TRIFFID PARK'S HISTORY
Colin Clayton (Founder of Triffid Park) was born in 1941, the second son of a hardworking market garden family. He grew up on their 13 acre property in Dingley, Victoria, Australia. From a very early age, Colin, began working on his fathers market garden. It is here that he learnt to grow plants and adapt to the changing public needs. At around 7 or 8 years old, for pocket money, Colin was given a large sharp knife and told to chop the rhubarb seeds out. He was always careful not to chop the young buds coming up, because they would be next weeks pocket money.
When the war was on, Colin's father Rex (born 1910), was not allowed to go to war, he was told to stay home and grow vegetables for the soldiers. So as the districts leading rhubarb growers, they grew rhubarb and the army ordered it by the sack loads. It was sold by weight at a low fixed price set by the government to avoid war time profiteering. Colin’s job was to hold the bags open while his dad shoveled in sand to bring the weight up! 5 shovelfuls seemed about right!!! The army confiscated their old truck for the war. They wanted them to grow vegetables, at a cheap price, to feed the army, but with no truck to do so. They only had an old Nash car which they got converted to run on Kerosene. Life was tough for quite some time, until one day the army rang up and told them there was a free brand new 5 ton army truck waiting on the docks for them. And to keep growing rhubarb for the army. Life was good once again!
After completing a technical school education, Colin joined his father market gardening (growing vegetables), where he learnt to grow a large variety of plants.
Gradually over the years rhubarb sales slowed down and by the time Colin left school it was very slow, until one day they ploughed up all the rhubarb rows and Colin never grew it again for another 50 years.
A Jewish client asked Rex and Colin if they would grow him some horse radish, so horse radish it was. Planters were designed, harvesters manufactured, giant washing machines built. The Jewish customer wanted more and more horse radish, until one day he said “no more horse radish – I am going back to Jerusalem”. So that was it for horse radish – it all got ploughed back in.
And that is how Colin’s life seemed to be, he would be the best he could be at what he was growing, until it was no longer required, and then to the horror of most others, it would get ploughed up, burnt, thrown out, or bull dozed down, and his next venture would start.
When Colin was 19, he met my Tina who was 15 years old at the time (born 1945). Five years later in 1965 they were married, and Colin had saved up enough money from working on his parents market garden that he could buy a block of land and build them a house about 1 kilometer down the road from the market garden. By 1970 their family was complete with two daughters - the youngest Donna, will feature later in our story.
On the front lawn of that original house in Dingley, where most kids would play, theirs was planted full of yuccas’ and agaves with a for sale sign on them for people to purchase. Colin never let an opportunity pass by.
On the market garden, Rex, or Colin had to drive the truck into Melbourne every night with a load of vegetables for sale at the Queen Victoria market. This actually started earlier than this, with Rex setting off with the horse and cart – a 6 hour one way trip from Moorabbin airport (where their original property was) to the Queen Victoria market. On returning home from market, any vegetables that were not sold had to be thrown away, as there were no cool stores available in those days to keep the vegetables fresh. So all the work of the growing, picking, cleaning and bunching was wasted. So they started selling the left overs from the property. As a young girl, Donna with her older sister, would sit on the back of an old truck, on the edge of Centre Dandenong Road, on their grandparents property in Dingley, selling the left over vegetables to passers by.
One day, Colin arrived home from market with some tree ferns. “What are we going to do with those?” asked a very horrified Tina, who in those days, had to add up her shopping as she went around the supermarket, to make sure she didn’t go over her budget.
Colin put them on the back of the truck with the vegetables, and they sold. So the next week, he bought some more ferns with his profits, and it went on like this for a while, until he had saved up enough profits from the ferns to build a small shadehouse where he could keep more ferns in stock, and have the public come in and wander through to purchase. And so, in 1977, Dingley Fern Market was born.
In 1981 Colin and Tina purchased the family property in Dingley from Colin's parents to secure their future. Colin’s parents, continued to live in their original house on the property. Over a span of around 20 years, Colin and Tina put every cent they made back into the business. "Dingley Fern Market" grew from the small shadehouse to one of the largest retail and wholesale nurseries in Australia growing and selling ferns, palms and orchids. Colin and Tina were well ahead of their time, with a gift shop and Christmas shop which ran for 6 months of the year, which both in the 1990’s were not heard of in retail nurseries. They had up to 15 staff plus a full time builder, with their own wire manufacturing business to produce wire baskets, hooks and their very own Fernery Friends – topiary wire animal shapes. When Rex retired from market gardening at 70 year of age, Colin built him a vegie patch in the car park of the nursery, a real feature of the car park, where Rex continued to grow vegetables to feed to feed the family and chat with the customers coming in.
In approximately 1983, a short, sharp drought in Melbourne necessitated severe water restrictions and ferns stopped selling. Just at this time carnivorous plants were having a boom in popularity worldwide. Colin decided to learn to grow, propagate and sell these curiosities of the plant world and they became a big feature of the retail/wholesale nursery with connoisseurs, collectors, chain stores and other Carnivorous Plant nurseries all being catered for.
Donna can never remember not working in the nursery or market garden, as a young girl and part time while at school. In 1988 after completing her High School Certificate, Donna joined the business full time. Carnivorous plants became a big part of her life from a very early age, without her ever really realizing that this is where her life would eventually lead. It was one of her many jobs in the nursery to pot and keep the retail carnivorous plant section cleaned and filled up from our huge wholesale growing area. Donna helped to set up a mail order system, supplying wholesale and retail customers world-wide. This was then further enhanced by the use of the Internet and Email, enabling instant communication.
Colin and Tina started using the carnivorous plants as an excuse to travel the world, researching the plants, meeting carnivorous plant enthusiasts at the world conferences, and of course seeing a bit of the world as well. Colin was born on the 29th of the 10th, 1941. Just by coincidence, when researching carnivorous plants just south of Evans Head in northern New South Wales, Australia, they found the latitude co-ordinates of 29 – 10 – 41. S - Colin’s birth date and the most extensive Drosera binata site in the world. Countless hours have been spent in research, obscure journals have been researched at public libraries and herbariums around the world.
This research then evolved into Colin’s self-published books on “where to find carnivorous plants” along with cultural and historical information. These began in the early 1990’s when our export business of carnivorous plants got underway.- a group of carnivorous plant enthusiasts were coming from Japan to visit us and see the carnivorous plant show that our garden centre was hosting. The Japanese asked Colin to show them where our local carnivorous plants grew in their native habitat. So Colin began researching where to take the Japanese group on a field trip, and realized that Australia’s carnivorous plants were as exotic, interesting and spectacular, to them, as anywhere else in the world. This then set off a group of books for most states of Australia, as well as many other countries of the world.
In 1989 Donna met Jason Smith, and in February 1995 they were married in the same church Donna was Christened in. Jason had grown up in a neighboring suburb and although Jason and Donna had never met, their families had been members of the same motor boat club. Jason had completed his apprenticeship and was a book binder at an international company which was located about 4km from the Dingley property.
In December 1995, Donna's grandfather Rex passed away (her nanna, Ruby Joyce in December 1991). Colin and Tina decided with the rising land tax prices, that they would change their life style, having worked 7 days a week for all their working lives. So in August 1996, Colin and Tina made the big decision to sell their large nursery in Dingley for a housing sub division. Just like the rhubarb and horse radish, the nursery was closed, everything sold off, the magnificent gardens, nursery buildings and houses pulled down. The Clayton family's 50 year association with this piece of land had been broken. The estate was named "Fern Market Estate" and the roads named Christina Terrace, Rex Court, Ruby Court and Donna Court after family members.
Colin and Tina then purchased 15 acres of land in the nearby suburb of Keysborough and set about with Donna's help to build a modern wholesale nursery to grow carnivorous plants exclusively. The new property was named "Triffid Park", with the inspiration for this name coming from the old English film "Day of the Triffids". They moved with them to Keysborough their 7 plastic igloos that they had at Dingley and rebuilt them with concrete floors and set them up to grow the carnivorous plants, 3 with gas heaters. The business was basically mail order. Donna looked after all of the mail order business, correspondence and web site maintenance. Colin grew the plants, packed the orders, and best of all travelled the world to find new carnivorous plants and how to grow them. And when Tina was not waiting with her bags packed in readiness to travel with Colin, she kept the books and part time baby sat their eldest daughter's two children.
They also moved their wire manufacturing business to continue producing these wholesale, as the wire topiary animal frames and baskets were very popular.
Colin started looking for something else to produce and sell at Triffid Park, and when a customer asked him for some water lilies, Colin set about sourcing and learning about every variety of water plant he could. Thus began the Water Plant division of Triffid Park.
In May 1998, Colin and Tina bought 10 acres of land next door to their property, which was all fully set up for horse agistment with 10 private paddocks. They built 7 more paddocks on their existing property, and set about running "Triffid Park Horse Agistment".
They then purchased a further 10 acres of land alongside that property. The new property had no fences for horses, so they designed and built another 15 paddocks to add to their existing 17 horse paddocks which were leased out for agistment. Colin already had one tractor from the retail nursery in Dingley which he used for spraying any weeds in the horse paddocks. After moving to Keysborough, he bought another tractor to attach either a mower to for cutting grass in the laneways, or harrow for smudging out horse manure. He then bought another tractor with a post hole rammer attached, so that he could do all of the fencing himself. And then purchased his fourth and largest tractor to dig trenches for laying water pipes. In 2003 they purchased a further 5 acres of land from the next neighbor, to build a further 8 horse paddocks on. And finally a further 10 acres with a second road frontage from the next neighbor along. This made their land total 50 acres (20 hectares). Colin doesn't do anything by halves!!!
In February 2000, Donna started a three year Horse Management course which she completed in December 2002.
Midway through 2001, she also started an adult horticulture apprenticeship, which she completed in 2003.
On the first of June 2002, Jason and Donna welcomed their first child into the world, a son Kyle Jadon.
Then on the 7th May 2005, their second son, Ryan Nathon was born.
After 18 years in the printing industry, Jason left his trade, and on the 31st January 2005, he joined the staff of Triffid Park as a full time employee. Jason had no horticultural background, but quickly set about learning from Colin how to grow carnivorous plants.
However later that same year, the land at Keysborough was rezoned for industrial, and once again the land tax rates sky rocketed. The decision to sell to factory developers was made, and Colin and Tina started planning for retirement.
Colin and Tina purchased a lovely 10 acre property in Baxter for their retirement until Colin decided to grow Truffle Trees. So the back paddock was dug up and some truffle trees were planted. Then Colin decided to plant some more in pots to sell. They then became the only Australian supplier of Truffle Trees for the retail market. Colin also decided to go back to his heritage and grow a few vegetables for the family. But once he got hold of a rhubarb plant, it all started again. Colin and Tina's world travels now include collecting and studying rhubarb. Colin grows it in pots to sell to the retail industry, as well as bare rooted crowns for several large mail order companies, fresh bunches of rhubarb from his self serve shop, and has a large rhubarb online seed business.
They named their business “French Harvest” after their love for France. Colin let go of the carnivorous plants just like the rhubarb and horse radish from his early days and moved on to another venture.
Jason and Donna decided to take over Triffid Park and move it to another property. They sold their family home on 5 acres in Cranbourne South, and purchased 15 acres in Somerville, on the Mornington Peninsula. They started work on designing and building a new, modern, world class, carnivorous plant nursery. As settlement for Keysborough arrived, and their new nursery was not yet built, they had plants lining their driveway, and carport. The first winter was spent potting on an old bench in their carport. The water plant side of the nursery was slowly built as well, with a raised gravel growing area, and undercover potting shed.
Triffid Park joined the Nursery and Garden Industry of Victoria and become a regular stall holder at Trade Day, supplying retail nurseries in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania.
When the new Woolworths hardware chain - Masters - was being built, they were asked to become a supplier. Triffid Park enjoyed 5 years of trading with Masters, eventually supplying 51 stores in 4 states of Australia. Sadly this wasn't to continue with the demise of Masters, but they are thankful for the benefits Masters gave them.
With their 2 young boys, Jason and Donna are able to work from home. Kyle and Ryan have their own Triffid Park uniforms, and quite regularly help in the nursery with watering, and also help serve customers at field days and the Annual Open Days – just like Donna did all those years ago selling vegies off the back of the truck!
To read more about Triffid Park's new nursery in Somerville - click on the this link:
The first sales sheds and old truck at Dingley Fern Market.
Revamped front entrance to Dingley Fern Market.
Dingley Fern Market gets a new face lift
Colin in a field of Cobra Lilies, Darlingtonia Wayside, Oregon, USA, on one of their many travels.
Latitude 29 10 41 S. Evans Head, NSW. Drosera binata
Igloos at Triffid Park, Keysborough, Victoria
Sarracenia house at Triffid Park, Keysborough
Propagation house at Triffid Park, Keysborough
Kyle Jadon Smith - born 1st June 2002
Ryan Nathon Smith - born 7th may 2005
The new Triffid Park property, Somerville, Victoria
Sarracenias line our drive way and carport
Kyle and Ryan help to fill the water pipe trenches.
The first of the nursery frame goes up at Somerville
Jason and Donna at NGIV Trade Day
Kyle and Ryan at NGIV Trade Day
The nursery frame takes shape at Somerville, Victoria
Rolling benches finished and filled with Sarracenias