Years ago I discovered by chance a little backyard hobby nursery and that's where we met the friendly old owner, Ralph. You could tell he loved his plants.
At the time we had just purchased our first home and had no idea of what to do in the garden. Ralph offered to come around and give some much needed advise. It was uncanny timing and I felt so lucky. Ralph then promptly delivered the plants and later, on his way home from work, he dropped by with some free lawn seed.
Over the years I visited Ralph irregularly and every time we visited with the boys he would tell them to go and pick a plant for themselves. I credit Ralph with their knowledge of plants and a love for the garden.
Many years have flown by since then, the boys have grown up and now I have two young adopted children and a new house to landscape. We went in search of Ralph's Hillcrest nursery sign and there it was on the corner of River Avenue and Yan Yean Road. It was almost hidden in the sprawling weeds and I wasn't confident he'd still be there.
On the once empty paddocks stood expansive new residences. I meandered up the road dodging a rabbit and there it was. The gate was shut and the sign had seen better days. I rang the mobile number that had been handwritten on the old sign and was greeted happily by Ralph who said "I'll be home in five minutes. Let yourself in."
Ralph explained he had retired some years back had now been in the old house for fifty years. He had obviously spent more time tending the plants because they now occupied most of his large backyard. The pathways were ill-defined but Ralph must have had his own system because he could locate the ideal plant by size, colour, type or any other 'vague' idea about what might be needed by me.
My daughter took an immediate liking to Ralph and told him she got a rabbit for her birthday. To her delight he put his hand in his pocket and gave her all his loose change.
The little kids were thrilled when he said "Go pick a plant for yourself". I had to persuade them not to pick the biggest, most expensive pot, thinking Ralph would make no profit after the discounts he offered. I was later to discover that my $25 Potostrums were $75 at another local nursery.
The beautiful red Japanese Maple Ralph suggested for my feature plant was way too big to transport in the car so he offered to deliver it "no charge, no worries."
As I drove awake I felt like I had rekindled an old friendship. I looked back at the old sign on the rickety gate and thought I should add a couple of words to 'expert advise' – with love and kindness.
After reading your article, we especially drove to Hillcrest Nursery to have the 'Ralph' experience and were so disappointed to realise that he had left the business and the prices had skyrocketed.