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‘Everything has to look pretty’

Catherine McGreivy’s home is a haven of greenery, clean air and cosiness. With the popularity of indoor house plants booming, Catherine spoke to Sophie Rishworth about tips she has learned through three decades of being a florist.

Walking into Catherine McGreivy’s home is like walking into the pages of a magazine.

OK, she’d tidied, had the gardener around, there was jazz playing and lavender oil emanating from a diffuser.

But it was more than that. Catherine has that X-factor, of turning any space into something welcoming, calming and gorgeous all at the same time.

The Danish have a word for it — hygee (pronounced hoo-ga) — described on Google as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being”.

Catherine, 51, has it in spades.

It stems from her passion for what she does.

Despite having terrible allergies and hayfever, Catherine’s career as a florist is in her blood.

Every new home her family moved into around Gisborne, Napier and Auckland, her mother would revamp each garden, and renovate the interior of each house, “top to toe”.

She credits her Mum Gael, Nana Ethel and Aunty Shona for planting in her the love of nature, flowers and gardens.

“I was always going to be a florist.”

Catherine remembers a career day at high school. It was at an Auckland florist shop in the ’80s. Catherine found herself surrounded by cellophane-wrapped, single-stemmed, carnations and loved it.

Tastes have changed and Catherine wouldn’t dream of using cellophane now. Everything is more natural, wrapped in brown paper, with flowers and plants sourced from local growers.

The house plant look has changed too and is more “tropical” these days.

Catherine says of her home, “Everything has got to look pretty”.

“Matt (her partner) didn’t get it at first. Then he went to get his hair cut one day and read a magazine as he waited. He come home and said ‘I get it, this look is in magazines’.

“I’ll decide I’ll want to do a certain colour in the house, or buy one new thing and have to change the whole house around it.”

At one stage Catherine went through a Crown Lynn phase and ended up with 20 ceramic swans.

She also wrote a book in the ’80s called “Hot Flowers”. Catherine pulls it out of her bookshelf rather reluctantly.

“I didn’t make a bean,” she says.

“I’m actually quite shy but when I am doing my flowers or talking about plants, it comes naturally. I love people.”

Catherine, born in Gisborne, was always a hunter and gatherer. As a girl she hunted shells on the beach, or gathered up seaweed, seed pods and wild flowers.

She left Lytton High School in 1985 and went to Selwyn College in Auckland, where she could take subjects like ceramics.

After leaving school she worked for a couple of florists before she and her sister opened their own business called Texas Rose in Ponsonby.

Owning her own business though, and doing weekend work like weddings, left her feeling she was missing out on her son Fletcher.

So in 2004, with three-year-old Fletcher, she moved home and bought a house in Gisborne.

Catherine started up a florist business here — Flowers by Catherine — “Mum worked for me unpaid for years,” she says with a laugh.

Today her business is called Hello Petal. Her kitchen table is the work bench, and she still raids her mother’s garden down the road.

Her sister Kirsten has moved to Tuapiro Point in Tahawai, Katikati, where she will also grow flowers to supply Catherine with.

Catherine prepares weekly house flowers for regular clients, creates posies for gifts and special events, plus has a huge selection of more than 100 house plants.

She has killed a few house plants over the years, and taught herself through Googling and following “plant people” on Instagram and Facebook.

The most common mistake people make is over-watering, she says.

Don’t let plants sit in water in the tray for days (not good for the roots).

“People put plants where they want the plant to go, not where the plant wants to go.”

Catherine learnt from making mistakes. They like indirect filtered light. Other common mistakes include people using outdoor potting mix for indoor plants — a real no-no apparently.

So is putting plants into pots that are too big. They like it cosy and let you know when it is time to re-pot when their roots come out the bottom or side of the pot.

Which is another thing Catherine does. She never plants straight into the actual pot, but into plastic pots she then sits inside the decorative pot.

Dusting is also important for plants with big leaves.

Over her 17 years being back in Gisborne, Catherine has turned her house into a home, helped along by partner Matt Hayes, a painter by trade.

“I was on my own for years, until Fletcher was 10. Then we met Matt.”

Catherine and Matt have been together for “10 romantic years” and engaged for seven of them.

“We don’t want to rush it,” says Catherine, laughing.

She had a career break from floristry for nine years but over Covid decided she needed to go back to her passion.

“When I got back into it, Matt said, ‘It’s like having a new girlfriend’.

“Sometimes you lose your way a bit and you’ve got to do what makes you happy.”

She is part of a co-operative of four businesses at The Aviary.

The shared retail space beside the Poverty Bay Club means they all work two days a week and take turns on Saturdays.

“It’s a shared workload, shared rent, it’s really nice and a great opportunity.”

Plants also like women’s voices, says Catherine. And they thrive at The Aviary, where there is always chatting, laughing and music.

HOME: Catherine McGreivy creates wonderful spaces. She is pictured at home with the family dogs, Axel and Rose. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell