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Life can be fraught with grey areas, especially when it comes to ‘doing the right thing’.

Each decision we make can be weighed against a range of factors, and for every perceived plus, there always seems to be a corresponding negative, somewhere along the line..

When it comes to putting (non-invasive) plants in the ground however, there is a blessed absence of murkiness.

Flowers to feed the bees or to pick for friends, vegetables and fruit to feed ourselves, trees to help us breathe easier, give us shelter, prevent erosion and cool the planet.

Lisa and Nik House are the “New Owners Of Touchstone Garden Centre”, that is, they took over the business two years ago now. But Gisborne being the sort of place that it is, they still find themselves welcoming new faces every week, and say they’re happy to be in a position to help younger generations locate, or nurture their green fingers into being.

While it’s been a crazy few years for local business owners, with so many challenges to their mere survival, Nik and Lisa note that both the Covid pandemic and the recent cyclones have precipitated a real comeback for the home garden.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in people planting edibles, from seedlings through to fruit trees” notes Nick. As people realised that our country’s food basket was decimated virtually overnight in Cyclone Gabrielle, domestic suppliers have experienced unprecedented sales as people sought to get vegetables in the ground in preparation for even crazier prices at the supermarkets.

Which makes excellent sense. You can pick up a pack of six cauliflower seedlings for about $4.99 from a garden centre, while a cauli from the supermarket will set you back a treacherous 8 bucks or so.

Lisa and Nick’s own home garden is entirely edible. Lisa says that for her, she gets her true joy in gardening from the harvest; the food that ends up on the table, that they then get to enjoy.

Their home garden also features a lot of pots and Lisa shares a pot formula that a customer once shared and which has become a blueprint for her own potted garden. That is, every pot needs a thriller, a filler and a spiller.

The ‘thriller’ being the main event - think a blueberry bush or dwarf fruit tree. The ‘filler’ might be a layer of annuals, flowers that will attract the pollinators, and the ‘spiller’ is the ground cover, which provides a mulch to keep the weeds at bay. Lisa suggests something like a cascading Rosemary plant, which not only looks good and keeps the weeds at bay, but also provides another edible in your pot and some joy for the bees.

They’re quite passionate about the potted garden, which allows you to grow your own food even if you are renting or nomadic. Pots can be anything from a bucket with drainage holes poked in the bottom to a beautiful ceramic pot, of which Touchstone have an impressive range. As we discussed the strange summer we’ve had, and the effect it had on the growing season, with many fruit trees just not fruiting, they noted that the dwarf varieties in their own garden had done a lot better than the full sized versions, both in pots and in the ground.

Nik and Lisa themselves have led rather nomadic lives since meeting in Rotorua a few moons back, and they’ve packed a lot in since then, including a couple of degrees (teaching and accounting respectively), four children, a good few moves with house and garden renovations thrown in the mix.

Nik got his first school principal role at Matawai School, where they are grateful to have been able to live the rural life for five years. Matawai was followed by Tauranga, which turned from a sleepy town to a miniature Auckland in the seven years that they lived there. They were ready to get back to Gizzy.

Nik was the school principal at Awapuni School and Lisa was working at BDO when the pair lost family members within a short space of time. They had often talked about embarking on a venture together, “you spend most of your lives working, rather than with your favourite person” Lisa says. The passing of the family members brought an “awareness of the timeline” to the fore. “We thought what are we waiting for? Let’s do something”. They were driving home from a visit out of town when they saw the For Sale sign outside Touchstone and six months later they had taken the business over.

Lisa is big on sustainability and simplicity and our recent big weather events have given the pair the impetus to move on many of the improvements they had known they wanted to make to the business they inherited but which had been often subsumed by the everyday realities of running a business.

They have installed water tanks, and changed their watering systems to bottom feeding for some of the plants not on the irrigation system. This not only is better for the plants’ root systems but also means that they don’t need to travel into work on their days off during summer to water plants. They are also installing a compost system to make use of the prunings and other green waste. They’ll be able to use that compost to boost the soil when they bag up bare rooted stock that comes in.

The other changes they’ve made relate more to their becoming a part of the Ballance Street Village community. Installing a coffee machine, and the complement of freshly roasted Far East coffee has added vibe and energy to the business as well as their days. There’s nothing like a coffee to sip on while you get down to the nitty gritty on the best variety of plum tree to plant.

The pair are also proud of their beautiful range of gardening accompaniments and accessories. A stunning pair of antique doors are leaned up beside a fabulous array of quality pots in all shapes and sizes. Touchstone is a great place to source interesting pieces of furniture that have lived interesting lives already, for gardening books, and other garden-y gifts - the kinds of things that you’re not likely to find anywhere else in town.

To bring a smile and some vitamin-filled goodness into these rain drenched days, Touchstone and Gizzy Local would like to gift 2 dwarf fruit trees to a couple of lucky Gizzy locals. Email us with your favourite fruit to go into the draw! We'll draw the winners on Wednesday 28 June, 2023.

Thanks Lisa and Nik, so grateful for what you’ve brought to the Ballance Street Village vibe!

Story by Sarah Cleave Photographs by Tom Teutenberg


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