A supposedly innocent visit home to Mid Canterbury had mammoth repercussions for John Grieve and partner Bruce Wright. It led to the sale of a home and two businesses in Perth, and the couple’s migration from Australia to Winchester – to breathe new life into Kavanagh House.
It all started a couple of years ago when John was home visiting family. Driving south, he noticed the FOR SALE sign outside Kavanagh House. By the time he’d driven past a few more times his curiosity was piqued. “”One day it got the better of me. I thought it might be worth a look,” he says.
He made an appointment to view the property, hoping not to like what he saw, but the opposite happened. When Bruce arrived a few weeks later, he too could see the enormous potential. “As he walked through each room, all I could hear was a series of ‘wow’s.”
“It was one of those opportunities that come along very rarely,” Bruce says. We’d talked about buying a property for the future, and this one had everything we wanted: an older style home; rural setting; a fabulous view; good water supply and its own stream. It ticked all the boxes. Plus it came with a fully functioning commercial kitchen, bakery and bar.”
The pair packed up two 40-foot containers with their personal belongings, including an amazing amount of furniture and art. “Most people moving countries to live might downsize a little, but John is such a collector of shit!” Bruce jokes. “Well, its good shit!” counters John.
John especially loves his art – and his garden art…LARGE garden art, and so it was all transported and looks very much at home in the new surroundings.
The only minor downside for the pair was size of the grounds. “We had eight acres in Perth, so ideally we’d like another acre, but we’re happy with what we have for now.”
They purchased Kavanagh House on Christmas Eve 2013 and have been on a whirlwind journey since, selling their Perth home and businesses, and establishing Mia Flora café, garden centre, gift shop and gallery, which they opened in September.
John is one of the most infectiously enthusiastic people you could meet. A trained pastry chef, he bakes all the cakes, breads and scones. He’s also the gardener, and spent many hours, days and weeks moving 55 tons of rock to create the impressive rock walls in the garden.
Bruce is a qualified horticulturist and won best small garden centre of the year in Australia in 2002. “Our garden centre here is quite different to what we had in Perth. There, I struggled with selling plants that could cope with the dry soils. It wasn’t my passion. But here, I’m enjoying selling English-style plants. It’s a dream come true.” Of course Mia Flora’s garden centre carries a wide range of plants and products and Bruce is in his element sharing his knowledge with the increasing throng of visitors.
When you see what they have achieved here you can tell there is a high degree of energy and a sense of purpose. “The previous owners left the house and grounds in fantastic condition, so there really wasn’t a lot we had to do. We’ve added a bit of paint here and wallpaper there, just adding our own touches.” The major work has been in establishing the garden centre and working in the garden.
“There’s still a long way to go to achieve ‘the big picture’, but we’re well underway. We’re hoping to turn the old stables into a gift store; there are more structures to build and a lot more planting to be done.”
Since opening, they have had steady crowds, with many people commenting on how lovely it is to have the property reopened in a hospitality capacity. “It’s a gorgeous house. We love it, and we’re happy to share it.”
Mia Flora is open Thursday to Sunday and the Monday of public holidays.