Meet Jeremy Critchley, nurseryman
Jeremy Critchley’s Green Gallery Nursery developed a focus on indoor plants once he moved into an apartment and wanted something different.
We’re really in a tropical jungle here in your apartment!
It’s just a collection of cool plants I really like. Most indoor plants are tropical because plants adapted to the low light under the rainforest canopy can deal with the conditions in people's houses.
What is the key to success with indoor plants?
The two main things are light levels and water. People want to grow plants in the dark! I have buddies in Newtown where the only light comes through the front door and they ask me what they can grow. I tell them Pothos will take about five years to die!
If you don’t have good light you need to rotate the plants. I swap my plants around and turn them so it's not just one side exposed to the good light. The other thing is watering. Generally I fill the saucer they stand in and let them take up what they need for a few hours and then empty the excess, and do it again when the pot feels light.
Then again, not everything needs to live forever. You can treat an indoor plant like a bunch of flowers. It will last much longer than that, but when it does die, it will have been $20 well spent!
When did you get hooked on plants?
When I was young we moved to Lesotho in Africa, then to Mozambique and Tanzania. We had awesome tropical gardens and that got me into it. I studied horticultural science at the University of Sydney, then worked a bit in the US and then Mum and Dad very generously loaned me money to start my own nursery. I started with a wheelbarrow and a shovel on a rented bit of land up at Dural - I was a lot skinnier then! Green Galleryblossomed from there. Mum quit her job at the United Nations to come and be a nurseryhand; she’s an absolute legend.
What do you grow?
Everything. This year we grew 1600 different varieties of plant, which just shows how obsessed we are. Indoor plants are a big part of our business now. I’d say we have 400 different varieties of indoor plants and I’ve just come back from a trip to China and Indonesia, and the things we found there are now being grown on, so we will have some more really cool things next year!
We grow - east coast independent garden centres, from Adelaide to Brisbane. - traditionally potted flower growers, doing all the new varieties from overseas, then moved into succulents, there was a trend on for them, the drought etc. Then I moved here, in an apartment. Wanted more plants and couldn’t find much cool stuff. Also the green wall movement, asked us to start growing stuff. Pushed us indoors, then a mad indoor fanaticism with young people.
We call all these thing Hipster Heroin. It’s so funny how quickly the love comes and goes.Suddenly you can sell things for a monster amount of money, then everyone has one and they’re over. We’ve had lots of winners, but lots of duds. White princess, pink princess, but Philodendron Black Cardinal is not hipster heroin. Alocasia Wendtii. It’s just gambling - you need to make money off the crazy ones. Alocasia Dragon scale - I have a few thousand of them growing, hope that goes off. Essentially the process takes years. Its hard - a bit of a numbers game - order stuff. Variegation is massively in. Growing up I never liked it, but now it’s crazy. Retailers were selling Pink Princess in 100mm pot for $85. Old guys rolling their graves - 18mtn-2yrs to grow tissue culture. Make it in a factory in China and Indonesia. Because we are so strict, understandably , on quarantine, the fastest way to bring material in is as tissue culture - because it’s either clean or it’s not and it wont get passed. In fact if there’s anything wrong with it, it will be dead before it will be dead before it gets on the plane. But if it’s clear it can come through and we can start growing it straight away.
What size is it when it comes in?
Tiny. We just planted some. Looks like a little cutting, about 2cm. Starts as a callous, sterile. Big labs - plant factories. They come in, wash the gel off them, put them in a plug. Success rate of about 80% We’ve only just imported our own TC last week. We went on this trip - around China and Indonesia and plant markets - a lot of them are pure species, this jungle stuff. It’s straight out of the jungle - so many indoor plants we haven't even touched on. Went with supplier from Melbourne who brings the TC in, and they ship me the baby plants.Got to be very clean - they grow them on for 4-5 months for a plus size. Fly them in, and we pot them into the final container. Trying to find new stuff. It was awesome. Went with curator of Bogor BG, we’d just see something in a tree, and see that’s cool - and he has some relationship with the lab. All you need is one leaf and they can turn that into a million plants. Every cell in a plant is like a stem cell - it can turn into anything given the right stimulus. Cut a leaf and add hormones and it will turn into roots, add another hormone and it grows leafs. Get one leaf and pout it on the agar in the lab, turn it into a callous, basically a glob of stem cells, put rooting hormone, chop it up, grow it on. TC is the ultimate cloning. And about quaranting - I hop onto the forums and tell people not to import stuff.
Selling them in a year or two. We went in March. I can't wait, there some incredible stuff. Cool begonias. And alocasias, like dragon scale - gets better when it gets bigger - metallic leaves. Straight from the jungle, texture so shiny and hard. Heaps of cools stuff. And then also from the local nurseries, buy a couple of plants each and give them to the lab and start the initiation process. Caladiums - hipster crack at the moment; a whole air plant nurseries, I found a new variety of photos - hadn’t been described before. Modern-day plant hunting...21st century style. The white monstera - going for a thousand bucks.
How long will this craze last?
I thought it might only last a year, but its going on - won’t be the same people. Always younger people moving into their own place and trying to make a homey feel. I’m hoping they’re hooked on gardening and they develop outdoor gardens next. When you forward order all this tissue culture it cost 5-6 grand per variety, that’s the gamble., it can pay with some plants, but for every winner there’s 7 or so that don’t go off. Pilea - it's the benchmark. We had them last year, and selling them for $5 wholesale. Then a few months later up to 25, for about two months, and then back to 5 in a fortnight and by that stage I’d ordered thousands, thinking all my Christmases had come at once - let’s be careful how hard you go. Longer term project - got to look a few years ahead. I think indoor plants no matter what have cemented themselves as an important part of the industry. When I first moved in - there were no apartments out the wind, now there 20 massive buildings. Mad passion for plants.Traveling the world, on forums, talking to people, reading stuff to find new plants and better ways to do things. Put a lot of science into what we do. Look for different ways to do things, to improve.Using IPM, using compost teas, minimising chemical use, and very conscious of the bees.
We really lead the way with the newest and trendiest indoor plants. Philodendron raphidophera tetrapserma, also called P. minima in Sydney. Our first big indoor win - biggest growth area, is online sales of indoor plants. Every day we get several phone calls of people starting a business of mailorder indoor plants. This girl came in and bought 20 of them. She normally only bought 5 of something, so I thought must be something pretty good, so I tripled out usual price. She went to the car and then came back and bought all I had.Sold them on the night for 6 times what I sold them to her for in 10 minutes! $90 in 10 minutes - she made 7500 grand in an hour. Also at Kariong.
Green Gallery wholesale nursery will be at Collector’s Plant Fair in March.