Business meets leisure at florist Milly Van Der Hoeven’s open-plan Pirongia haven, where flowers bloom with abandon and the holiday season is rooted in family traditions
Here’s how a flower farm florist celebrates Christmas at home
For Milly Van Der Hoeven, Paul Johnson and their three kids, it’s not Christmas until their home is filled with the scent of pine. “We hand-pick a real tree every year as a family – it has to be a real one,” smiles Milly. The family look forward to their annual outing to The Christmas Tree Farm in Hamilton, where they carefully choose that year’s pine tree, before hauling it back to their Pirongia home to decorate.
It’s not just the fragrance of pine that wafts through their Waikato abode at Christmas. Their 170-square-metre Lockwood home sits on an acre of land, much of it planted in roses, dahlias, annuals, perennials, herbs and foliage for their flower farm business, Primm Gardens. Here, Milly grows (and designs) seasonal blooms for weddings, events, wholesale orders and Christmas displays.
“In December, I go to town, filling the house with floral wreaths, garlands and arrangements, as well as large bowls of fresh fruit and nuts,” she says. “It smells wonderful!”
Although Primm Gardens has more than 500 roses in 70 varieties growing in their flower farm, it’s dahlias that are the focus of Milly’s own Christmas floral arrangements. “At that time of the year, the dahlias are just starting to bloom. There is such a wide variety of forms and colours to play with, so it’s fun creating with them!”
When asked what she loves about Christmas, Milly laughs. “Everything! I’ve always loved Christmas. It’s a magic time for kids, and as parents, we get to relive that joy and excitement with them. It’s my favourite time of year.”
The kids all get new pyjamas on Christmas Eve and they all hang out as a family, playing board games and watching Home Alone as they wait for the man in red. For Christmas Day, Milly continues an old family tradition in which the children exchange gifts with each other.
“I’m the eldest of five and as young kids we would always hunt out a gift for each other at Christmas. Our three now do the same. It’s awesome watching them take time to think about their siblings, to make or find them something heartfelt, and to focus on giving rather than receiving,” she says.
Christmas is either spent at home or close to home, with Milly’s and Paul’s families all living locally. “We alternate hosting lunch, which is the main meal of the day for us all. Christmas is always fun and relaxed, with good food and music, outdoor games and lots of laughs,” she says.
The family’s Lockwood was built in 2012 and designed to be simple yet modern, following timeless principles. “It’s open-plan living at its best,” says Milly. “It’s north-facing with generous decking and a big lawn we can use to enjoy Kiwi summers.”
The family moved in three years ago, buying the place from friends who were relocating to Australia. The couple wanted something semi-rural with enough space for their kids, flowers and dogs, so when the opportunity arose “it felt like it was meant to be”, says Milly.
The aesthetic of the home was already established. The land, on the other hand, was almost bare with only a few young fruit trees in evidence – yet full of promise. “We’ve slowly been working on our plantings over the past few years, adding trees, hedging, rose beds and cutting gardens,” Milly says.
They also put their own touch on the house, adding a master bedroom with walk-in wardrobe and ensuite, as well as a large garage to give them more storage.
At the moment, the living area doubles as Milly’s studio as she juggles flower-arranging with family life, but she says it’s a small price to pay to have the flexibility to be present for her family while also working.
Building a flower farm:
Flowers and gardening have been Milly’s passion for the past decade, since having children. She’s self-taught, in both floristry and growing flowers, so building Primm Gardens from scratch has been a hands-on endeavour. Milly’s had to studiously learn the right way to do things, discovering what plants do best in their soil type and climate and building on that knowledge year by year.
There are always challenges. With no hothouses, the weather can really make or break a ‘flush’ (the point at which all blossoms are open). Most of the plants Milly grows are fairly resilient, but too much of anything – heat, rain, wind – can be stressful and encourage bugs and disease. These risks are constant, with no two seasons the same. But it’s all worth it to Milly.
“It’s an outlet for my love of growing and creating,” she says. “It’s a privilege to work with nature and the seasons; the pace and beauty involved. I love that my work is so varied and creative, and that I get to meet so many special people along the way. The floral styling has been a beautiful consequence and something that brings me immense joy.”
With her gorgeous family, home, pets and a beautiful flower farm, Milly has to pinch herself because she’s truly living her dream.
Words by: Debbie Harrison. Photography by: Helen Bankers. Styling by: Tina Stephen.