Couple’s Complete Lifestyle Change Comes Up Zinnias Half A World Away

Nicky Brzeska always yearned for a piece of land, somewhere she could carve out a lifestyle – be in tune with nature.

And five years on from the high-flying corporate life she led as a PR agency executive in East London, that’s exactly what she’s got.

Only her piece of paradise is literally half a world away … up a long drive off a gravel road in rural Te Mata. It’s here that Nicky’s now-thriving flower farm CROP is located, facing back towards a distant Raglan.

“I think we really manifested the dream,” Nicky told the Local Rag as she recalled how hubby Johnny, a geotechnical engineer, used to say that one day they’d open the doors and look out at rolling fields.

Not that they didn’t have a “beautiful English walled garden” of their own at the one-bedroom flat they shared in Hackney with toddler Jack and new baby Finn, now both at Te Mata School.

“But I always had a pull for getting my hands dirty,” Nicky insists. “I knew I wanted to do something outside.”

So they sold up and left with no jobs to go to, envisaging a different lifestyle here in the antipodean country where South African-born Nicky’s parents and brother had settled some years before.

Priced out of Waiheke Island, where they’d looked at buying a year earlier, the couple ventured to Raglan. And Nicky fell in love with the potting shed if not the house – which was in a “complete state of disarray” after years of being rented out – on what is indeed their dream property.

The five-and-a-half acre lifestyle block has views of rolling fields just like Johnny had promised.

So what have they done with all that acreage? It took the biggest mind-shift, Nicky admits, but the couple now have their own sheep and cows grazing in the paddocks.

And across the driveway from the potting shed turned workshop there’s a comparatively “tiny” but very important bit of land for flowers, the zinnias still in bloom a fortnight ago despite it being the off-season.

Nicky loves her workshop and its proximity to the garden. Nice and close for lugging buckets back and forth, she reckons, and a haven from the rain, the sun and sometimes even the kids.

Most importantly, it’s where she puts her dried flower bouquets together. “Everything I grow has a long vase life and can be dried.”

Lockdown last year was no problem. “We were in full bloom here and I would cut and dry for bouquets.” The blooms were so plentiful, in fact, she could spread the love by placing her bouquets in rural bus shelters and friends’ driveways.

Nicky reveals she has Raglan Flower Co to thank for getting started as a grower. She was in awe of the floristry at what was then called Raglan Buds, and asked Kristel Lindfield for a job.

They’d met by chance on a Te Mata School trip to the zoo.

Kristel recognised Nicky’s passion for flowers – along with her planning skills – and had a better idea. “Why don’t you grow for us?” she asked.

The upshot is that Kristel turned up one day with black fabric and cloche, plants, seedlings and dahlia tubers to get Nicky started. “She threw me in the deep end and I was petrified!”

Three years on, however, everything’s indeed come up zinnias if not roses. Nicky now has what she describes as a diversified business model supplying Raglan and Hamilton florists, plus New World in Palmerston North. She also supplies a weekly wholesale flower market in Frankton during the season, which is spring through into summer.

Meanwhile her dried arrangements have become an out-of-season staple. Nicky’s done “consumer pop-ups” mid-winter at Raglan Garden Club, just off SH23 in Nau Mai business park, and more recently has been busy supplying mini bouquets of dried flowers or single blooms for ‘A Taste of Raglan’ gift hampers.

The 44 year old is particularly pleased too at having pulled off her succession planting plan with a mass of colourful blooms that were ready in time for Mother’s Day last month.

As well as being a self-confessed soil geek – often spending more time on the soil than on the flowers themselves, she says – Nicky’s big on research to give her business an edge.

Putting all the old PR management skills to good use, she follows industry trends in Europe “quite closely” and sources unique varieties of seed from overseas.

“It’s quite challenging, I’ve got to be a year ahead,” she insists when it comes to anticipating those trends from, say, muted and blush blooms one year to brights the next.

But what Nicky loves most about CROP Flower Farm is the “mindfulness” that comes with planting seeds, spacing them, looking at their roots and such-like. Hands in the soil stuff, she explains, all the time observing in minute detail the changes in nature. “It’s so grounding.”

She also loves having a job she can fit around her young children. “That’s very important to me.”

The seasonal rhythm of Nicky’s flower farm fits too with another important job she’s taken on. It’s from about now she gets busy each year wearing quite a different hat as Raglan Arts Weekend coordinator.

The role draws on her experience in PR management back in Britain in what, she laughs, now feels a lifetime ago. It’s not only about growing the iconic long weekend event but there are also registrations, sponsorship and grant money to see to.

Nicky will then look forward to being back in the garden, working again with nature. “What a beautiful circle (of life),” she says.

Edith Symes

Happy place: Nicky loves her workshop and its proximity to the garden.

Blooming beautiful: Nicky among her colourful crop of zinnias.