There are customers who pop into Garden Elegance on the pretext of asking some inane question about soil quality.
After half an hour of jolly banter with co-owner Sarah Hamer and a wander through the outdoor nursery, touching the leaves of the fiddle leaf figs – and sneaking a hug from a big, friendly lemon-scented gum – they confess in a whisper on the way out: “I really didn’t need anything, I just came in for a bit of therapy.”
Hamer laughs it off and says “Glad to be of help, but thank the plants, they provide the serotonin.”
It’s been happening regularly at her family’s garden centre on Railway Road for four-and-a-half decades where nature is their game and nurturing is their middle name.
Hamer, who grew up surrounded by greenery, understands the power of plants to enhance mental and emotional health.
“People come in here to feel happy,” she says. “They bring their dogs, they bring their sick plants.
It comes down to Mum and Dad. People love them. They’ve been the same since we started. They’ve been invited to weddings and all sorts of family celebrations of customers.”
She was a baby when her parents, Gwen and Richard, bought the business in 1975.
Back then, Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister, John Paul Young was Yesterday’s Hero, The Witch’s Cauldron was serving garlic prawns for $1.50 and everyone had a spider plant and monstera in their garden.
The business has outlived three other Subiaco garden centres and is still going strong, despite competition from the big conglomerates. Hamer puts it down to good old fashioned customer service.
And, she has good news for Boomers who could never quite shake off the 70s.
She says spider plants, monsteras, maidenhair ferns, devil’s ivy and mother-in-law’s tongues – along with pretty cottage gardens – are baaaaack! So gardeners, get ready to plant your plumbago and prepare for the pretty party.
“Subiaco, with its character homes, is one of the best suburbs in which to cultivate a cottage garden,” says Hamer who has formal horticulture qualifications but adds that most of her extensive plant knowledge comes from hands-on experience.
“The iceberg roses, lavender, daisies, rosemary and other herbs complement the tuck pointing and architectural features of old houses. And they attract the insects too, so it’s good for pollination.”
Hamer, who grew up in Duncraig, started working in the business part time as soon as she was old enough and has been involved full-time since 1996, when the centre relocated from just down the road.
She’s seen garden fashions come and go – native, minimalist, formal, tropical, containers, courtyard and country – along with three generations of customers who often pop in to introduce their children, then their grandchildren.
“They often tell me how a particular plant is going and we will remember that plant they bought,” says Hamer, who has also visited many of their homes to help them plan their gardens.
In Subiaco, where she has provided guidance and nurturing to the suburb’s most high profile green thumbs, including sports stars, judges and chefs, container gardens are popular because of the smaller block sizes.
And Hamer is never happier than when she has her hands in the dirt.
“I love coming to work every single day,” she says. “I love being surrounded by plants. If you are feeling a bit crappy the best thing you can do is just go and pot some things up, put your hands in the soil and you will immediately feel better. Or go and hug one of the big trees out the back. If you go down into our shade house, you can sense an immediate change in energy.”
So, if you are feeling in need of a hug, head there’s a lemon scented gum waiting just for you.
Garden Elegance, 150 Railway Road