Robert Ryan was the personal trainer with tattoo covered muscles, working in a suburban gym. Katie Arena was his client, the girl who left her administration job, eager to start her own event hire business in the massive warehouse across the road.
They could never have imagined on the day they first met, that they would fall in love and end up growing dahlias in a two acre property in Lyndoch.
“I know right?” laughs Katie describing how neither of them had even used a shovel let alone contemplated living in a country town.
But here they are, running the “Little Lyndoch Flower Farm”, surrounded by two acres of land, shade houses and garden beds, filled with colourful blooms, vegetables and a couple sheep – one named Betsy, the other, Norman.
“They’re living their best life,” says Katie as she introduces Mabel the chook who is clucking around her feet, wanting attention.
The animals aren’t the only ones loving life on the farm, a stark contrast to the city life the couple were living just a few years back.
Katie says she always wanted to have her own business and when her “side hustle” of hiring out furniture showed potential, she decided to quit her job and take the next step.
She was telling her personal trainer, Rob that she had just leased the showroom opposite the gym on Main North Road and he kindly offered to help move in.
“I laugh when I think about it now because I literally had $600 in my bank account and I leased this building which was like thousands of dollars a month,” Katie says.
“I had no idea what I was doing. I filled the place with all my furniture and people started visiting. Because they saw this big space which was all decorated, they thought I was in business for ages so they were booking me for all these events. That’s how it all started really.”
As Rob and Katie’s relationship blossomed, so too did the business, “The Queen’s Quarters”.
“We booked a full season of weddings and then people were asking me if I do flowers and I said yeah, sure! But I didn’t, it was fake it till you make it!
“I started practicing and luckily I found that I was really good at it.”
In no time, the calendar was booked out and Katie realised she’d better learn floristry quick smart.
“I was like wow, I love this! I started TAFE but had to pull out because I was paying massive rent. All the money made in the first year went straight into the building.
“We thought what are we going to do? So we moved in with my mum and rented a shed.”
The couple eventually found a run down, overgrown property in Lyndoch.
“Nobody wanted the place, but we walked in and thought this is it!,” Katie enthuses.
“We had zero intent of building a flower farm. We bought it because it had two big sheds on two acres.”
“And half a house,” adds Rob, describing the building which he says was barely habitable.
“There was so much work to do, it was insane.”
In early September, 2017 they moved in.
“We literally got the keys and that first night we started ripping off the tiles,” Rob says.
Their plan was to renovate, but that still hasn’t eventuated because “The Queen’s Quarters” needed their full attention. And with Rob commuting to Parafield to work at the gym, the days were exhausting enough.
“We put a year and a half into it, built the shed and all of our clients were happy to come out here,” explains Katie.
“We booked another big season and everything was going awesome!”
Then COVID-19 struck, gyms were closed and everything took a nose dive.
“I was like, what are we going to do now? The calendar was wiped clean for 9 months,” Kate says.
During that time, Rob grew six dahlia plants, he still doesn’t know why exactly.
“They were in this tiny little garden as big as a table, probably even smaller,” he laughs. “Once you’ve grown dahlias, there’s nothing like it!”
“He was like Babe, check this out, it’s so awesome!” Katie says of his excitement at seeing the first blooms.
“Then I thought, we’ve got land we could grow more to use in the business.”
A green house popped up overnight thanks to a tomato growing uncle who generously donated one of his, and in the second year, they planted 150 dahlias.
“It escalated pretty quickly! “Rob says of the demand for flowers.
The couple woke at the crack of dawn to remove skip loads of rubbish, turn soil and build shade houses to fulfil their plan to expand.
“I’ll give anything a go,” Rob says.
“When we first moved here, I hadn’t even picked up a tool or even mowed a lawn. Now I’m doing it all, I’m building things. I learned to use a drill building the fence – 300 posts. Everything is self taught really, it’s all a learning curve.
“We were digging, dividing and starting a little garden which ended up becoming a huge project. It was supposed to be three weeks, then three months then it turned into a year…It got bigger and bigger!”
Katie shared their journey on Instagram and to her surprise, locals were coming to the farm gate, wanting to buy fresh flowers.
The Little Lyndoch Flower Farm was born and Barossans were absolutely loving it.
“The local community were visiting the farm for contact-less pickup, just fresh flowers from the garden. People were messaging us, we didn’t think there would be such a demand.
“Then it really became about the lifestyle.”
Working together, running the farm was a joy and as a florist, Katie knew there was a massive gap in the market for local growers in South Australia. Why not help fill it? She had the contacts.
“Rob just fell in love with it!” Katie says of her flower growing partner.
Even he’s shocked at how much he enjoys it.
“If you told me four years ago I’d be growing dahlias I would’ve said get out of my gym, what are you talking about?”
While COVID-19 was the catalyst to start The Little Lyndoch Flower Farm, easing of restrictions created a new challenge.
“Six months ago, we weren’t sure if we would ever do a wedding again, we didn’t know what was going on and we were content with building the farm,” says Katie.
“Then restrictions changed and we had a massive influx of weddings, we had to decide really quickly what we were going to do.
“Rob and I couldn’t be in two places at once, so we decided to either close down “The Queen’s Quarter’s” business or hire people which is a scary thing to do coming off the back of COVID.
“We took the risk, we had one team member and we hired another three to help out.
“Basically Rob and I take care of the farm and the girls are looking after the weddings and events side of the business.
“It’s working well,” says Rob who has also runs gym sessions at the property too.
Hours are still long, but they wouldn’t have it any other way as they prepare to plant 1,200 dahlias for next season along with a range of other flowers.
They are learning together and having a laugh as they turn into “an old married couple,” yelling across the garden at each other and falling asleep at 8.30 p.m. from sheer exhaustion.
“We’ve learnt recently that we are just wired differently from others and we’ve accepted that,” Katie says.
“Not that it’s a good or a bad thing, we love it for us. I think for a time people were saying you need to relax, you need to rest!
“Well, we don’t want to ‘Netflix and Chill’. We’d much rather be outside until dark, getting things done
“This is what we’ll do forever!”