Aotea Landscapes Ltd (formerly PHLS Ltd) is moving into exciting new territory. The horticulture and landscaping specialists have spent the past five years servicing residential clients in Auckland’s Eastern Bays. Last October, along with a rebrand, they extended their business to service large residential and commercial developments.
Owned by mother and son team Dawn and Brendon Wihongi, the business specialises in propagation, native revegetation projects, riparian planting, sourcing and servicing, lawn mowing and tree work, commercial gardening, and hard landscaping; from earth moving, retaining, paving and more.
The business model is one that supports a range of freelance tradespeople. “The team come under our umbrella to create a full service for the contracts we work on,” says Brendon (Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Whātua). “We have landscapers, arborists and commercial gardeners, to name a few.”
Aotea Landscapes has two permanent staff, fluctuates between three to five regular contracted staff, and supports students and independent contractors with casual employment. This model helps to keep costs down by bringing in the skilled trades pertinent to each job. Most of the team are Māori and, the Wihongi family are working on a training programme to further help young Māori and Pacific men into the industry.
“It is quite scary for people to go out on their own,” adds Brendon. “We want to be a business that gives people opportunity.”
Owning a business in this industry wasn’t the first choice of career for Brendon. He had worked for years as a truck driver and, in the family’s tour coach business. However a near-fatal motorbike accident at the end of 2006 changed everything. Alongside a punctured lung, serious wounds, and breaking almost every bone in his body, Brendon also sustained a head injury that saw him lose more than a decade of memories. Including the memories associated with his work and life experience. He had to start again.
“My memory had disappeared. I couldn’t recall anything after about third form in school at Northland College. At that age, I really wanted to study horticulture.”
So after the accident Brendon pursued studies at Manukau Institute of Technology. He went on to achieve a Level 5 Diploma in horticultural management through Lincoln University. He is a few papers away from completing a degree.
“The interest was sparked by rehabilitation opportunities and me wanting to make something of some land we had in Northland. As an effect, I gained a passion for the industry.” Because of his injuries, his ability to do some of the physical aspects to the job, was limited.
Brendon pulled together a team under the PHLS banner (Professional Horticulture and Landscaping Solutions) and had a goal to become the best in the business, servicing some of the city’s most high-end clientele. “We would take on the jobs other contractors would shy away from, the jobs no other landscapers would touch. We would even take on the jobs we didn’t know how to do, to push ourselves and our ability. Because of this we developed and honed our skill, became great problem solvers and, learned to tackle the intricacies of difficult (steep, unusual) properties with ease. We also became very resourceful.”
The business started with nothing, not even any seed funding, and has grown to now include a full stock of landscaping equipment; soft and hard landscaping tools and four specialist vehicles and trailers. Paired with a wealth of experience and a team of passionate tradespeople, Aotea Landscapes is ready for the next step.
“I have been at the bottom where I have literally lost everything, almost my life. I’ve rebuilt my
skills, my experience and my career, and pulled together a great team. We’ve got everything
going for us, we now need to work on opportunities for larger contracts. It’s now time to thrive.”
Story and photos by Qiane Matata-Sipu. qiane.co.nz