popular now (in March 2017) and it’s sunflowers and carnations but Neville points out it changes every 13 weeks as the new season’s flowers come through. 

Neville cautions that it’s not easy growing flowers and getting quality for commercial flowers matters - and that takes hard graft. He works with the adage in mind – “Do it on time, do it right, first time”. Neville and Sheryl work the 12 hectares alone with help from one of the florists who comes in 2 days a week. 

Suzanne and Margaret join their parents on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings for picking and bunching up of the flowers for the shops. 

The plus side of the business is having a home filled with flowers. Visit the Flower Shop to view some of the flowers grown at Delta Gardens: