“We’ve taken so much from the environment,” Marina Grassecker, founder and managing director of Harvest Seeds & Native Plants, tells Broadsheet. “And when you take, you have to give something back.”
And that’s exactly what she’s been doing since 1986 at her nursery in the northern beaches suburb of Terrey Hills. Set on just over two hectares (though it’s slowly spilling onto neighbouring land), the seed merchant and nursery stocks 700 species of native plants and specialises in those endemic to Sydney. Grassecker’s goal is simple: to return our bushland to its roots.
Harvest stocks the sort of species you’d see on bushwalks in Sydney and its surrounds, or even on your plate in some restaurants. The menu of bush foods includes warrigal greens (native spinach), Trachymene incisa (native parsnip), and Austromyrtus dulcis (midgen berry). Harvest also supplied many of the crops growing at South Eveleigh’s Indigenous rooftop garden, Yerrabingin. And if you’re lucky, you might even find its Corsican mint floating in your cocktail at The Newport.
But bush foods are only the beginning of what Harvest does. A registered seed merchant, Grassecker started working with government bodies more than 30 years ago, helping them source native species for large-scale projects – or save them from the site for later. (One such project was the landscaping at Homebush for the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.) Most of the grasses that line the highways as you head out of Sydney on holidays are likely her handiwork.
“A year before construction, we go in and collect thousands of seeds and plants before the land gets grubbed,” explains Grassecker. They’re then taken back to Harvest, propagated, planted and raised, until they’re ready to be returned to their original habitat once construction is complete.
But still, Grassecker finds that native species are too often overlooked. The decision to open her nursery to the public, she says, was “common sense”.
At Harvest, there are propagation tunnels fitted with heated plates housing seedlings, a resident blue-tongue lizard named Sandra, and row upon row of native species to buy. What makes it really special, though, is its vegetation map. It divides Sydney’s suburbs into a series of “plant communities”, so you can discover what species might have been growing at your place, way before colonisation. Then, with the help of the horticulturally handy team at Harvest, you can replant them.
You can nab yourself something native for as little as $3 from the nursery’s tube stock, or get a more mature plant for around $35. If you don’t have boundless bushland in your backyard, or any backyard at all, don’t worry. It’s a common misconception that natives can’t be potted. In fact, it seems there’s still a lot we don’t know about native flora.
“Nature and our ecosystems are so important, and we’ve got such an overabundance of fashionable exotics at the moment,” says Grassecker. “It would be really nice if people just started thinking native.”
And when you do, you know where to go.
Harvest Seeds & Native Plants
281 Mona Vale Road, Terrey Hills
(02) 9450 2699
Wed to Fri 8am–4pm
Sat to Sun 9am–4pm