In 1973, Brian Groom purchased a run down 10-acre fruit orchard with the ambition to make something from nothing. The result was Domus Nursery, which has expanded over its many years in the horticulture industry; however, despite this growth, they still remain true to their family business values. Over time Brian’s wife, Robin, and then son, Colin, joined the team, with Colin’s wife Natasha now involved. Over this time staff numbers have grown to upwards of 30. “We’ve steadily grown in the volume of plants we’ve grown and the sizes of them,” says Colin. “Our customer base has gone from a few local garden centres to covering Western Australian garden centres, landscapers, government agencies and hardware chains. Since Bunnings introduced a garden section in the mid 90’s they have grown to be a dominant customer, now accounting for half our sales. Our business has grown steadily and organically over those years with profits reinvested. We’ve purchased two additional properties, and we’ve utilised those partially for expansion – there’s more space to go, so we can continue expanding.”
In addition to their sales to Bunnings, Domus Nursery also slates 20 percent of their business focus towards landscaping. Strong advocates of Australia’s 202020 Vision, Colin and his family understand the importance of increasing urban green space; he has been on the national board of the Nursery & Garden Industry of Australia (NGIA) since 2011, and is also an active participant at the state level with the NGIA’s Western Australia association. “As an active industry participant, I am keen to be involved in our industry’s campaign,” he says. “Also, at a business and personal level, I’m keen to see an ongoing improvement in the development and quality of green space within our urban environments. Obviously, we’d like to sell more plants, but more importantly I want to see the community value plants in the landscape around them.”
Per year, Domus Nursery grows over 800 different varieties, both native and exotic. The diverse range extends from such lines as living Christmas trees, to a new range of edible tucker bush plants. “Most plants are grown in 130mm to 200mm pot sizes,” says Colin. “We don’t do advanced trees, and we don’t do seedlings; we cover the middle ground. Of our 800 varieties, we have a solid base of long-term popular plants that we grow for both retail and landscape, then we have a steady introduction of new plants from the best breeders around the world, to give consumers and landscapers the best modern options available. From Kangaroo Paws to Grevilleas and Scaevolas, there’s plenty of Australian natives being improved through intensive breeding programs. We also do a range of exotic varieties such as Lavenders, Dianthus and Hellebores, which bring their improvements in flower performance and growth habits to the home gardener and commercial landscaper.”
In order to preserve the environment, there are certain plants that the nursery has discontinued due to weed potential; some of these varieties have also been legally banned in Western Australia, while others were removed from sale at the discretion of the nursery. Domus Nursery has also made the active decision to recycle their water on-site to prevent the leaching of nutrients, which could affect the nearby state forest. “We recycle and treat our water with chlorine to kill pathogens; that is part of the accreditation program we’re involved in, reducing the potential spread of diseases and pathogens when our plants go out and are planted into the environment.
Over the years, we’ve modernised our irrigation system to be as efficient as possible in our internal usage of water. Within our range of plants, we focus on plants that are healthy and survive well within the landscape to give our customers a good long-term result. So, we focus on listening to feedback and growing the best varieties we can so that they do perform in the landscape. We reuse our pots where possible, and unused pots are sent for recycling by a Western Australia recycler; that’s one of the main waste streams we deal with. We’ve also got a 30-kilowatt solar system to help our power usage.”
Since 2001, Domus Nursery has been accredited under the Nursery Industry Accreditation Scheme Australia (NIASA), as well as certified under the environmental module, Ecohort, for the last four years. They have also won numerous production awards, and were the state winner for this year’s Production Nursery and Garden Awards with the NGIA – the most recent of many state awards. “Within that national competition, we’ve consistently won at a state level, but never national,” says Colin. “The guys in Victoria are pretty hard to beat.”
According to their website, Domus Nursery has made it their mission “to grow a comprehensive range of high quality plants within categories of natives, exotics, trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses, conifers, climbers and ground covers for supply to the Perth and Western Australian market.” Colin expands upon that mission, placing an emphasis on treating staff, suppliers, and clients with reciprocated respect. “We are a family business,” he says. “We like to operate with that sort of focus, value our staff members as part of our team, and treat them as we would like to be treated. We have quite a number of long-term staff – some over 10 years. We work with them to improve their knowledge and abilities, and let them grow within our business. We’ve had some staff leave, learn more things, and then come back. So, we try to have a very positive, constructive relationship.
We respect our suppliers and have a history of working with them long-term, building those relationships for the benefit of us both. In terms of the products we supply and the core ingredients of potting media, pots, labels, and young plants, we have long-standing relationships with our suppliers. We have worked together on improvements to their products over the years, we provide feedback to help improve their products and service to us, and – as a bit of a novel thing for some people – we pay them on time and treat them well. We seem to have pretty good relationships with suppliers, and that normally reciprocates in having better access to new products and being considered first rather than last.”
While the customer base has evolved over the years, the level of service remains the same. “We serve our customers and work with them as best as we can and try to build a co-operative relationship with them as well, we respect the effort they put into their own businesses,” says Colin. “Years ago, we actually owned a garden centre ourselves, so we’ve been on both sides of the fence and know what it’s like. We work within Bunnings requirements on their plant-labelling guidelines, bio-security, and everything else to help them manage their business risks as well.”
Currently, Colin views the outstanding issues within the industry from two main perspectives: the consumer and the producer. Together, they must deal with regulatory costs from the government; but, as separate entities, they have their own issues entirely. “A major thing affecting our industry is water availability from government water restrictions, and the risk that may increase, limiting the consumer’s ability to maintain plants in the landscape,” he says. “Another side is land space – whether it’s public open space devoted to gardens and parks –how much there is, and also house block space in terms of how much of a block a house is allowed to occupy as to whether there’s any space left for a garden; that’s really impacting our industry. It’s a concern that planning and development isn’t changing to force houses up rather than out so that there is space available for kids to run around, a veggie patch, and a few plants in the backyard.
On the production side, you’ve got issues with labour availability and affordability, which is okay in Western Australia at the moment. It goes in swings and roundabouts with the mining situation; but, Australia does have a fairly high labour price compared to what’s available internationally, having skilled participants keen to stay in our industry and the attraction of new labour force; people seeing that there’s a career option there rather than ignoring the industry. There’s also issues of quarantine restrictions and costs associated with quarantine, both between states – Western Australia has some of the strictest quarantine regulations in the country, so that imposes a lot of costs and restrictions on us – but, also Australia at a greater level, restricting new varieties of plants and chemicals for pests and diseases coming into the country.”
Born into the business, and having grown up on the property, Colin has been involved with Domus Nursery since he was very young. In 1998, he began full-time work with his father, managing the potting team, then eventually progressing to the general management position he still holds today. Going forward, he hopes to see the team and the nursery grow to the best of its ability. “The main measure of the business is our physical expansion and turnover,” he says. “We’ve got more space, we just need more time and money, to develop it.
I’ve been brought up in the industry with a love of having plants around and I’m keen to see that the general public maintains a sense of importance on having green life around them – whether it’s around the house, their work, or the park. Plenty of people argue whether it should be native or not native. I don’t really care, as long as it works for what people want. I think plants are very important to our health, livelihoods and lifestyles, but they are easily ignored as just being there anyway, and we don’t need to worry about them. But, it does take work to have them there and have them performing well. You wouldn’t build a house with a One-Star energy rating these days; you want it to perform well. So, think about the garden and whether you want it to be a top performer as well.”