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Discover Bayside's hidden garden centre with a social purpose

A blooming enterprise that grows more than just plants

Bayside Garden Centre offers a wide variety of trees, plants and shrubs. Photo: Michael Donohue

A cul-de-sac filled with storage container facilities and industrial buildings isn’t the first place you’d expect to find a garden centre. And the car-crammed streets make me worry I won’t find a park anywhere to find out if there is one here at all.

I needn’t have been concerned on either front. On closer inspection, there’s plenty of parking through the gates at Bayside Garden Centre, a hidden Kogarah gem, and when I walk inside there’s a solid couple of acres of blooming, blossoming trees, plants and shrubs – everything from good-sized magnolias and eucalypts to small pots of chillies and herbs.

But it turns out there’s yet another surprise.

The Bayside Garden Centre is more than simply a place to buy plants, and the first clue comes via a sign at its entryway.

“Helping Special Australians Who Help Themselves” it reads, before going on to explain that the centre is a joint venture between Bayside Council and the nearby Intellectual Disability Foundation of St George. Founded in 1994, it’s staffed by up to 12 ‘supported employees’ who have intellectual disabilities, along with a manager and other staff. Fifty per cent of the nursery’s revenue is reinvested into the enterprise, and the council and charity take a share as their return on investment, much of which is then spent at the nursery, such as when the council buys trees for greening neighbourhoods.

The centre gives employment and purpose to people with intellectual disabilities. Photos: Alexandra Carlton

Walking up the driveway and into the centre proper I meet Michael Byrnes, who’s been managing the centre for eight years, following a 20-year career working in nurseries. He’s chatting with the team — there are around seven supported employees on staff at the moment — who are busy repotting today’s delivery.

Most of the plants that the centre purchases are bought from tube stock, potted up and then transferred to one of three growing igloos until they’re mature enough to be sold. “It’s a pretty large mix,” Byrnes says of the garden’s selection. “Camellias, azaleas, citrus trees, natives and exotics, annuals changing according to the season of course,” he says. They sell to three main types of customer: council for neighbourhood planting, landscapers and the general public.

Nasseim Abdel-Mounen is one of the centre’s longest-serving employees, having first begun working with the centre 17 years ago. I meet him as he’s transferring a few pots from near the gardenias to another part of the centre. Before he started working here, Abdel-Mounen didn’t know too much about plants, and worried he wouldn’t be able to learn because he can’t read.

“But that doesn’t matter too much,” he says. “Most of the time people just want to know ‘does this plant need full sun or half shade?’ or how tall do they want a certain plant to grow. Or I ask customers ‘do you want something with flowers or no flowers?’ I know a lot of it all now by looking at the plants.” He advises people to take photos of their gardens to bring to the centre and he’ll have a look at their space to give them advice. And he even has this tip: “I always say, do your garden in three parts, start at the front and then work to the back.”

The centre’s range is similar to the commercial places and often cheaper. Photos: Alexandra Carlton

The centre’s primary purpose is to support people like Abdel-Mounen, but Michael Byrnes says he hopes that the broader Bayside community realises that the centre is also a really great place to stock up on any sort of plant you need for your garden, or indoor space.

“A lot of people in the Bayside area still don't know about our existence, we very much work on word of mouth,” he says. “We want people to know that we have a big range, similar to the big commercial places, and for the most part we’re cheaper.”

Abdel-Mounen says this is exactly what he tells all his friends. “I like working here because I tell my mates, if you need plants, just come down and I’ll get you sorted,” he says with a big smile. He’ll get you sorted too – just ask for Nasseim.

The Bayside Garden Centre is open Monday to Friday 7:30AM to 3:45PM and Saturdays 9AM to 2PM. Plant deliveries can be arranged for a fee. 41 Beach Street, Kogarah. baysidegardencentre.com.au

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