18 Dec 2015

Peony Potential

From Country Life, 9:15 pm on 18 December 2015
Georgia (left) and Dot at home among the peonies Dove River cottage

Georgia (left) and Dot at home among the peonies Dove River cottage Photo: Daniel Allen

Georgia Richard's early ambition was to one day live in the country and grow culinary herbs.
What happened instead was the block of land she and partner Dot Kettle run in Dovedale, near Motueka, proved much more suited to a blooming peony venture. They bought the property in 2006 and moved their three young sons there in 2008 when they quit busy corporate lives in Wellington.

Dove River Peonies began as a business growing export grade flowers, and has blossomed into a brand based on the use of peony root in soaps, skin creams and even tea blends. They grow 21 different varieties of the ancient flower species from 16,000 tubers planted on a four-hectare block of river flat.

Home is across a swing bridge over the Dove River

Home is across a swing bridge over the Dove River Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

It's a 40 hectare farm they fell in love with almost instantly. "We actually saw it on the Internet before we came down,and I went to Dot and said, 'look at this, it's 100 acres'," Georgia says.
Dot says they were in fact looking for only 10 acres, or maybe even three, which still sounded like a lot to look after, coming from a small lot in Wellington.
However the moment they had a look at it, they were back here the next day with Georgia's parents. "We bought it by the time we got down the road within cell phone range".
The flowers are from Central Otago root stock and the current scale was the result of several divisions of the first crop planted.
Georgia says the investment is not for the faint-hearted, but peonies were the perfect option for the river valley property which endured frozen winters and hot, dry summers where temperatures reach 30 degrees celcius.
"We go down to about minus nine (degrees Celsius) here. We can't grow grapes in this valley, or citrus. You go one valley over and you've got the likes of Neudorf Vineyard, and Woollaston (Mahana winery)," she said.

Dot and Georgia with their boys Baxter, Bruno and Otto

Dot and Georgia with their boys Baxter, Bruno and Otto Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The women have applied the principles of successful corporate careers to how they run the property. Georgia was an IT consultant and Dot worked for a time in former Prime Minister Helen Clark's office, before setting set up her own consultancy. She now manages to combine career and lifestyle, as the Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce chief executive, while Georgia runs the property.
As in many cases, development of the products were driven by need. In their situation it was the lack of suitable skin products for their young sons' eczema. Their organic focus extends to care of the land, despite the "huge challenge" of weed control. Dot said they were not happy with the chemical spray regimes required to meet strict export requirements, but there was scope to sell the flowers on the domestic market, including the Nelson Market which has been an important springboard for the Dove River brand.

When the hard work is done, Dot and Georgia like to enjoy the benefits of their quiet rural home beside the Dove River, which has proved to be a perfect stomping ground for their boys who love building dams and raising their pet pigs for the bacon they have become very fond of.