In May 2017 Ron and Karen Grey purchased the house and land, knowing that they wanted to maximise the potential of this beautiful parcel of land. After many other ideas were explored they decided on starting a Nursery from scratch, focussing on native Australian plants, with a food van to both entice and refresh those that come out to Birdsong.
With a good home on the property they had no rent to pay and set about converting their block into what we see today. They would to sit on the veranda before Karen left for work and listen to the birds singing. There were kookaburras, magpies, Bronzewing pigeons, wrens, cockatoos, rosellas, galahs, and beautiful honey eaters, and the list keeps growing .
Hence the name Birdsong. While waiting for their nursery permit they began selling plant stock through markets and building a clientele base as they went. Along with some prior knowledge, they learnt about the plants as they went. Both Ron and Karen are very knowledgeable about which of the mostly native plants grow in particular conditions. They planned their garden with a view of what they would stock in the nursery. Visitors can see what many of the plants available to purchase look like when mature.
There are many outbuildings, most of the others have been repurposed. The most recent one is for the indoor and potted plants and pots, which was previously a blacksmith’s workshop.
Birdsong and Tiny Birds Takeaway food van opened on Australia Day this year, 2020. After operating for around three months the COVID Pandemic hit. Like most, the business suffered badly during the lockdowns but they made the most of the situation by doing some improvements on the property and garden.
Karen also gave up her job in a social welfare to focus fully on developing the business. They still had a small clientele base who remained very loyal and provided a small amount of income.
Since moving here they have had four different family members living with them but now it’s just the two of them and the animals. The dogs are the security guards, the talking Cockatoo is the Concierge as he greets and farewells the guests. He is a very popular member of the Birdsong family and children love him. There are also two miniature Mediterranean Donkeys. It is a lovely place to take children.
Ron’s role is the Jack of all trades. He is the builder and carpenter, nurseryman and head gardener and the finance manager. As Karen quipped “We have many rocks in our garden but Ron is my rock and what a gem he is.”
He is responsible for all of the magnificent wood work around the nursery, even tables and chairs and the naturally shaped Red-gum slabs serving as tables on the house verandah.
Karen works in the nursery, is the concept and business developer and also the designer, the PR person and secretary.
However her main claim to fame is the Small Birds Takeaway which operates from a registered food van near the business part of the nursery. She started the takeaway because of her extensive background in hospitality.
Tiny Birds Takeaway is a delightful surprise. The coffee is superb, as is Karen’s wide selection of food. Everything is made on site in the van, where Karen starts cooking each day at 4am. There is a new menu each week. It is lovely fresh food, served with flair on vintage china at a very reasonable price. The cakes are a delight. Native plants and herbs are used as much as possible and most fresh produce comes from their veggie garden.
One thing that they were unable to do themselves was to source, collect and place the large number of rocks around the garden and nursery, as well as doing foundation work in preparing the terraced garden beds and extending the dam. Warwick Pitcher has obviously been more than just a contractor for them. His most recent work is the enormous structure inside the entrance, which is worth a close inspection.
Ron and Karen previously lived in the NT in a remote Aboriginal community, an experience that few ever have. They were cut off from the outside word for six months of the year, only able to access Darwin by air as flood waters in the wet season would isolate them. By comparison Ballarat must almost feel like living in another country, with cold winters that could not be imagined by Territorians. Ron had spent over forty years in the Northern Territory, but for Karen coming to the Ballarat area was a homecoming.
They have both worked in a myriad of jobs, places and conditions. and have both worn many hats throughout their lives. A few of Ron’s have been: Butcher, Fishmonger , caravan park owner/operator, and fine sportsman. Karen has been a bookbinder, cook in many different places from restaurants to an Officers’ mess, mature age student and then working in the field of social welfare.
Apart from Ron and Karen themselves, one of the keys to Birdsong’s success is that they have gone slowly and don’t make rash decisions. They make improvements or do major projects as they have the necessary finances. They also do almost everything themselves and aren’t afraid of hard work. Now that they are busier two daughters also help out in the cafe at the weekends and a son when needed.
The last words on Birdsong are from the owners: At the end of the day when we finally get to put our feet up we usually feel physically exhausted but emotionally it is just so satisfying to know that we love what we have created and what we do every day. The fact that it brings joy as well as a sense of peace to those who visit makes us feel so blessed and fortunate it is almost surreal. We feel like we need to pinch ourselves at times as we have been so lucky.
’Some people win Tattslotto. We feel that we have won with Birdsong.’
Birdsong Nursery and Gardens is offering a free Devonshire tea to the first five people (not all in one group!) who mention this article.
Contact details: Birdsong Nursery and Garden
9 Baglin St, Smythesdale, Vic. 3351 Ph. 0416 057 713 Website: Birdsong Nursery & Gardens Hours: Wednesday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm