Orchard Garden owners to offer new opportunity

Avid gardeners and venue operators Dale Butcher and Wendy Robertson know well that everything has its season.

The husband and wife team who own Orchard Garden in Alexandra have decided it is time and call the last season on their hospitality operation and put the business, up for sale including the attached house with extensive gardens, a maze and a secluded pool area.

They will have owned the site for 34 years in May 2022, having bought an existing house on what was a war resettlement block and its attached orchard.

The property was originally just over 10ha and is now is now about 4ha.

"We started out growing fruit," Mr Butcher said.

"It was really the demise of small fruitgrowers in the region that pushed us to diversify."

They started gardening "from Day One" and moved into hosting events because Ms Robertson’s sister wanted to hold her wedding there.

"And then a close friend asked to be married in the garden, and it just snowballed from there," she said.

That was 28 years ago, during which the property has hosted 550 weddings, in addition to many other events, and they added a cafe 22 years ago.

It’s been absolutely fantastic, but it’s time," Ms Robertson said.

"We’ve just done six weeks of 100-hour weeks," she said, "and it’s incredibly hard going."

Orchard Garden owners Dale Butcher and Wendy Robertson have put their business, house and...
Orchard Garden owners Dale Butcher and Wendy Robertson have put their business, house and extensive gardens on the market. PHOTO: TRACIE BARRETT
Gardening was no longer a joy as they no longer had the time, so they planned to move to another property they have in Alexandra overlooking the river - "the worst house on the best block", Mr Butcher said - which they were renovating and where they would tend the garden.

They will be leaving the hospitality industry behind at the smaller property.

"We’re looking for a sea-change, not a start-again," Mr Butcher said.

Leaving won’t be easy, they said, as there are so many memories in the property, both personal and professional, though the two often get entwined.

The raised their two children there - Finn Butcher (26) is a world championship silver medallist kayaker, and sister Meg Butcher (28) now lives and studies in Christchurch.

They have also formed long-term relationships with many of their clients and staff.

Mr Butcher said they had a good relationship with Dunstan High School also, sponsoring the year 9 nights and hosting leaver dinners.

"Those kids go on and they come back and get married here," Ms Robertson said.

Staff-wise, they employ a number of high school students who might start with them at age 13, mowing lawns or doing kitchen prep, and tend to come back every summer break until finishing university, gaining training and experience over that time.

"The joy will be leaving the pressures behind," Mr Butcher said, but with remaining in Alexandra, they would stay part of the community, and would now be able to accept invitations for dinners and special events.

As to who they could see buying the property, they had thought about it a lot, because it is such a personal space, Mr Butcher said.

Orchard Garden would be an ideal lifestyle block but, ideally, they imagined a couple in their 30s or 40s in Auckland with a passion for hospitality and maybe a young family, looking for a better lifestyle.

"I imagine somebody looking online and saying, ‘We could do this — we’ve got the skills we’ve got the passion, and we can make a sea change in our lives’."

tracie.barrett@odt.co.nz

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