Taree’s gardening business continues to grow at 90 – and her 84-year-old owner still enjoys the challenge

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“When the world gets bored and society does not satisfy, there is always the garden.”

This quote, from 19th-century poet Minnie Aumonier, has been featured on a beloved, weathered sign above a nursery in New South Wales for decades.

As if to reinforce the idea that there is “always the garden”, the family business has been operating continuously for 90 years.

It is located in Taree on the north coast of New South Wales, and although it is not as large as it used to be, it survived WWII, the rise of large shopping centers and to many economic ups and downs.

Now 84-year-old Pauline Lee has been involved for almost 50 years and has no plans to get up anytime soon.

“I like having a place to go every day; when your husband is gone you have to get up everyday and do something.”

Where it all started

The business started in the 1930s at Victoria Street, Taree.(Provided: Pauline Lee)

As Ms. Lee stands among rows of potted plants and flowers in an old-fashioned boutique sometimes referred to as “eclectic,” she reflects on her early days in the business.

“I learned everything while running, I just had to come to the party,” she said.

Ms Lee was started in the family business in 1974, after marrying Darrell Lee, who worked there with his family.

A black and white image showing a man in an old-fashioned shop in front of jars of lollipops.
When the company started in the 1930s, it sold fruits, vegetables, flowers and confectionery made by Preston Lee.(Provided: Pauline Lee)
A black and white photo showing an old garden nursery, with plants and an old bicycle in the front.
The nursery moved to its current location just outside of downtown Taree in 1939.(Provided: Pauline Lee)

It was Mr. Lee’s grandmother, Minnie Elizabeth Lee, who opened the store in Taree in 1931 and then handed it over to her son Preston Lee.

In 1932, Preston and his wife Lilian, Darrell’s parents, opened a storefront for the store and ran it as a mixed-use business, selling Preston-made fruits, vegetables, flowers and confectionery and caramel.

Seven years later, they moved to a larger block just outside of downtown, where the store continues to operate as a nursery and florist today.

Ms Lee says the business has become a big part of her life, especially since Darrell passed away in 2008.

“I have a lot of regulars that I know,” she said.

A woman stands with her adult daughter and granddaughter, holding a bouquet of flowers.
Pauline Lee with her daughter and granddaughter, who support the family business.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

Ms Lee’s daughter, Terena Hosgood, joined the company about 35 years ago.

“People will say, ‘You’ve never moved, you still work with your mom,’ but we’ve got along pretty well and I’ve become close to the clients as well,” Ms. Hosgood said.

“I can’t really think of anything other than flowers that I would like to make.”

World War II innovation and hard times

The front of a garden nursery, with an altered sign and quote including the words
The old sign and the quote are very popular with locals, and are now an integral part of the streetscape.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

The company had just moved to its current location at the start of World War II.

Local researcher Janine Roberts said the Lee family were innovative and played an important role during the war.

“They must have grown fruits and vegetables as part of the war effort,” she said.

“Then people could buy on the spot rather than sending for every order and waiting. This innovation is something that customers around the world now take for granted. “

A woman draws up a bouquet of flowers.
Terena Hosgood enjoys being part of the family business and working with flowers.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

Ms Lee said the company had also gone through difficult economic times, including the early 1990s.

“But that was just another challenge.”

Ms Lee said the family had been lucky enough during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have more floral work than we have done in years, because people can’t visit their mother or grandmother, so we just kept going,” she said. .

Plant trends “turn like fashions”

An older woman stands in front of a nursery, between rows of plants.
Pauline Lee says she loves a challenge.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

Ms Lee said plant trends have changed over the years.

“They spin like fads,” Ms. Lee said.

“The first houseplant Darrell gave me was a caladium that I hadn’t seen in a long, long time.

“Ferns are always popular because they look soft and green and make everything cool in the summer.”

A white cladding building surrounded by a garden.
This is one of the buildings from the early 1940s, where Lilian Lee worked to assemble flower arrangements.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

Ms. Lee hopes to continue following the trends for a few years.

“How much longer? That’s a $ 64 question, I don’t know,” she said.

“I don’t really know how long I’ll be able to do this, I’m 84. I don’t think it’s impressive, I just do it.”

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