Warrnambool's Indigenous plant nursery has burst back to full bloom after falling into disrepair in recent years.
The resurrection of the former Worn Gundidj Nursery - now called Casuarina Indigenous Nursery - has been a 15-month labour of love for manager Peter Lyles and his team of volunteers, trainees and apprentices.
"The whole place was a swamp when we took over," Mr Lyles said.
"It took a good three weeks just to clear out the mess that was here."
Over the following year the new business steadily grew, and now boasts over 50,000 plants.
Every species grown at Casuarina is local to the south-west, with the nursery distributing its stock all across the region.
"We service everywhere from the South Australia border up to Hamilton and the Grampians and across to Colac and down to Princetown," Mr Lyles said.
The nursery sells mostly to government organisations like catchment management authorities, water authorities and local councils, but small landowners are becoming a bigger source of revenue as interest grows in sensible, sustainable land management.
Mr Lyles said new customers come almost exclusively through their Facebook page, which features quirky posts like "Pete's plant of the week".
"We have a bit of fun with the social media and amazingly we're getting a bit of a cult following apparently," he said.
Much of Casuarina's seed stock comes from Tower Hill, which Mr Lyles said was an unbeatable source of local plant species.
When seeds first arrive at the nursery they are planted in the propagation hothouse on heated garden beds.
They stay in there for between one and three months depending on the species, before being moved to the growing hothouse, where they stay for roughly six weeks.
"The hothouse is around 25 to 30 degrees, which speeds up the growth rate," Mr Lyles said.
"When they come out of the hothouse the plants are very soft, but after a week or so the wind hardens up the leaves."
After 47 years working in horticulture in the south-west, Mr Lyles has a passion for the local plants, but at Casuarina that's only one half of the job.
Since it was formed in 1994 as Ngalawoort, the nursery has also been a social enterprise, employing young Aboriginal people from the region, as well as young people trying to get their lives back on track.
"Any new person starts off as a volunteer one or maybe two days a week," Mr Lyles said.
"They go through the mill, learn the ropes, then if they like it and they're a good fit we try them as a casual, then as a trainee and finally as an apprentice."
At any one time the nursery will have a mix of casuals and trainees and a couple of apprentices. Mr Lyles said it was one of the best jobs he'd had.
"It's great to see that evolution, seeing them find purpose and drive and something they love to do."
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The latest project at Casuarina has been plants classified as bush food - things like lemon myrtle, saltbush and Geraldton Wax - which have been an immediate hit.
Mr Lyles said the nursery helped run bush tucker programs at schools across the south-west, but local restaurants were also a growing client base.
"We even have a chef who experiments with the different plants and then passes on what he learns to local restaurants," he said.
One of the questions he most commonly gets is whether the general public can visit the nursery.
"Absolutely, and our prices are pretty much wholesale, so you'll get great bang for their buck," he said.
"Of course, it is a production nursery, so you may be left to fend for yourself among the plants, but what could be nicer than a stroll among the plants!"
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