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Turning passion into profit

Mpho Ollyn’s gift of gardening

Two weeks ago, I noticed the mulberry tree outside my bedroom window was fast announcing springtime as it bloomed. A week later, a light drizzle: “Less dreariness, more liveliness! What better way to welcome the colourful season than to beautify my garden with new flowers,” I thought to myself…

Like many people, I often celebrate the arrival of spring with much excitement, planting new flowers, herbs and other seasonal plants!

So, I recalled that I recently accepted an invitation to ‘like’ a Plants Inc. Facebook page, and so went through the timeline to find inspiration and engage with its creator, the incredibly busy Gaborone-born master gardener, Mpho Ollyn.

The mother-of-two, a staunch Catholic (Mary Immaculate Sodality member), is a Master’s Degree holder with a full-time job as a civil servant; however, despite her tight schedule, she has managed to turn her other passion, gardening, into profit.

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She tells Voice Woman she fell in love with gardening from a young age, inspired by her own mum.

What inspired you to start Plant Inc.?

Growing up, I used to watch my mother work in her garden and I developed some love for flowers, so I guess I inherited this love for plants from her.

It then became an addiction such that I could never stay in a yard (rented or owned) without a decorative garden and a vegetable garden.

Growing plants is therapeutic. Whenever I travelled, I’d look for plants to buy, which led to me collecting many plants.

It was inevitable that I’d run out of space in my yard but couldn’t stop myself getting more plants.

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That was when the idea of selling plants came to me.

Plants Inc. began as a ‘hobby business’ in January 2021 with the sole intention of disposing of excess plants.

Plants Inc. was born as a platform to facilitate continuation of collecting plants, but this time, keeping them temporarily for nursing and disposing through sales to other plant lovers.

It was fulfilling my love for plants, without having to look for more space and also facilitating networking and growing my circle of like-minded plant lovers.

Has growing plants always been your primary passion?

I love football, but my passion remains plants.

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I just love having plants in my space; it doesn’t really matter if I grow them myself, nurse them or buy already grown plants.

My passion is dealing with plants at any level of plants value chain, from planting to harvesting or selling.

A LABOUR OF LOVE: Ollyn tending her home garden

Let’s talk ornamental plants; what do you specialise in?

When I started, I was only focusing on rose plants. I had a dream of growing roses for flower arrangements.

As I interacted with clients and plant lovers from all walks of life, I realised that there was more to plants than just flowers.

I learnt that plants can be grown for their shape, colour, texture, medicinal purposes, for making exotic drinks and can be edible.

I felt compelled to improve my product mix to meet the different needs of my clients.

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So, there’s always an assortment of decorative plants from flowers, to bushes and cacti, for every season and every client who comes by the stall.

What are the greatest joys and woes of running a plants business?

Seeing how happy and fulfilled clients are after buying favourite plants pleases me because we stock uncommon plants, which are not easily available elsewhere.

Also, after consultancy with clients and they come back to give positive feedback, it really warms my heart. However, this business is highly dependent on seasons.

If you align your product line with the season and market them at the right times to the right clients, then all will go well.

Moreover, environmental factors, like the weather patterns, are beyond my control. When it rains or it’s too hot, or too cold, clients do not visit the stall and one can easily make losses if the mentioned conditions persist.

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The same hush conditions affect the quality of the products as they wilt in hot weather and turn yellow in cold weather, therefore don’t look attractive to clients.
In winter, because of the weather and limitation of availability of flowers, which can survive the cold temperatures, people are not inspired to work on their gardens.

The climatic change has also affected the durability of the plants in that those plants, which would normally grow well in summer, would not do so because temperatures are very high in this region.

For someone who wants to grow seedlings to sell, they would need to implement control measures, which can be costly.

What’s your favourite thing about growing flowers for the Gaborone market?

People in Gaborone love beautiful spaces.

At the height of the Covid-19 era, people were forced to stay in their ‘private’ spaces and it somehow inspired them to improve their gardens.

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That being said, I get to meet different people who are at different levels of understanding plants or gardening.

It really gives me pleasure to give customers detailed information about these plants.

Gaborone clients keep me on my toes; they ask a lot of questions before they can buy plants, and especially the new ones I bring into the market.

As a result, I have to know the A-Z of every product I sell and this forces me to do more research about the plants I sell so that I can share the same knowledge with my customers.

Gardening is certainly labour intensive, demanding: how many people do you employ?

As a budding businesswoman, I initially opened only on Saturdays as I was manning the stall but, as the demand grew, I hired 3 people to assist in the different areas of the business.

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As a result of having extra hands, we are now able to sell by appointment, midweek, and supply to some businesses in Gaborone, Palapye and Francistown.

Increase in staff has allowed us to try new markets like Jwaneng and fulfil orders from the public sector, private companies and corporates.

HELLO SPRING: Flower seedlings in full bloom ready for new homes

Spring has sprung. What are the low-maintenance plants/flowers to grow this season?

The low maintenance plants currently would be the Carnations, Pelargonium, Eugenia, Abelia, Goldcrest, Chrysanthemums, and Daisies etc.

What lessons has gardening or this business taught you?

Being in business has taught me three things: that no matter how many hurdles you come across, you have to keep pushing; passion fuels one’s endeavours, and patience pays.

One should always remember why they started the business and, if it is the right “WHY”, it will push you out of bed every morning to go and fulfil your dream.

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Loving why you do what you do will always be your anchor in times when you want to quit.

In everything you do, be consistent, and clients will support you, rain or shine!

You are a very busy woman. How do you balance work and life – home, business and church?

Eish, it’s a hard one, but I try to find a balance in all that I do.

My Saturdays are dedicated to Plants Inc. Sundays are for church; on Sundays, my appointments with clients are scheduled for after church times.

I feel I have to always make time to commune with my God and give gratitude for my life, that is why going to church isn’t an option but a must.

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What advice or ideas can you share with our readers?

Just like we do house plans when we want to build houses, always plan and have designs for your garden space.

Have an idea of the kind of garden you want; is it a dry garden or different shades of green?

That way, you can know which plants and flowers to buy, and this will save you so much money.

Also, plan how you are going to water the plants because you don’t want to plant flowers only to remove them later when you install the irrigation system.

It’s always advisable to ask or consult the experts in the field.

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What is the secret to successfully growing roses, and other exotic favourites?

Plants are an investment and they have to be protected, cared for and fed with the right nutrients.

The environment in which they are grown plays a major part as diseases can attack them if they are in an unfavourable environment.