Meet Miss Mandy
Strong business instincts and a good dose of serendipity has helped launch a new Bay of Plenty ‘destination experience’ – Miss Mandy’s Flower Emporium.
The pick-your-own flower farm in Pyes Pa is the result of an ‘ah-ha’ moment that Amanda Gilbertson had while sitting in her spa pool and watching the sun rise during lockdown.
“I realised that I didn’t want to go back into the corporate world full time,” she says. “I had started following the ‘Buy New Zealand Made’ Facebook page and I stumbled across Pick a Posy in Waikato. This flower farm had 9000 likes, 450 shares and 1000 comments in the first 12 hours. So my little business brain clicked in... that was a lot of market validation – people really, really wanted to pick their own flowers and they were prepared to travel to do so.”
Suddenly, the 1.4ha property that Amanda had recently bought on Pyes Pa Road with her husband, Roger, had huge potential. Three derelict shade houses (which were once used to grow orchids) were the perfect spot to create a flower farm of her own.
“I did some numbers in my head, showed my husband, and he was really excited! Before that we didn’t really know what to do with this property. We accidentally bought it in late 2019. We were living in Pillans Point but Roger grew up on a farm, and I grew up on an orchard so the idea of having some land really appealed.”
The couple and their two teenage sons quickly set to work. By September 2020 they had installed 120 raised garden beds inside the shade houses, filled them with 20m³ of soil and planted thousands upon thousands of bulbs and seeds.
“We have 2500 calla lilies alongside zinnias, alstroemeria, carnations, sweet peas, snapdragons, salvia, statice, gypsophila… all the good old-fashioned looking flowers. We also have 300 hydrangeas, but I’m going to cut that down to about 150 for next year because they’re quite water intensive.”
The idea is that visitors pay $35 for a bucket (supplied by Amanda), and fill it with whatever flowers they choose to pick. Each bucket can hold between 10-20 stems, providing an affordable option compared to a commercial florist and a fun experience at the same time.
“I’ve had brides come to pick flowers for their wedding, young couples with kids, families, teenagers, grandmas – you name it. I’ve even had local florists visit who just want to pick something for themselves.”
Amanda deliberately kept a narrow focus for her first season in 2020 but plans to expand her offering next summer. “We’re going to plant a whole 20m² of dried flowers and I’m going to plant a field of zinnias for people to walk through. Down the far end will all be sunflowers. Luckily, my husband is an active relaxer and likes getting stuck in. We both like making things, recycling or upcycling and using what we’ve got.”
It seems the universe has been steering Amanda in the direction of a flower farm for quite some time. Much of her jewellery is flower-themed, her wedding dress was encrusted with flowers, and a string of chrysanthemums is tattooed right across her upper back. “I’m a huge believer in serendipity,” she admits. Her parents once owned a tree nursery in the Hawke’s Bay. “They think it’s most amusing I’m now growing things for a living. I’m really enjoying the intellectual side of learning about how seeds grow, how much water they need etc. A lot of it is trial and error to see what can cope in the heat.”
Prior to discovering her green thumb, Amanda had a successful career in science, business and innovation. She has worked with various primary sector industries, universities, crown research institutes and entrepreneurs to commercialise the technology they have developed. She’s also currently on the Board of Trustees at Tauranga Boys’ College and is heavily involved with Tauranga House of Science, having once chaired their board.
Her new venture is a world away from all that, and is also the perfect opportunity to unleash her alter ego ‘Miss Mandy’ – complete with blue hair styled in a 1950s roll. “I’m quite a practical girl but Miss Mandy is frivolous and pretty. She should always at least have earrings on, and a bit of mascara at the bare minimum. She does all the publicity. She’s the one who went to Garden and Arts Festival last year and handed out 1400 cards.”
Miss Mandy is also in demand as a wedding celebrant and Amanda has now set up a micro-wedding venue on site next to her flowers. “I’ve spent my whole career looking forward into the future and I can see that smaller weddings will become more of a trend in the wake of COVID-19.” Her cute venue, complete with vintage light shades, tables and comfy couches, can also host book clubs and coffee groups, and a large nearby shed has been converted into a small shop selling flower seeds, candles and other knick knacks from local supplier.
Miss Mandy’s Flower Emporium will be open either daily or at weekends between December and February each year. “All my friends think I’m living miles away but it’s only a six-minute drive to Tauranga Crossing. I’ve realised so many people are hustling and working hard to make money to basically get what I’ve got – which is the ability to sit in my spa pool overlooking native bush as the sun comes up with tuis flying overhead. It’s paradise!”