Virginia Winder: A tropical haven in New Plymouth
In the middle of New Plymouth is a tropical haven that's growing and growing. Virginia Winder meets a woman living the dream.
If you told Sharolyn Croton a year ago that she'd be growing and selling tropical plants from home, she would have said: "No way."
But now she has Tropical Treasures Taranaki, providing lush indoor and outdoor plants from a city home that looks like an island paradise.
It all began with surfing.
* A long and loyal gardening friendship
* Virginia Winder: Unlocking a garden of discovery
* Virginia Winder: An artist and their garden
* Virginia Winder: Unlocking potential in the garden and the studio
Sharolyn and husband Shane are keen board riders, who have taken island holidays in Hawaii, Fiji and Tahiti, and also lived on Australia's Gold Coast for a couple of years.
In these warm places they fell in love with palms in all their shaggy, dramatic glory.
So when they bought their "1930s beach bach" on Seaview Rd 12 years ago, it was only natural that they planted a few palms. And then a few more.
Then Shane built Sharolyn a shade house on the side of their home and she began growing palms from seed and her green fingered ways just took off. Late last year she put out an honesty box and started selling the surplus.
"I had banana palms coming out my ears; that's why I started doing the roadside."
The money she got went back into potting mix and bags. People kept coming back to her and asking if she had any indoor plants, so she began giving advice.
She already worked at home for the couple's business, Coastline Plastering Taranaki and in In March, Sharolyn opened Tropical Treasures Taranaki
"What drove me was how happy it made people. That's where we came up with the name 'tropical treasures'."
Leaning over the rail of the back deck looking at a garden filled with palms, cycads, bromeliads and aloes and a borrowed landscape sprouting banana palms, ponga, it's easy to feel transported to warmer climes.
Except it's mid-winter in Taranaki.
Sharolyn says this space has its own micro climate, especially in summer. "Out on our deck it gets too hot to walk on."
Today it's still a sun trap, with rays warming our backs as she talks of palms, the rush-tinkle of a stream signalling the back border of the property.
First they planted common varieties – nikau, windmill and queen palms – in a terrace garden. The garden seemed full then, but the palms grew up and at eye level there was just trunks. So they put in cycads and bromeliads for colour.
Then of course, the tropical fans began to spread out. Now their place is luxurious with a wide variety of flowing fronds from kentia, oblongata, walking stick, bangalow, bamboo, dwarf dates, cascade, sugar cane, wedding, jelly, miniature queen, sentry and umbrella palms. Plus more.
They also have fruiting and decorative banana palms. "We are at the stage we should have had fruit but the pukeko scratched them down."
Below the deck is an area that once grew edibles. "This used to be a veggie garden, but it's been taken over by the tropics. I'm the crazy plant lady."
Adding interest to this mostly green garden are taro, clivia, tractor seat ligularia, the mid-height Cordyline "Show Off", which has a purple centre, red hot pokers, colourful gingers, birds of paradise, abutilon and mountain paw paw. "We get lots of fruit. They are beautiful – I have to fight my husband for those."
Spiral aloe provide pleasing forms low down and the tree, Aloe Bainesii, looks slightly prehistoric, which is actually the realm of the many cycads.
"All these varieties of aloes flower so they are a nice addition along with the bromeliads for a lot of tropical colour."
The small Seaview Rd garden looks cohesive because of the common theme of palms and tropical treats but if you examine it closely, there's a lot of everything. "A lot of people like to mass plant but mine is one of this and one of that."
However, Sharolyn does enjoy planting in threes.
"This garden is an example of what can be done and what works."
When people come to Tropical Treasures Taranaki, they often ask: "What does this grow like?"
And she can show them.
Whether planted in pots or straight into the ground, the palms are first given a feed of sheep manure. In spring the whole garden is sprayed with a seaweed solution and many of the potted specimens are given a slow-release fertiliser.
The cycads get special nourishment of their own. Many of these are growing in pots, because cycads like being root confined.
Sharolyn knows her stuff, her knowledge expanding with the garden. "Most of what we know is through growing the species ourselves and knowing what conditions they like."
The Croton couple also belong to the Palm and Cycad Society of New Zealand, she collects their magazines, explores the internet, talks to others with knowledge and also has books on palms to leaf through.
Moving inside, she talks of those plants that thrive in shelter. "The indoor plant thing has really taken off."
These specimens are obviously loving life.
"A lot of palms can be adapted as indoor plants."
The best plants for bedrooms are aloe veras, snake and spider plants and parlour palms, while for the house or office in general, monsteras, rubber plants, peace lilies and some palms do well. "The kentia, worldwide is the most popular indoor plant and they are so adaptable."
She's also extra kind to the "low light" plants. "Give them a holiday by taking them outside on the deck and let them have a little bit of rain and a low light."
As well as growing plants herself, Sharolyn now gets them from wholesalers and nurseries around the country.
"When my deliveries arrive I'm like a child."
People ask her to pot up their purchases and she's even repotted one women's plants.
Outside again, the front wall is painted black creating a dramatic background for lofty queen, kentia and windmill palms. Low down the dwarf date palms, which grow to three metres, are ideal for the home garden.
Delicate sugar cane palms, a large bromeliad filled with water (perfect for a frog), a still flourishing canna lily and air bromeliads tucked into a shaggy palm trunk create a picture of some place with a blue lagoon and fresh fruit cocktails at hand.
On this day, Sharolyn – who nearly cancelled the interview "about 50 times" – is getting ready for a Ladies Expo at the Huirangi Hall on Friday evening, June 30. She's created a feast of plants on a table below mirrors decorated with palms.
But this entire place is a tropical delight – and it's become her life (plus surfing). "I used to think that it would be great to have a job I really love and I have created that."
- Taranaki Daily News