Atawhai plant nursery is Julia’s favourite place.
“I love coming here,” she says.
It’s where Julia has her vegie garden, and where she works alongside others in the successful nursery.
“I’ve got potatoes, some parsley, I’ve got some cabbages, and I’ve got some snow peas,” she says.
IDEA Services’ Atawhai (meaning “kindness” in Te Reo Māori) has been operating for more than 35 years near New Plymouth.
The nursery has evolved from a contract with the District Council to propagate poplar and willow cuttings to what it is now a commercial nursery, specialising in the propagation and growing of native plants which are sold to the wider community.
There are up to 25 people on the books, some coming once a week, some five times a week. People gather seeds, pot them, repot the seedlings into bags, then propagate them into bigger bags until they’re mature plants.
Taranaki Area Manager Margaret Rangitonga says the variety of work is important.
“You’ve got to have a place where people want to go, that holds interest for them,” Margaret says.
“Whatever you do, you have to keep the interest alive. Being in the nursery, there’s a variety of different jobs to do – and that’s important.
“It’s a very quiet rural setting which suits people with challenges in life.”
Staff encourage people to be the face of the nursery, and serve the customers, which helps develop confidence and social skills as well as giving an understanding of business etiquette.
Julia has done so well at the nursery, she’s gone on to successfully study for NCEA horticulture qualifications.
Team leader Nichola Manning says gaining the Level 1 qualification was an emotional time.
“Julia’s parents came up and we celebrated, she’d never really had that recognition that she’d achieved something,” Nichola says.
The environment successfully works with local high schools in the area, and Margaret cites the example of a young man. On his first visit he wouldn’t get out of the car – now on the days he attends one of his duties is to assist customers by placing their purchases on to a trolley and loading them into customer’s vehicle.
Several people mix their days with other activities in the community such as swimming, shopping, movies, or chilling out with their mates.
People from the nursery have also taken part in community projects including providing and installing plants for display at different District Council events in New Plymouth.