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Believe in tomorrow

Natalie Vallance with a showstopping White King Protea at Muchea Tree Farm.

Muchea Tree Farm’s manager Natalie Vallance has the Audrey Hepburn quote, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,” in a prominent position in her office. It is a statement that she not only takes to heart, but actively demonstrates in the vital native species preservation work that is one of the facets of the business.

Natalie and her late husband Steve came to Muchea with a view of establishing a principally-wholesale nursery more than thirty years ago. Having had success with a retail nursery in Guildford, the availability of land and good groundwater in Muchea allowed them to bring their vision of cultivating native farm trees and proteas to life.

Although there are hundreds of flora considered likely to become extinct or rare, and despite the excellent work of Landcare and environmental groups in raising awareness of this, it can be tricky to get people to be as invested in saving a plant as they perhaps would be with an endangered cute, fluffy mammal.

“There are so many rare and endangered plants in WA that we are still trying to save,” explains Natalie. “We collect many of our more endangered plants from the Wildflower Society and Kings Park. It can be challenging, as not all native species can be propagated successfully.

“One we have had great success with is Grevillea evanescens, a plant that grows in wetlands up near Gingin. It can’t be grown by seed, this one we do by cutting and it has been used by Landcare in large revegetation projects.”

These seemingly small-scale interventions actually go a long way to providing practical solutions to large-scale problems.

“I really think it’s important to give kids hope for the future,” explains Natalie. “There’s so much negativity around climate change, but you know what? You can make a difference, but you have to start in your own patch first.

“It’s not something that we should leave completely to governments — every individual can have an impact.

“I also like the fact — and so do our grandkids — that we are preserving some of our natural heritage,” said Natalie.

A lovely gift that Natalie and Steve have been able to bestow upon their four daughters, and two of their granddaughters, is the creation of natural hybrid proteas in their honour. These bespoke blooms are Kaziah (P. burchellii variant), Esther’s Gold (Leucospermum cuneiforme variant),Protea Cherith (P. longifolia variant), Leucospermum Syan Laura (L.Scarlet Ribbon variant), Protea Princess Grace (P. neriifolia x magnifica) and Leucospermum Ceana May (an amazing Lecuospermum Esther x Syan Laura hybrid). Proteas have had a resurgence in popularity in recent years, with their size, longevity and striking colours big drawcards.
“Proteas are really popular with cut flower growers, because they are beautiful – just like our girls!” said Natalie.

Natalie has seen firsthand the changes to the flower industry due to COVID. She describes the rise in demand for native cut flowers (as importing flowers was no longer an option) as unfathomable and hopes the shift to this sustainable option remains. With gardening also being a well-documented tonic to the lockdown blues (a GlobalData market research survey in May 2020 listed gardening as the second most-popular lockdown activity after watching television), this provided further opportunity for awareness and education.

“I think it’s great that floriculture has come to the fore during COVID,” said Natalie. “Plants that have been on the threshold of being declared rare have a chance at being saved.”

As part of Chittering Spring Festival, Muchea Tree Farm is holding an Open Day on Saturday 4 September from 9 am-4.30 pm. You can tap into the wealth of knowledge from Muchea Tree Farm staff with propagating workshops and open garden tours. Also on offer are floristry workshops with RAEH Flowers, adult art workshops, kids’ activities and the Carnaby Crusaders arm of the Chittering Wildlife Carers.

Entry to the Open Day is via a gold coin donation, with proceeds going to Red Cross Australia – an organisation which helped Natalie and Steve immensely when Steve was ill. While Natalie admits it has been difficult to push forward with the business without Steve, it is clearly flourishing under her care. “Muchea Tree Farm started as Steve’s dream – I mean, he was propagating plants in high school!” laughs Natalie.

“Although running a business is definitely more difficult as one, I have my brother and sister-in-law that help a couple of days a week and I’ve been blessed with some extremely talented workers.”

With a well-earned reputation as one of WA’s leading growers, a strong wholesale customer base, and a retail front which not only sells their plants, but helps to showcase the talent of local artists by stocking their work — everything from rustic metal wall hangings to handmade cards — Muchea Tree Farm is an asset to the Northern Valleys.

“It’s one of those legacies — for both Steve and myself — that I love to continue, and work out the small mysteries of propagating some of our more complex Aussie natives. It’s important for kids, and adults alike, to know there is hope for the future…that is one of our main goals.”

You can find Muchea Tree Farm at 94 Archibald Street, Muchea. To register for the Open Day Workshops, phone 9571 4090 or email muchtree@nw.com.au. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram @mucheatreefarm.