Little Thirroul (that is, the shopping centre on the south side of the railway line) has undergone an amazing transformation in the last few years…. a flurry of new businesses have sprung up alongside the new library and community centre, with one of the latest being The Niche Nursery, which occupies a neat parcel of land next door to the Tin Shed Cafe.
The nursery was opened by opportune chance. The owner, Russell Dixon, was saving up for a house deposit, walked by the site after paying a bill, saw the opportunity and wound up with a business instead of a mortgage!
Russell’s love for horticulture started in Bulli, where his grandparents had a double block in William St., covered in garden; they grew orchid blooms to supplement their retirement income. His grandmother Nell, got him started with a vegetable plot at age six and his interest grew from there.
“There were few nurseries around in those days” says Russell, “Gabe Rawllings (pronounced Rallings) used to grow shrubs and seedlings on his block in Haig St – most people went to Gabe for their plants. I look at my nursery as a continuation of this tradition with a modern twist.”
“I started growing my own plants around 1980 as I was interested in rainforest regeneration & went looking for a Lillipilli; you couldn’t buy one! When I finally tracked one down it was the only plant in the nursery in a tin can, the way Gabe & others used to grow ’em. It’s now round 9m tall.”
Russell has grown all sorts of plants over the years and is self-taught, complimented by a degree in Biology & Geography, and a G.Dip.Ed.
“Prior to The Niche I worked at Wollongong Wholesale Nursery as Senior Horticulturalist, sold plants at various markets including a regular Sunday gig at Bondi, and worked for Gardens R Us. I have extensive background in specialist collectors plants such as carnivores, succulents, bamboo and orchids, the last of which I grew from seed.”
“The nursery is a mix of everything in plants from bread and butter lines to specialist rareties. Organic principles are largely utilised where practical, and natural processes encouraged; I love skinks, ladybirds, spiders and birds in the nursery. All green waste is recycled via composting, along with potting mix; pesticides are rarely used, only spot applied & selected for their low impact. The thing most likely to be affected by cumulative use is me, not the environment or public.”
Most nurseries buy their stock from mainstream wholesalers; you see the same plants at different retailers as they all come from the same sources. Russell buys his stock from specialists and small growers, and targets unusual plants that he believe should be of interest to the public or in wider use.
“In addition I propagate my own plants, often specialist types or once – common varieties now ignored.
At the moment I am playing with Bauhinias, beautiful small deciduous trees now forgotten by the trade; there are still some great plants in the district planted during the 1940’s and 50’s.”
“My latest indulgence are Platycerium, Staghorn & Elkhorn ferns. I’ve just acquired the only species from Sth. America, and am waiting on one from Madagascar.”
The Niche Nursery site is still evolving with improvements and additions over time; Russell’s landlord is another local and has been of great assistance. Russell’s aim is to provide an alternative to the community, complimenting existing services of horticultural sales and advice, while creating a plant enthusiasts’ mecca in the long term, something that attracts visitors to the area.
“The Northern Suburbs are a great area for environment & activities; this is where the mountains truly meet the sea, only a stones’ throw away from the city.”