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A Rotorua plant centre has been transformed into a drive-through shopping experience as it works to keep itself open despite restrictions.

The Palmers Garden World parking lot has been split into two lanes by 50 pallets and trolleys filled with plants on display for customers with an aisle for staff.

Staff are kitted out in masks and gloves and follow along.

"[Customers] just tell us what they want and we put it in their car, we're like their personal shopper," owner Darryl Pierce said.

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Palmers Garden World owner Darryl Pierce in their drive-through centre. Photo / Andrew Warner
Palmers Garden World owner Darryl Pierce in their drive-through centre. Photo / Andrew Warner

He got together with another Palmers owner in Wellington who he trained with when they were 20 and they brainstormed how they could re-open in level 3.

"We saw you were allowed to have drive-throughs ... and we realised we could make a drive-through garden centre."

Pierce said this allowed customers to see exactly what they were getting which was helpful as plants could vary a lot.

"Actually physically seeing it makes it a lot easier to choose ... It's been a real hit."

When staff were allowed back last week, 400 online orders needed to be processed and the first nine days were financially comparable to the same time last year, Pierce said.

This was all new to them, and the initial demand had helped the business breathe as click and collect alone would make it "extremely hard" to keep going.

All 15 staff have been able to keep their jobs.

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Vegetables, potting mixes and compost have been in the highest demand but the initial rush has now tapered.

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While the nursery doors were closed during lockdown, Pierce had been living onsite and has not had a day off since March 11, working to keep his business and staff in work.

Many of the days in lockdown had been "depressing" as he filled up skips with plants that needed to be thrown away, giving away plants and 90kg of feijoas, which would normally be sold.

"It's been extremely expensive for us ... we've just got to grin and bear it," he said.

He said the support from the community and comments from customers "really made a difference".

Palmers Garden World owner Darryl Pierce in their drive-through centre. Photo / Andrew Warner
Palmers Garden World owner Darryl Pierce in their drive-through centre. Photo / Andrew Warner

"They say they've come down just to support us. People don't realise what that really means to local businesses right now."

A range of plants had been put out specifically for Mother's Day but Pierce feared many would not be sold.

"I really don't know what's going to happen for Mother's Day."

Ideas for mothers day

Pierce recommended a flowering house plant which was relatively low maintenance but could brighten up the house or living area.

Allergies? Most house plants don't affect allergies but opt for a non-flowering plant or foliage to be on the safe side.

As well as specific arrangements set up for gifts, there was a big range, including rare and popular plants.

Fruit salad plants, philodendrons, string of pearls, African violets and flowering orchards - to name a few.