Catherine McGreivy’s home is a haven of greenery, clean air and comfort. As the popularity of indoor houseplants soars, Catherine spoke to Sophie Rishworth about the tips she’s learned over three decades as a florist.
Walking into Catherine McGreivy’s house is like stepping inside the pages of a magazine.
OK, she had tidied up, had the gardener around, there was jazz and lavender oil was coming out of a diffuser.
But it was more than that. Catherine has that X factor, to transform any space into something welcoming, calming and beautiful all at the same time.
The Danes have a word for it – hygee (pronounced hoo-ga) – described on Google as “a quality of comfort and comfortable friendliness that breeds a sense of contentment or well-being”.
Catherine, 51, has plenty to spare.
It comes from her passion for what she does.
Despite terrible allergies and hay fever, Catherine’s career as a florist is in her blood.
With every new home her family moved to around Gisborne, Napier and Auckland, her mother would rearrange every garden and renovate the interior of every home, ‘from head to toe’.
She thanks her mother Gael, Nana Ethel and Aunt Shona for having planted in her the love of nature, flowers and gardens.
“I was always going to be a florist. “
Catherine remembers a career day in high school. It was at an Auckland florist in the 1980s. Catherine found herself surrounded by cellophane-wrapped single-stemmed carnations and loved it.
Tastes have changed and Catherine wouldn’t dream of using cellophane now. Everything is more natural, wrapped in brown paper, with flowers and plants from local producers.
The appearance of houseplants has also changed and is more “tropical” these days.
Catherine says of her house: “Everything must be pretty”.
“Matt (his partner) didn’t understand at first. Then he went for a haircut one day and read a magazine while he waited. He came home and said ‘I get it, this look is in the magazines’.
“I’m going to decide I’m going to want to do a certain color in the house, or buy a new thing and have to change the whole house around it.”
At one point, Catherine went through a phase of Crown Lynn and ended up with 20 ceramic swans.
She also wrote a book in the 80’s called “Hot Flowers”. Catherine pulls it out of her library rather reluctantly.
“I didn’t make a bean,” she says.
“I’m actually quite shy, but when I do my flowers or talk about plants, it comes naturally to me. I like people.”
Catherine, born in Gisborne, has always been a hunter-gatherer. As a child, she hunted seashells on the beach or gathered seaweed, pods and wild flowers.
She left Lytton High School in 1985 and went to Selwyn College in Auckland, where she was able to study subjects like ceramics.
After leaving school, she worked for a few florists before she and her sister opened their own business called Texas Rose in Ponsonby.
However, owning her own business and working weekends like weddings left her feeling her son Fletcher missed her.
So in 2004, along with three-year-old Fletcher, she moved out and bought a house in Gisborne.
Catherine started a florist business here – Flowers by Catherine – “Mum worked for me without getting paid for years,” she laughs.
Today his business is called Hello Petal. Her kitchen table is the work bench, and she always raids her mother’s garden down the road.
Her sister Kirsten moved to Tuapiro Point in Tahawai, Katikati, where she will also grow flowers to supply Catherine.
Catherine prepares house flowers every week for repeat customers, creates bouquets for gifts and special events, and offers a wide selection of over 100 houseplants.
She’s killed a few houseplants over the years and taught herself by Google searching and following “plant people” on Instagram and Facebook.
The most common mistake people make is overwatering, she says.
Do not let the plants sit in the water in the tray for days (not good for the roots).
“People put plants where they want the plant to go, not where the plant wants to go.”
Catherine learned by making mistakes. They like filtered indirect light. Other common mistakes include people using outdoor soil for indoor plants – a real no-no apparently.
The same goes for plants in pots that are too large. They like it cozy and let you know when it’s time to repot when their roots come out of the bottom or side of the pot.
Which is another thing Catherine does. She never plants directly in the pot, but in plastic pots, she then sits inside the decorative pot.
Sprinkling is also important for plants with large leaves.
During her 17 years back in Gisborne, Catherine transformed her house into a home, helped by her partner Matt Hayes, a painter by trade.
“I was alone for years, until Fletcher was 10. Then we met Matt.”
Catherine and Matt have been together for “10 romantic years” and seven of them got engaged.
“We don’t want to rush things,” Catherine laughs.
She took a hiatus from her florist career for nine years, but because of Covid, she decided she had to get back to her passion.
“When I got back into it, Matt said, ‘It’s like having a new girlfriend.
“Sometimes you get a little lost and you have to do what makes you happy.”
She is part of a four-business cooperative at The Aviary.
The shared retail space next to the Poverty Bay Club means they all work two days a week and take turns on Saturdays.
“It’s a shared workload, a shared rent, it’s really nice and a great opportunity.”
Plants also like female voices, says Catherine. And they thrive at The Aviary, where there’s always talk, laughter, and music.
HOME: Catherine McGreivy creates wonderful spaces. She is pictured at home with the family’s dogs, Axel and Rose. Photo by Rebecca Grunwell