It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago. I turned 40.

Each year, my Dad deposits some money in my bank account. It’s a fantastic arrangement. Each year, I try to make that money really count.

It’s a gift, so I try to spend it on gift-y things, especially things I’ve maybe talked myself out of spending money on for one reason or another. It feels different to regular money, it’s bonus money. I’m supposed to be a little frivolous about it.

Making plans

When Richard asked me what I wanted to do leading up to the day, I didn’t really know. I didn’t want a big birthday bash, or anything too fancy, but I did want it to stand out a bit and be more than just a regular ol’ day.

I was pretty unsure about it until the morning of my birthday when I decided we’d do a tour of Kerikeri’s plant stores and have a small shopping spree with Dad’s cash. September is a good time to plant just about anything, so there’s lots of options floating around. And with a rule of ‘if I want it, take it home’, it proved to be quite fun!

Nearby Kerikeri and Waipapa have at least 8 places to purchase plants: Redwoods; Plant Zone Direct; Cottle Hill Nursery; Needful Things; Kerikeri Plant Production (specialist native); plus Bunnings, Mitre 10, and The Warehouse. There’s quite a few private and specialist sellers as well, but those are the main ones.

I frequently joke that we must have the highest number of plant stores per capita in the country. We got to five of them on our tour.

Breakfast and vegetables

We were up at sparrow’s fart and left the house around 8:30am. As we departed, I realised I hadn’t had any breakfast – a possible mistake as this bad habit often leads to me getting grumpy, and that would be a stupid way to spend my birthday.

Two of our garden centers are located next to cafes: Redwoods and Needful Things. Redwoods was closer and opened earlier, so we started in the cafe where I got my favourite savoury muffin, served in a terracotta pot.

Savoury muffin from Redwoods

After breakfast, we walked around. I was really hoping to get a chestnut tree this year, and I knew Redwoods normally stocked them about this time. Unfortunately I was out of luck*.

But I did find a 6-pack of my favourite ‘Marathon’ broccoli; a couple of California wonder capsicums; and a pizza thyme to replace the one that’s died in the herb bed.

Favourite place

Without a doubt, my favourite plant centre near me is Plant Zone Direct. Almost without fail they have a high quality product, the largest selection, and the best prices. I knew before we left the house I’d do most of my spending there. We went there next.

After grabbing a replacement pittosporum for a gap in a hedge, we bumped into an ex-colleague who works there now. As we were chatting, some flowering Metrosideros polymorpha ‘Tahiti’ caught my eye. These are related to pōhutukawa, but form a mid-sized bush with different flowering times. I’ve wanted one for ages, so into the trolley it went.

My friend pointed me at the clearance section and noted it had some good bargains at the moment. She knows I love me some plant rescues, so we headed down there for a nosey. It was spilling over with average-looking plants at great prices.

We found a ‘mystery’ plum – we don’t know what it’s going to be, but it was $20; a large-grade tarata and a kohekohe for $7 each; and a small ‘mystery’ fig for $8.

Then we wandered the trees – again, no chestnut – but we did grab a ‘Redfree’ nectarine. After mangoes, nectarines are probably my second-favourite fruit. We have another nectarine tree in the orchard at the moment, but it didn’t have a pollinator – now it does!

Finally, I decided I wanted a ‘Supertunia’. In Kerikeri, you see these big pots spilling with bright pink petunias in summer. They just thrive. They’re stunning; but they’re hybrid, licensed plants, so the price has always been off-putting to me. Not today! On this day I’m allowed to spend $15 on a petunia, just because it’s pretty.

Richard in the passenger seat, head surrounded by branches

After picking up some seeds and snail bait inside, we paid and loaded the plants into the car. Then we set off for the next place with Richard squeezed between a plum and a nectarine.

Ho hum

We also popped into Cottle Hill Nursery – it’s our newest plant centre and I hadn’t actually been in there before.

The trees were stunning, but very large and would be a struggle to get home in the car. I was awfully tempted by some large-grade Michelia gracipes. I’m lucky enough to work in a large heritage garden and we have one there which has just finished flowering. The scent is heavenly and it hums with bees. But I wasn’t quite sure where I’d put it. I think it’s one I’d like near our house when we build it, so it can wait for another time.

Again, no chestnuts. So we headed out on our way to Needful Things.

At this point I wasn’t remotely surprised to find no chestnuts, so we wondered around. By your fourth garden centre in a day you’re pretty much seeing all the same plants all over again, for a different price.

We didn’t find anything different enough to make a purchase; but I did notice their free-flow seed potatoes are an absolute bargain at $4.95/kg. I’ve already got those sorted for this season, but I should have taken a friend’s advice and purchased them there. I know now though.

On the way home we stopped at The Warehouse. Some of my everyday clothes were in shocking condition with big holes. There was still room in my budget, so some new clothes were in order.

The Warehouse in Waipapa has a small but worthwhile garden centre. It usually contains some bargains as they like to turn the stock over quickly. Nothing took my fancy today, but I did grab a bottle of their Biofeed Organic Plant Food, which I quite like.

A job half-finished

Of course, once we got everything home, I had to think about planting everything I’d just purchased!

Supertunia in a terracotta pot

Rather than allowing our new plants to just languish for weeks, months, or years in the ‘plant holding’ area, we got to work. I started in the vege garden, getting the broccoli and capsicums planted out.

I have a bad habit of buying vege seedlings and not planting them for too long. Not today! They went straight in, and I think they’ll do great.

Then I found a nice terracotta pot and put my supertunia in it.

They like sunlight, so it’s going to live on the deck where it’s nice and close to the hose.

Finally, we carted the mystery plum, redfree nectarine, an Omega plum I had in ‘storage’, and the mystery fig down to the orchard area.

The orchard was started by the previous owners with 12 apple trees, and my 40th birthday bought us up to 20. We usually add one or two each year, but four is definitely our record!

Fruit trees in the orchard as at September 2022
New trees planted in the orchard

Over the next week I found space for pretty much everything else too. The only thing waiting is the Tahitian pōhutukawa, which I’m sure I’ll find the right spot for soon.

Short, medium, and long-term benefits

I didn’t do it on purpose, but as I planted everything, I realised I’d be reaping the benefits of this birthday gift for a long time to come.

First, we’ll get broccoli. Then, we’ll get capsicum. The supertunia is already going and will continue to brighten up the deck for the entire summer.

In the coming years we’ll get nectarines, plums, and figs. Those will hopefully be feeding whoever lives here for years beyond even my own lifetime.

The ecosystem will benefit from the addition of native flowers and fruits.

For the actual day of my birthday, I got the experience of a small shopping spree in my favourite local businesses. And I got to plant trees. In my world, any day that involves planting a tree is a good day. We planted 4 fruit trees on my birthday.

But long-term, we’ll be reaping the benefits of this gift for the rest of our lives. Which made this a pretty damn awesome way to spend my 40th birthday.

* An addendum: Redwoods did have chestnut trees, I just managed to miss them. I went back a few days later while Richard was next-door at the dentist and there they were! Lucky for me, there was enough room in the budget for one more tree, so I did end up with a chestnut tree for my birthday!