Wallis’s Nursery Ltd

Passion for plants grows into multi-faceted business

  • Wallis's Nursery

    Clive Wallis's nursery business is blooming.

Clive Wallis of Wallis’s Nursery Ltd in Mosgiel has never been afraid to make changes. In fact, keeping one step ahead and an ability to dream big, is part of the secret of his success.

He grew up around the family business that his father Ces established in 1945, and when he left school he started his career there. “We had a retail outlet for the garden centre in Dunedin, as well as the open ground nursery in Mosgiel. I remember the whole family picking hyacinths and roses at the weekends to sell in our shop in the city centre.”

In the 1970s, Clive and his brother John concentrated on making Wallis’s nursery into a wholesale container nursery. It was a new trend and enabled them to grow plants and sell all year round.

Like all healthy, living things the Wallis’s Nursery has grown upwards and outwards. While the wholesale division that Clive and his wife Linda took over from Clive’s family 20 years ago is still going strong, there is a whole lot more on offer.

Along the way, Clive has relied on sound business advice from Barry Clarke at Markhams Clarke Craw. “Barry has always been very supportive. We have a great relationship that goes back to my father’s time. He really understands our business and I keep him in the loop with everything.

“A few years ago, Barry and I could see signs that the garden industry was slowing down; gardening used to be the number one leisure activity and it’s now about seven or eight. People would rather go to cafes or out to play golf than spend time in the garden.”

The Wallis’ involvement in establishing a nursery in Shanghai, China was supported by Barry. “He said, ‘if you can overlay New Zealand plants into China with the existing production staff and systems you’ve got in Mosgiel, that will fill the gap and keep the loyal staff employed locally’.”

It was a successful enterprise, but after 11 years Clive decided it was time to pull out because “the locals were quick to copy and produce our plants, and every nursery facility in China, especially Shanghai, were propagating them”.

The highlight of this time was supplying plants and being involved in the roof top garden for the New Zealand pavilion at Expo 2010 Shanghai. “It won a silver medal and my family was there for the opening – it was incredible.”

He credits jeweler Sir Michael Hill with being an influential mentor. “I’ve taken a leaf out of his latest book, ‘Toughen up: What I’ve Learned About Surviving Tough Times’. He says, ‘surround yourself with good people, because you can’t do it yourself’. I have been very fortunate to have the support of my wife Linda (who is a full time primary school Deputy Principal) and son Scott and his wife Lisa, who now live in the original family home on-site.”

Clive is currently redeveloping a nursery in Auckland that, in 2009, was threatened with liquidation. “At Sea View Nursery, I have a loyal and experienced team of 25 and I know this team will get us through. Barry and I are sure that when this current recession ends, having a base in Auckland will be an asset and help speed the recovery of the Mosgiel wholesale division.”

In spite of the industry being at an all time low with a downturn in independent garden centres, Clive Wallis continues to build his garden empire.

“Wal’s Plant Land was a new concept to give the people of Otago an outdoor destination for gardening and pleasure. Linda and I sat down with Barry and drew up plans on a piece of paper and within half an hour we had a draft business plan, presented it to the bank and away we went.

“In the first year, Wal’s Plant Land exceeded our first budget and has surpassed the budgets every year since. I think it has hit a chord with Dunedin people. We are looking forward to our fifth birthday this spring. Last year, Linda, family and friends cooked and gave away over 2,000 sausages. What a great day!”
Wal’s Plant Land and Fun Land in Mosgiel is drawing crowds of customers, eager to spend time in the new Topiary CafĂ©, browse for plants, watch their children ride on the miniature trains or play a round of mini golf. One of the latest additions, Veggie Boys, is also proving popular with value-for-money fresh vegetables and fruit on-site.

A golf driving range, 300m long, has just opened and to come is a seven-hole chip-and-putt practice golf course. Around 5,000 plants are being grown to create a living maze, and an animal park is being planned.

Clive looks for opportunities all the time and describes new developments as being like, “Another branch on Wal’s tree. It will be Wals’ Leisure Land by the time we have added more exciting activities and adventures.”

As Clive’s father-in-law used to say: “If you are not going forward, someone else is passing you.”


Published Spring 2013.

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