Grower of the Month – Monvale Flowers

Driving through the picturesque hills through the back of Silvan are hillsides of berry farms and then there are the blossom trees that line the sheltered 17 acres behind Joe Gregorio and Meaghan Harding’s property. Once a production farm for carrots strawberries and cherry/ lemons, the couple have transformed the run down residence and surrounding land with extensive renovations on the early 1970’s brick house, a shed/cool room and clearing the front of the property to make way for seasonal varieties they can supply their much loved customers.

“We have had a bobcat here for 8 months and luckily have had Joe’s cousin and my Dad here to help us. We all work tirelessly around the clock” Meaghan says. Left to rack and ruin, the couple have uncovered sheds under blackberries and all sorts of interesting paraphernalia, some of which Meaghan has restored and developed into garden art and a water feature. Blossom trees on the property occupy approximately 3 acres and include citrus, cherry (our flower of the month – read more here), almond and stone fruits. Capitalising on the ornamental and fruiting benefits of these established trees has been the basis of providence for the farm which has led to a further 3 acres devoted to Hydrangea, Lilacs, Daphne, Vibernum and Hellebores to round out the seasonality and compliment current cut flower and foliage supply sourced from 25-30 local farms and interstate suppliers (NSW and Queensland).  “The Hellebores and Vibernum is my pet project and I’m really excited about how they are coming along” Joe says.

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Image above: Blossom Trees in full flower at Monvale Flowers Silvan Property

Sustainability and transitioning their farm into a self sufficient, energy saving business is top of mind with proposed solar panels, water tanks and rabbit proof fencing installed to control the rabbit issue humanely. “So far we have done 10 acres of rabbit proof fencing with just 7 to go and we are doing it ourselves to save money for other areas of focus within the business. It’s bloody hard work” Meaghan says.  Joe adds, “We also spend a lot of time mulching to limit our weed spraying.”

This foray into farming comes as a relatively new role for the couple. Despite a huge portion of their lives working in the flower industry, growing varieties is a foreign concept which they have had to learn and apply through trial and error and consulting with farming friends. “We are not farmers, but we are giving it a shot” Joe says.

Joe’s background has been as a wholesale florist with a couple of years spent in concreting (like all good Italians) until he missed the crazy hours and took over Monvale Flowers in 2005 from a sole operator who was winding down for retirement. The mainly foliage based wholesale flower company had already been established for 30 years and part owned by Tesselaar for a period of time. Meaghan had always loved flowers, working in florists and nurseries before buying a Balwyn florist with her sister at the age of 19 and purchasing their second florist in Vermont 5 years later. After selling her shops, she went on to work for Tesselaar in the city, where she reconnected with partner Joe (the couple met through the industry prior), and Melbourne & Suburbs Wholesale Florist servicing customers from country Victoria and NSW retail sourcing flowers for the Wedding market. Her knack for customer service went above and beyond and her development of knowledge for roses and tropicals translated to late hours and a devotion to her customers to move mountains in order to deliver their exact requirements. It’s a philosophy that she has brought to Monvale and has acquired this hard working duo a solid legion of top Melbourne florists who consistently purchase off them throughout the week.

Working at Monvale was never on the radar for Meagan who found herself at a loose end after admitting to suffering from burn out at the fast paced Melbourne & Suburbs Wholesale Florist. “I hung out with Joe helping him out with odd jobs at Monvale and this led to suggesting new ideas for the business and hounding him about stuff and he turned around and said you may as well work here… and he hasn’t got rid of me since”. Meaghan says with a laugh. Joe continued jokingly “She was a bit of a pain in the arse at first but has reshaped the business, our market presence and provided structure and processes that were desperately needed !“

Both Meaghan and Joe have weathered the storm of the fickle flower industry and adjusted the business by monitoring the ebbs and flows, scaling back on staff and focussing on the supply chain as a whole – who they buy off, who buys off them and what product customers want.

“In 2013 we had 5 staff and sold over 6000 bunches/plants per week. This was at a time when competition was low and supply was plentiful. Today it’s more like 3,500 bunches per week plus our plants. We are not as busy, but that’s okay. We concentrate on quality and reliability and not quantity. We stick with the suppliers that share the same belief system”, Meaghan goes on to say “We pride ourselves on all three links in the chain making a profit  – the farms, us and our customers which is why we are not overpriced or under priced and we ALWAYS ensure our flowers and foliage are fresh, seasonal and that we never disappoint our customers”.

Attending the Wholesale Flower market three times a week can often be exhausting but the pair see this as pivotal to their relationships with their buyers and keeping their finger on the pulse with the industry. They predict the flower market move from West Melbourne to Epping will have an inevitable impact on their day to day and has forced them to analyse the business structure by implementing necessary changes. This has meant adding a driveway/pick up zone to their farm for all vehicles buying direct and focussing on key lines rather than bulk, to streamline their offering.

Joe is hopeful the transition to Epping will be a positive one but either way, they are preparing to set up Monvale for long term business gain “We are no experts in farming and still intend for Monvale to be our main focus as we enjoy our business a lot, but the Epping move will certainly challenge us. We love our suppliers and customers and feel so lucky to have such consistent and loyal people to do business with”.

Key Market Trends: Hanging installations, texture, seasonal flowers. Monvale specialise in flowers that have a true season and are not forced, imported or altered.

Take a virtual tour of Monvale’s Cherry Trees Blossommonvalevideo

Monvale Flowers : 0412 750 954

Email: [email protected]

Monvale stand at market: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at Epping Wholesale Flower Market