When you ask Nick Gnafakis what’s needed for the perfect spring garden filled with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplants, he says: ‘love, patience and dedication.’ How would he know the answer? As the owner of Niko’s Garden, he knows a thing or two about gardening.
“I love it. A lot of my garden is based around food. I only grow what I like to eat or drink… I really have a passion for authentic Greek cooking and the self-sufficient lifestyle, living off the land,” Nick, who is also a full-time chef, tells The Greek Herald exclusively.
This passion for gardening and cooking all started when Nick first visited Greece and the island of Crete, where his dad’s side of the family is from.
“Going to Greece for the first time kind of changed my life. I was spending time in the horio with my uncles and aunties, and they were showing me the food. This was before I became a chef as well. My life took a real big U-turn at that point,” the 25-year-old says.
Nick ended up completing his cooking apprenticeship and started his own herb and vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Melbourne. He later decided to launch his small business, Niko’s Garden, and he’s never looked back.
“I was over at my pappou’s house one day and I was looking at all these herbs and I didn’t really take note of them after all these years. But you know, once I started working in the kitchen, I started seeing some familiar herbs and some that were not so familiar,” Nick explains.
“So I was like, ‘Why not grow my own herbs? Why am I paying five bucks to get old dead herbs… when I can just grow them all?’ [My pappou] had all this beautiful Cretan stuff as well so I just started planting all this stuff. It started with herbs then I got into teas. I just started discovering all these different mountain and village herbs, all the delicacies from Crete.
“I was occasionally selling some extra things on [Facebook] Marketplace because I had so much I kind of took over my dad’s garden. But yeah, I’ve always thought about [starting a business] but didn’t do it officially until we had our first lockdown. I had no excuse so I thought, ‘I’m just going to start a private business and start sharing the love’.”
And that’s exactly what he’s been doing ever since. Niko’s Garden is so successful that Nick now sells and distributes his unique range of Greek and Mediterranean mountain herbs, medicinal teas and heirloom vegetables to customers across Melbourne and Australia.
“I have some of the most amazing herbs and teas that don’t exist anywhere. That’s really the main thing. I’ve got all these beauties in my garden and I’m one of the only people in Melbourne who actually gets to enjoy it,” Nick says.
“I want to share the vegetables and the mountain herbs with other passionate people like me… and it makes me happy. It makes me happy to see other people enjoying it because I know how beautiful they are.”
This clear pride for his garden and products is something Nick hopes will inspire others to get into the garden this spring as well.
“Just do it. Everyone should be growing all the stuff I have. A lot of it is just stuff you should have in your garden like your summer vegetables, your cooking herbs. They’re perennial. They’re going to stay there with you forever,” Nick says.
“Times like these remind us why it is so important to live life self-sufficiently and from the land.”
You can purchase some herbs or veggies from Niko’s Garden at nikosgarden.com.au.