Eltham landscaper, Mac McVeigh, spent the early part of his career as Retail Manager at Bulleen Art and Garden. After ten years of enjoying the job, he felt ‘pot bound’ and left to start his own business.


What are the main differences between working in retail and landscaping?

The first thing that comes to mind is, in retail, it’s very people-oriented; the people you are working with, then the customers. When you’re out on your own in landscaping, some days you can be working away and it’s just you and the magpies, or just you and the team you’ve got working with you; you could say it’s slightly more solitary. On the other hand, it’s total freedom, total variety of jobs and a change of scenery all the time. In retail, you’re going to the same place every day. There’s more flexibility when you work for yourself: if something else I need to do comes up, I can just tell clients I’m really sorry I’ve got to go – you’re in total control. Sometimes you think it’s fantastic, other times, it’s on your shoulders entirely.

Ultimately you get the satisfaction of doing it, not just talking about it.


How many gardens do you work on?

It’s hard to give an exact number because I do such a variety of things. I suppose there are 20-30 of my closer-knit clients, but I have a contact list of up to 50. Work comes via word of mouth or through what we call a trade referral system. I know landscapers through BAAG who might not want to do irrigation. Whereas, I don’t want to buy a bobcat, so I subcontract someone else to do that work.


In what ways do you make your gardens sustainable?

I try to do things that will last, not need replacing all the time and try to use local materials. Recycle materials. More plant-related and porous surfaces. Paving often means more water goes in to storm water. I try to keep water on site as much as possible. Habitat creation. I do a lot of veggie beds and things like that. A lot of produce. I’m an approved Melbourne Water contractor so I do re-veg along waterways – stream frontage programs. And, I try as much as possible to work close to home so I’m not travelling all over the place. Re-use things on site like old sleepers – if it can be used, use it. It gives character, makes it more unique.

I don’t use nasty pesticides. If you have to use any chemical, use it at its minimum when it works best. Being careful not to damage the soil.

Another thing is trying to reduce lawn area.


Have things changed much since you started?

Absolutely. The biggest thing that stands out is the pesticides that used to be used. It used to be, you thought you were pretty good when someone would come in and you’d say: “Oh that’s an Azalea Lace Bug – what you use for that is Rogor or Folimat.” All these nasty omethoates and dimethoates – now you know, that’s a bit of overkill and they’re not even on the market anymore. But, at the time, it was: “This’ll work”. And, it did work but it probably killed half a dozen other things in the garden as well.

There’s been a big increase in knowledge about the broader environment.

There’s probably more recognition now of native plants and the range of them and how they provide habitat and corridor. Way back in the 70s and 80s, everyone wanted a manicured lawn. That was their idea of what a good garden was. People wanted standard roses, all their azaleas, that they’ll spray and all the rest of it – all these exotic plants from other parts of the world that need more water.  Now, we have a deeper understanding of environmental impacts in your garden design. Back in those days, you could leave your tap on, you didn’t even have to pay for water. At the time, people thought they were doing the right thing.


Why did you choose horticulture?

At the end of my first year of Ag Science at La Trobe, I got a summer holiday job with Vans Nursery in Sale (where my parents were living at the time) and enjoyed the whole nursery scene. Later I started in the soil and sand yard at BAAG, while I was still doing Ag Science, and got more of a taste of the people in the industry and liked it. I took a year off in 1987 and travelled around Australia working on landscaping projects for the first time. In Alice Springs, they were paving the Todd Mall and I was involved in planting the advanced trees that are still there. I worked in Port Douglas on the Mirage Resort with lagoons and transplanting trees, rocks and things like that. When I came back, I went to Burnley, I was right into it then and had more of a focus.


The benefits of being a GGP member

Chatting to other people in the game. As long as you’ve been in it, you can never say you know everything. It might just be one little thing, you think: “I might try that”. The main thing – when you are working by yourself or with your working group, you can become a bit insular, unless you actively go out and read magazines and research things. It’s really good in that regard.