At a glance, Andy Kepitis, founder of Kep Horticulture, seems like the kind of person who planned out his future quite carefully. That was not the case. “Growing up, I didn’t have any kind of green thumb,” he says. “When I was at university, studying accounting of all things, I was doing landscape labouring with a friend because I needed work and I wanted to work outside.”
Soon after, he scored a regular gig helping to set up the annual Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. “Pushing around trolleys full of plants I’d never seen before started to captivate me,” he says. “It was a slow burn in terms of falling completely in love with plants, but once I did, I fell very hard.”
Kepitis completed a horticulture course at Melbourne Polytechnic in 2018 and now runs his own business. The Melbourne-based horticulture outfit offers garden design, installation and maintenance, as well as horticultural consultation, a service for when “things are going pear-shaped, and people need advice on what they could be doing wrong”. Kepitis’s speciality is “plants you don’t see in every single garden in every single suburb,” he says. “I like to use structural succulents and cactus to punctuate a garden bed and grasses for movement.”
His favourite part of the job is trawling nurseries to track down perfect plants – “things that will not only look good but perform to their best in each little spot in the garden”.
Like many Melbourne business owners, Kepitis was forced to pivot during the Covid-19 pandemic to stay afloat. “It was difficult,” says Kepitis of the rolling lockdowns. “You couldn’t go to people’s homes. We ended up accidentally starting a business from our backyard making tiled furniture.”
Kepitis and his partner Lara named their new interiors business Poly Designs, which quickly snowballed in popularity. “A typical workday for me is tiling and grouting,” he says. “It’s plants on the side, now.”
While Kepitis enjoys the variety that comes with running two businesses, horticulture remains his passion. His favourite place to unwind at the end of each day is the garden at his home in Northcote, a “mishmash of everything” that features a seasonal veggie garden, colourful perennials and grasses. At the back of his plot is a greenhouse, the home of his “collection of weird and wonderful plants”. A favourite specimen currently found there is Tylecodon schaeferianus, “a strange little South African succulent with green blobs as leaves that puts out beautiful pink flowers every Valentine’s Day”.
Kepitis stumbled upon this exotic treasure at Roraima Nursery at Lara, just outside of Geelong. “Cruising through the shelves … it immediately caught my eye,” he says. “There was no way I wasn’t going to take one home.”
For Kepitis, gardening is like meditation. “Whether it is repotting plants or observing them, or even something as mundane as pulling weeds, I find you can switch your brain off, and it’s only the task at hand you think about.”
For him, the ability to play the long game is about finding balance between work and home life. Kepitis makes sure he and Lara spend time away from their businesses. “There’s no time where we’re just working seven days a week for a month straight,” he says. “There’s no way you could do that and end up being successful. You can definitely push hard for periods of time, but we make sure that we’ve got time to walk the dog in the morning and the afternoon and time to relax in the garden after work.”
Kepitis is in the final stages of putting together an exhibit for the 2022 Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. Titled Plant Obsession, it’s inspired by “young Millennials who can’t afford a backyard space, so they live in an apartment and fill it with plants,” he explains. “This is a spillover from that indoor plant collection.”
Kepitis hopes his exhibit catches the eye of fellow garden enthusiasts and opens the door to more horticulture work. His overarching goal is to design gardens that “inspire people to get outside and get their hands dirty”.
Kepitis’s advice for anyone keen to spend more time in the garden is to do away with the green thumb tag entirely. “The best gardeners kill the most plants – they just keep going back for more. It’s a learning experience rather than a failure when you kill plants,” he says. “Every single day you’re working with plants, you have an opportunity to learn something new.”
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