As flower nurseries close across the country, a pair of Masterton growers stand tall.
Lansdowne Nursery, founded in 1894, is the sole surviving bedding nursery in the Wellington region and owners Marilyn Hunt and Paul Foster hope quality will win out over a national surge of big-box retail outlets with garden sections.
In the past seven years, the number of big-box retail stores increased 71 per cent while wholesale nurseries fell 28 per cent, according to Commercial Horticulture magazine.
Mrs Hunt and Mr Foster, partners in business and marriage, say while the big guys might control wholesale price and be lowering the quality of flowers, their 3.5ha nursery was taking the high road.
They had doubled the nursery's number of tunnel houses (where the seedlings are grown) and its annual turnover since they bought the business in 1997. Mrs Hunt said their growth was a result of the gap left after the closure of five other bedding nurseries in the Wellington region and their own love for plants.
"Paul and I do all the deliveries and we deal with our customers directly. We see everything that goes out and if it's not up to standard, we're the first to get rid of it," Mrs Hunt said.
The nursery had found a niche filling council flower beds in the lower North Island, from Masterton to Levin, to Palmerston North and the Hutt.
The store's bottom line had also been helped in the past two years by a surge of demand for vegetables - 40 per cent of the 320,000 punnets the nursery sold a year - after people turned to gardening during the recession.
"If anything, the recession has helped us because people stay at home and garden and we also say the 'made in China thing' has helped. People are growing their own vegetables because they want to know where they are coming from and that they haven't been sprayed," said Mrs Hunt.
They'd also had a helping hand from a hot Wairarapa summer in what she called a very weather-dependent business.
But the couple admitted wholesale nurseries and garden centres faced enormous challenges.
"Gardening is a dying art and people just haven't been gardening like they used to. My theory is there's a generation that has missed gardening," Mrs Hunt said.
"A lot of people don't have time to garden," Mr Foster said. "They play golf and socialise and drink lattes, which, to be fair, is probably better than working seven days a week like us," he joked.
The decline of gardening was exacerbated, Mr Foster said, by big-box retail stores, which had the power to "screw over nurseries" by demanding huge quantities of plants at a set price. Those nurseries then cut back on their input and reduced their overall quality.
The couple's greatest weapon in the fight for survival was to grow plants to a high standard, spending huge amounts on special fertiliser made in Matamata. Their other weapon was education - they hosted gardening classes for Lake View School across the road.