Victoria Gardens in Motueka is one of those lovely little fruit and vegetable retailers that flies under the radar a little but locals know a good thing when they find one and local support is the backbone of this very successful market garden owned and operated by Peter and Caroline Pomeroy.
I first met the Pomeroy’s (no relation to the coffee brand) when they owned the garden, gift and pet centre behind the service station at Bishopdale in the mid 1990’s.
Peter says he was born in Nelson but was brought up in Bainham where he went to Collingwood area school, Caroline grew up in Richmond and her first job when she left school was learning to be a florist at Brough’s Nursery and Florist in Bridge St.
Peter had always wanted to be a mechanic but after starting an apprenticeship discovered he has an allergy to grease and oil so had to give up that dream and he ended up selling appliances for Tasman Energy in the days they had a retail store in Richmond and that is where he and Caroline first crossed paths.
Having grown up on a farm in Bainham Peter had learned the skills needed to be self-sufficient in the country where you have to know how to grow things and he says “while my retail background means I can sell anything I have always had green fingers and even while we were both working for other people we tried to be as self-sufficient as we could, we have always had a vegetable garden at home.”
In the mid 1990’s they bought the garden centre at Bishopdale and ran that for a number of years but with number one son (Keegan) on the way they decided to close it and Peter went back into retailing appliances at Smith City and Caroline did a bit of part-time floristry.
They ended up back in Golden Bay where number two son (Cody) was born before eventually moving to Ashburton where Caroline worked in a garden and giftware centre and Peter worked for Allied Concrete delivering concrete to places like the Mount Hut ski field.
They returned to Nelson to be closer to family in 2008 and they appear to have put down some pretty solid roots in Motueka where they own Victoria Fruit & Vege on Queen Victoria Street.
When they bought the property it hadn’t been operated as a market garden for seven years so was very neglected and run down; they set about refurbishing the property and this year hope to get the last of the glasshouses up and running properly again.
“Over the years we needed to change the focus of the business a couple of times so the refurbishment of the gardens has taken a bit of a back seat but there is light at the end of the tunnel” Peter says.
They had been growing a lot of the produce they sold themselves but when the Ruby Bay bypass opened and passing traffic went quiet they moved the retail store into the Motueka township to be nearer the traffic, however the split location meant they had less time to grow stuff and that triggered the need to buy more produce in and that in turn gave them the opportunity to diversify into selling meat and bread too.
“It got too hard running both so we sold the shop and went back to growing more produce, we got the focus back on growing and for a few months were selling at a market in Stoke but only did that for a few months because the shop we sold closed up and that gave us another opportunity, this time to reopen in Queen Victoria St, traffic movements had increased again so it had become a viable option again.”
The Pomeroy’s have recently expanded the store and to focus on getting the retail side of the business right they had to make a decision on how they were going to do this and spend time with their boys too so once again they scaled back the growing so they could concentrate on the retail expansion which took about 18 months to work through but this summer Caroline has had one big glass house full of aubergine, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers various herbs all grown using a spray-free regime.
While the growing is still on a relatively small scale for a market garden the volumes of produce that came out of Caroline’s growing operation this year was still quite big and this winter they are putting resources back into growing more off the land, finishing the refurbishment of the gardens and will re-roof the last of the glass houses and get ground under control.
While I was talking with Peter it sounded like the place was still a bit run down but I know they have been doing lots of planting and have a number of highly productive fig trees, stone fruit trees as well as a small grove of young citrus trees, but I think it is quite typical of Peter and Caroline to understate what they are achieving.
Peter says they have always tried to get the balance of work and family life right and owning a small business has given them the flexibility to have time to help coach football and sailing with the kids, it is something they can do while owning a small business and not working for someone else.
But he doesn’t downplay the hard work involved in owning a small business where you are growing things and running a retail shop too, the work-life family balance has been one of the hardest things to manage. “When you work to establish something there are big hours involved but because we live on site we are always around when the boys get home from school.”
And the last word goes to Peter – “This is a great industry, we get to know our customers and they get to know us, we can get information direct from us, the grower, to home cooks with many often asking us how to cook some of the less well known things we sell and we can tell them how the product is grown, it is a more personal experience for the customer.
We just wish some cooking shows and food writers would use seasonal produce when it is actually available – articles need to be written just before the product is ready rather than when the season has finished.”
Find out what is fresh and in season by following them on facebook or at www.victoriagardens.co.nz