Julie Oertel and FineBushPeople: 1997-2021
My husband, Charles, and my love of fynbos and proteas started when we attended our first Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens' Plant Sale in 1995, to buy plants for our new garden in Hout Bay, Cape Town. It was only then, that we began to recognize the proteaceae and other fynbos species, that were already growing wild on our Hout Bay plot. Having not grown up in Cape Town, we had not been exposed to this abundant plant kingdom.
A couple of years later, we were very fortunate to become owners of a beautiful farm, on top of a mountain near Piketberg, Western Cape, that was covered in a huge variety of fynbos species.
And so, our love and interest in this abundant floral kingdom grew.
This was around the same time that the internet and websites were taking off. My husband, being in IT, built a website about our farm, with some photos of the proteas, as a learning exercise.
Immediately, there was interest shown from avid gardeners around the world. Emails flooded in, with queries of how to purchase seed of some of the proteas shown on the website.
And so, unexpectedly, our seed business began. At first, I would source a few seeds of this and that, and post them overseas, and receive payment via post. As the demand grew, we realized this could be a little business we could ultimately run from the farm, once we moved there, sourcing many of the seeds from the fynbos on the farm.
So Charles rebuilt the website as an e-commerce website, where orders were streamlined and payments secure.
During this period, we were both still working. We were also harvesting proteas, on the weekends, from the farm. I then sold these to local florists, made floral arrangements for weddings, businesses and individuals. We were also raising our two very energetic, young boys. It was a busy, happy and very rewarding period in our lives.
As the seed business grew, I gave up working as a full time pharmacist, and just did a few mornings a week locuming. I spent the majority of my time running and growing the seed business. I expanded, from only selling loose seed to individuals online, to developing and selling Seed Starter Packs and Seed Eggboxes. This expanded the online business to include a retail arm, with the Starter Packs and Eggboxes being sold at retail outlets, like Kirstenbosch Gardens and Table Mountain.
I also develop Promotional Packs, with personalized or business branding, for product launches, weddings etc. on request.
We, unfortunately, never realized our dream of living on our farm. However, the business has thrived. I continue to source my seeds from local seed specialists, and run my business from my home, in Cape Town, South Africa.
I have also acquired two additional and complementary small businesses under the FineBushPeople umbrella.
In 2019, I took over the Cape Seed Smoke Primer business. The smoke primer discs are used to pre-treat a variety of fynbos seeds, to enhance their germination. This was Dr Neville Brown's brainchild. In his latter years, as his health failed, and he was no longer physically able to continue producing the discs, he transferred his knowledge, his formulations and the physical process required to make the smoke primer discs, onto me. I managed the business on his behalf, for a couple of years, until he sadly passed away in Dec 2019, at which point the business passed into my name.
In 2015, we acquired the rights to the South African award winning watercolorist, Stanley Charles Seagrief's, Protea and Cape Wildflower Prints. They are available as prints and greeting cards, on our website, and at various retail outlets.
Sadly, my husband, Charles, who was the brains behind the FineBushPeople website, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in June 2020. Our website is just a tiny part of the legacy he has left behind, and I shall continue to grow and nurture it - one of the many opportunities of keeping his memory alive always.
When I am not packing seed orders or locuming, I love to garden, walk my three dogs, enjoy my three cats, watch TV and read. I also do a little oil painting and especially love painting fynbos species - the colours and textures are so rich. I have also recently taken up tennis again, a game I loved in my youth, and am loving once again.
This is the FineBushPeople story to date (June 2021).