Growing exotic trees and shrubs at Frank’s Trees in Nelson.
Frank and Tracy Goeddert are expert in growing big trees at their family nursery, Franks Trees, in Nelson.
Frank emigrated from Germany with his family in 1987 as a 16 year old, and hardly spoke English. He worked in nurseries starting with Len June at June’s Nursery in Hawke’s Bay. Len helped him grow 2,000 flowering cherries on some spare land so he could sell them at markets.
Frank has also worked as a tour guide and in adventure tourism.
The couple moved to Nelson in 1998 two years after they got married, in part because Nelson was a better place to go pig hunting.
Frank got a job at Appleton’s Tree Nursery. Then he started leasing land around his house and growing flowering cherries from rootstocks, bought from Appleton’s. “Robert Appleton was a tremendous help in my first year. He not only let me use the tractors for land preparation but was also very supportive of my getting established.”
They have been in business on this 4ha site since 2004. They have two boys, Jake (16) and Flynn (14). Jake in particular is really keen on the nursery and growing trees. They also have a couple of fox terriers which they call the Icebreakers.
Frank and Tracy have 15,000 to 20,000 trees and shrubs at any time in their Waimea West nursery. They mostly grow ornamental pears, oaks, ash, elms, crepe myrtles and liquidambar trees. And they sell to other nurseries, to landscapers and to local Nelson buyers, many of whom are in new subdivisions or lifestyle blocks.
“We have a larger client growing a lot of our stock in the North Island and selling street trees to councils. We have such a small nursery, we try to be a bit different. My dream is to only grow trees I have developed, so that they are different trees to everybody else. It’s the only way we can survive by having a point of difference.”
Leafland Tree Nursery supplies the North Island market (trees are sold to them), and Franks Trees supplies the South Island.
The nursery specialises in trees that Frank and Tracy have selected and patented. One of these is an ornamental pear which they released last year. It’s called Pyrus Candelabra, and it’s a selection from a range of seedlings they grew. A very similar tree is very popular for street tree plantings overseas including Australia, but it can’t be imported. “I get asked for this tree, Pyrus Chanticleer, all the time, but it’s just not available here.”
Candelabra is thornless, flowers well in spring, has great autumn colour and is shaped like a candelabra, with an upright growing form. Frank calls it a “bomb proof” tree.
They have also patented a narrow form ash called Fraxinus Purple Spire, and this has been planted as an avenue tree in a new subdivision at Wigram in Christchurch.
He often calls new trees by his name: “It’s a strategy which lets people know where the plant is from and it also helps to stop people copying it because another nursery doesn’t want Frank’s such and such in their nursery.”
And Frank has named a Pittosporum selection after his Mum Anita. Little Anita is a dwarf groundcover pittosporum, and is their biggest seller of all the shrubs they grow. “I’ve got my mother in the garden” is his joke.
Another tree they specialise in is Liquidamber Gumball, which grows on a high standard, and this is a popular small garden tree they grow in good numbers each year.
They also grow flowering crepe myrtles which come in all colours. “We are also starting to add more value to some of our trees by espaliering them for screening trees.”
They purchase rootstock, line it out, and the following summer bud and graft onto the rootstock. Then they grow that for one more season to get their roots established, and are sold the following winter.
These trees are lifted in winter, and either sold bare rooted, or potted up into bags or containers. The bare rooted trees are only sold in winter; container grown plants can be sold year round.
It takes a couple of years to grow an oak tree to 2.5 metres high from a seedling.
They also buy in trees from other nurseries to grow on to larger sizes; for example 700 Japanese maples are arriving this winter for growing on.
“We don’t grow everything ourselves, just the ones we can grow well.”
They grow a few trees up to 4.5m in height, but these become difficult to handle. Their main crop of trees is bags would be 2-3m tall and weigh from 25 to 30kg.
The plants are sold wholesale, most local sales are to landscapers and the public.
Their business is open three days a week. “When we started the business we tried to do everything ourselves and not have an office lady, etc. The only way we can run the business is to only open for three days a week: Wednesdays, Fridays and Sunday. On the other days we look after our crop in the nursery. Saturday is for kids sport. The business has to work around us, not us around the business. At the moment we are only open three days to the public, but who knows what the future holds.”
The biggest challenge is coping with the weather. The hot dry summers are hard. It is difficult when there are watering restrictions on, and people stop planting. “We have water restrictions in Nelson just about every summer, and people aren’t allowed to water their lawns. We have to make sure we budget well, and it can be really difficult”, says Frank.
The wind also makes it difficult to keep the tall trees standing up, and good shelter is needed. As well, the trees are tethered to wires to keep them standing up straight.