Bloomin’ Mother’s Day

Roy's mum at work in the nursery's early days. 153777

ROY Schirmer is still as passionate about potting as when he started Karinga Nursery more than 40 years ago.
The Keysborough business sends out about 750,000 plants each year, including 150,000 chrysanthemums for Mother’s Day.
Roy’s mum wasn’t among those to receive one of the blooms – she’s seen more than her fair share over the years.
“Mum’s 90 years old, and she still works with us,” he said.
She was a factory worker when Roy convinced his dad to buy land on Keys Road to grow the business and invited her to join the team.
Family friend Bill Gilchrist, then aged 83, had harnessed an 18-year-old Roy’s passion for potting, inviting him to start a nursery with him in 1973.
“We had a small glasshouse area where we grew some cuttings and shrubs,” he said.
“Then I proceeded with contacting some supermarkets in those days.
“We, after I was there for a couple of years, had some big orders from Kmart and Coles and Woolworths.
“I told my dad we needed to buy some land.
“We bought this land here. We sold our little house in East Bentleigh – we sold the house for $17,000 and bought this for $39,000.
“My dad, he used to work down at the wharf as a supervisor. In the mornings, we potted plants. In the afternoon he would go to work.”
Roy was 21 when they moved onto the Keys Road paddock.
“There were a couple of nurseries closing down. We bought two glasshouses for $50,” he said.
“The glasshouse was one thing, but we needed some plastic igloos.
“We were very short on cash, so we used to buy lengths of pipe and bend them around an old tank and put them in the ground.
“We never had money for wood, so we dug a trench and put the plastic in the ground.
“We never had money for a door, so we wrapped up a piece of plastic around a stick and put it on two three-inch nails.
“We started with nothing but passion.
“I was a little kid at the market with my broken-down truck just selling my little pot-plants in the rain.”
Roy did an apprenticeship at a technical school, but said talking was the key to growing his knowledge to match his passion.
“You learn more from chatting than reading books, almost, and being on-site with people who could show you what to do,” he said.
Roy has a 10-strong team, plus calls in casual workers from the local area to help out during peak seasons.
The nursery spans five acres.
“The size we are, it’s a size that can be managed and we’re happy with that size, as a family unit,” he said.
Karinga specialises in four ‘events’, Roy said, Mother’s Day being the biggest.
“Following that we go to spring where we grow tomatoes and popular shrubs, passionfruit and lavenders,” he said.
“Then Christmas we grow the poinsettia for supermarkets, and then Valentines’ Day pot roses.”
Karinga is one of only two main poinsettia growers in Victoria.
“We sell about 100,000 at Christmas in Victoria and South Australia,” he said.
“It’s a European and American thing.
“In the northern hemisphere, the days are getting shorter approaching Christmas.
“The poinsettia are what we call a short-day plant, which means they initiate their flower buds when the days get shorter.
“But in the southern hemisphere, approaching Christmas the days are getting longer.
“We need to completely manipulate the environment by having artificially extended days, extended lights, when they’re planted, and then we have blackout screens to shorten the day length.
“I like all crops, and the challenge of growing crops each year and getting the plants as perfect as you can.”