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Horticulture at Eyebright

Thirty year old Peter in Eyebright first Plantation (February 1987)

Eyebright started on a quarter acre at the back of the Willowgrove Nursery on the Appleby Straight (across the road from Waimea Estates). Mrs Eyebright planted out eighty seedling trays of flowers for drying, then looked for a place to hang and dry the upcoming crop. That ended up being the old cheese factory now known as ‘The Grape Escape’.


When I got tipped out of my government job, I moved straight into the horticulture side of Eyebright. Those were the days when dried flowers were red hot. I leased paddocks and grew a head spinning myriad of types, filled a large shed with racks and filled the racks to overflowing with dried flowers. My dried flower zenith was the mid 1990s when I was supplying ‘The Warehouse’.

Dried flowers then went out of vogue. I was however able to continue producing for years after all the other New Zealand growers called it a day. It was a case of being the last man standing because Eyebright was diversifying. I was then able to continue growing on a reduced scale.


I have never reached absolute zero dried flowers production. If your look towards the ceiling in the shop you will see white clouds of stuff called ‘Tatarica’ and bunches of Burgundy Hydrangeas.

Ten years ago I made my first planting of Christmas Trees. By trial and error, plus mentoring by an experienced grower from another region I have been able to progressively lift the quality of my trees, at the same time lifting people’s expectations. When I took over sole ownership of Eyebright I had to accept that I couldn’t do everything, so offered the growing to one of my previous employees, Edward Durbridge-Hunt. This year all bar thirty trees are at Edward’s dads place. They are still Eyebright trees but rather than my doing or managing all the physical work, that is now Edward’s responsibility. I became the mentor. You still need to purchase your tree tag at Eyebright, but you’ll need to pop down the road to select and then collect your tree.

Over the last two years another previous employee of mine has been growing the Sunflowers, PYO peas, corn and potatoes and the gourds which turn up in the wheelbarrow at our door during late summer to early winter. He has now landed a full time job elsewhere, so yet again they have become my responsibility, something I can handle thanks to capable staff in the shop and a good strong man in the field.

 I supply the majority of sunflowers you see in shops and florists in Nelson.  They are different from the ones that last year filled our front paddock.  The ones you saw from the road are a variety grown for seed production. The flowers will only last about three days in a vase. The variety I grow for florists lasts at least a week. I would love to fill the front paddock with sunflowers again, but sunflowers are a crop you must rotate. This year sweet corn will be gracing that location.

Oct 29, 2014 • Peter Owen

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