Even on a blustery winter day, the mountain ablaze with snow, Tropical Treasures looks like an exotic island.
Over the past three years, the property on the outskirts of New Plymouth has been tamed by Shane and Sharolyn Croton.
“There was a log at the entrance dug in there, Tanglewood, and we’ve been unraveling it for three years,” she said.
Now the grounds of Carrington Rd have been transformed into a garden center with tropical plants inside and subtropics outside, as well as the couple’s private garden, which will be open for the first time for the Taranaki Garden Festival on the 29th. October to November 7.
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Along with the celebration of spring, the Taranaki Arts Trail, the two weekends of the Garden Festival, and the Taranaki Sustainable Backyards Trail, open the dates shown in the three-section program.
“We are finding that we can plant a lot in Taranaki,” says Sharolyn.
“If we can grow it here, people can be sure we can grow it at home. “
The passion of the couple in love with surfing for the palm trees and other lush flora stems from the holidays on the island for the heat and the waves. They also lived on Australia’s Gold Coast for a few years before returning to New Zealand.
They bought a 1930s beach bach in 2005 and started planting palm trees, turning the backyard into a subtropical sanctuary on Seaview Rd, New Plymouth.
When Sharolyn had a surplus of bananas she decided to sell them using a roadside honesty crate and it became her hobby.
But as with growing businesses, it has grown too big for their property.
One day Shane, a plasterer, was working in the Carrington Rd area when he spotted a property for sale. He and Sharolyn went for a drive and decided the house and the flat land were “perfect”.
Even the sunny veranda adjoining the house was ideal for the indoor tropical collection; all they had to do was put up some blinds.
But there were risks in moving from the city to the countryside.
They weren’t sure if people would visit Tropical Treasures, which is on the Pukeiti Scenic Drive, and they hoped the plants would bloom in winter temperatures a few degrees cooler than in town.
Their fears have dissipated – both their customers and their factories are flourishing.
“The strangest thing about this is Shane and I’ve never sat down to say let’s grow and sell plants.”
Still, there might have been a clue in their last name.
A croton is an easy-to-grow tropical houseplant with colorful variegated foliage.
“Sometimes when I contacted the plant wholesalers I had a few people ask me, ‘Is that really your last name?’ They think it’s a joke, ”says Sharolyn, sitting in their house.
Their living room is leafy with favorite houseplants. These are the aroids, which include philodendrons, pothos, taros, ZZ plants, and more.
Among these are a feathered Philodendron elegans and Shane’s variegated monstera.
“We almost killed the cutting – it was just a stalk with a knot,” she says of the latter.
They put it in the greenhouse and forgot about it. One day, Shane was weeding and was about to pull it out, when he realized that it was not junk, but the much sought after houseplant.
Sharolyn says Tropical Treasures is known to have hard-to-find plants, especially indoor specimens. She has some simple tips for people who care for houseplants – feed them and don’t overwater or overwater.
“If you have a good, healthy plant, they’re less likely to get sick, just like humans. “
Outdoors, they specialize in cold hard subtropical plants and grow them in gardens for people to see.
They created a hut with grow walls, a bromeliad room, almost finished the jungle room filled with palm trees, have a shed full of pots, and laid out the driveway from the road to the garden. Or in their words, they have “tropified” their place.
On this clear winter day, Shane is working among the subtropical collection, which to some is like visiting a foreign land.
“I’ve been here 10 minutes and haven’t seen anything familiar,” says Simon O’Connor, Stuff photographer.
But Shane thinks the subtropics should be better known. “New Zealand has always been influenced by the English and it’s good to have something different.
He says the plants are also suitable because Aotearoa is a Pacific island nation.
His favorite palms are the rustic Chatham Island nikau and the Kermadec Islands variety.
Next to a giant leaf taro, a staghorn fern grows from the trunk of a maple tree. “Deer horns are getting huge – 8 feet by 12 feet easy,” he says. “They’ll just grow around a tree.”
A staghorn is an epiphyte, that is, a plant that grows on another plant or surface, but is not a parasite. Other epiphytes include air plants, orchids, bromeliads, and other ferns.
During the Garden Festival, Sharolyn will host a workshop on Epic Epiphytes.
“Shane and I are going to collect driftwood and get people to create a living work of art.”
One of the big attractions will be their personal garden, normally not open to the public.
The McCaws visit beautiful Whanganui and discover the joys of Taranaki.
People will be able to walk past a blaze of bromeliads to a floating bridge away from the house. Surrounded by their favorite subtropical treasures, this is where they relax in the warmth.
“At the end of the week, we sit back and soak up all the goodness with a beer,” says Sharolyn. “This is the last place to enjoy the sun at night. We have put a lot of fresh plants here.
A few stars are a philodendron tree, which is “hardy and gets full sun all summer and is frost-resistant in winter” and a huge Australian cycad called Macrozamia communis.
“We used them in the driveway and they get a pounding (from the wind) and they still look good.”
Further on, after two huge prolific feijoa, is the morning garden. Here, two wooden seats are placed on either side of a concrete plinth featuring a circular sun, flanked by subtropical plants, including a collection of palm trees, and supported by a pergola interwoven with various vines.
“We come here on a Sunday morning and sit here with a coffee,” she says.
This sunny spot flows into the nurturing forest, overflowing with kindness. There are citrus fruits, medlars, bananas, jelly palm, tropical guavas, avocados, tamarillos, lemongrass, mountain papayas, sugar cane, a cherimoya, also known as apple cream, and edible gingers used in meals in hot places.
“We both really love Thai food and love Mexican food,” said Sharolyn, walking past a new loop of gardens to be completed before the 34th Garden Festival and back on the public side.
“When people come and enjoy it, I just want to improve it for their next visit. I love to see their faces when they see the new stuff and even the growth since the last time they came.
Tucked away in the lower shops of Carrington St is Dovetail Boutique. This boutique, which receives rave reviews from discerning women, carries a range of clothing labels, as well as baby accessories, gifts and clothing. Open Monday through Saturday at 132 Carrington St, New Plymouth.
Craft Haven is a piece of heaven for arty artists. Describing itself as a one stop craft store, it’s packed with wool, yarn, paper collections, tools, paint, mixed media and everything you need for crochet, knitting, quilting, stamping, card making, scrapbooking and more. Open Tuesday through Saturday at 301 Carrington St, New Plymouth.
Rainforest Eatery is a cafe in Pukeiti Rhododendron Sanctuary. Named for the rainforest hugging the garden, this licensed restaurant uses fresh, seasonal produce to make old favorites from scratch. Open from Friday to Sunday (June – September); every day (September – February); Wednesday to Sunday (March to May) at 2290 Carrington Rd New Plymouth.
This story is published as part of a partnership between the Taranaki Daily News and the TAFT Arts Festival Charitable Foundation.