In the green hills of Gippsland, amid the flamboyant colours of the Allambee Flower Farm, the coronavirus pandemic feels a long way distant. It’s how Neil and Quynh O’Sullivan like it; living their family life on a small farm surrounded by the extraordinary beauty of Australia’s native waratahs, proteas, leucadendrons, ericas, banksia and kangaroo paws.
Yet COVID-19 has left its mark on their regional business too. Like many small agricultural enterprises, it has thrived, not died. “Our sales are up 40 per cent in the past year,” says a delighted Neil O’Sullivan, a former aid worker and water expert for the World Bank, Oxfam and the Asian Development Bank, where he met his wife in Vietnam more than 30 years ago.
“It’s because everyone is working from home, sometimes stuck in lockdown. They are sending flowers to their friends and family to cheer them up or as gifts, because they can’t see them. And they are buying more flowers for themselves as well, to brighten up their own homes where they are now spending a lot more time.” So successful has the past year been that expansion is in the air.
The O’Sullivans have just bought a second 20-ha farm down the road leading to Yarragon and Warragul, which they will now be planting out to native flowers too. It will more than double the size of their agricultural venture, and provide easier-to-access rows of flowers than on the original hill farm where all the permanent bushes and trees that bear the flowers are planted on steep terraces, a farming technique borrowed from South-East Asia.
“The demand for native flowers, the trajectory, is definitely upwards; customers like and are asking for native flowers so much more than a decade or two ago when it was all just about roses and carnations,” O’Sullivan says.
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