Transplanted agriculturist

The Wendes had considered aliya for years, but this dream did not come to fruition until January 1979, following an extended family caravan excursion around Australia.

Vaun Wende 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Vaun Wende 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There’s a red kangaroo logo on Vaun Wende’s forest-green work shirt. It’s not that he deals in kangaroos – he owns a multi-location exotic plant nursery – but the high-jumping marsupial is a reminder of his origins in Perth, Western Australia.
Vaun is one of six children of traditional Jewish parents. His father and his business partner (who was also Vaun’s school headmaster) built up what became the largest plant nursery in the region.
“It was the first Australian plant nursery in Australia,” he says, explaining that previously Australia only had English-style nurseries. “But in the 1960s, there was a drought, and because native Australian plants were hardier, my father decided to delve into Australian plants. We went on seedcollecting trips to the wild, and it was great fun.”
The Wendes had considered aliya for years, but this dream did not come to fruition until January 1979, following an extended family caravan excursion around Australia. For the 17-year-old and his siblings, the transition to life in Netanya was difficult. Eventually, three of them returned to Perth. But Vaun, two of his brothers and their parents have made their lives here.
Upon their arrival, Wende’s parents began scouting out a place to practice agriculture near the center of the country.
“Curiously, the only lands available were old rubbish dumps on sandy soil, and that’s just the type of soil Australia has,” he notes. The Wendes signed on a state-owned parcel at Moshav Ein Vered, cleaned it up and set up business importing hundreds of exotic, brilliantly hued Australian species for the cut-flower export industry. At the time, no other Israeli flower grower was offering these varieties to the European market, where they were popular.
“Ours was the first nursery in Israel to be granted in-house plant quarantine, rather than having to quarantine our goods at the Beit Dagan agricultural center,” says Wende. “A government inspector came once a week to check that all was okay.”
Why go to the trouble of importing? “My parents and I believe that among tens of thousands of Australian species, there are many that are beneficial to Israel,” says Wende. “The water requirements and maintenance are generally lower than for standard flowers.”
They set up trial gardens at kibbutzim and monitored how each variety fared.
In those early days, there were few private or municipal gardens here. Today, however, the private sector makes up Mishtelot Wende’s main client base.
After a year of National Service in the moshav movement, three years of military service in the Intelligence Corps and three years of university, Wende took over the business when his parents retired in 1989. He decided to branch out from Ein Vered – where he still lives – and open retail outlets near large population centers. The first was at Moshav Shilat next to the soon-to-be-completed city of Modi’in. Several years later, he opened a retail and wholesale location at Moshav Sde Uziyahu near Ashkelon. His brother Simon, now an art teacher in Perth, designed the kangaroo logo for the growing business.
Specialties sold by Mishtelot Wende include grevilleas, which flower in the late winter and early spring, before most local varieties begin blooming.
“This plant gives you exotic red flowers in winter, when we’re looking for color, and attracts birds.
It’s a tough, hardy plant that grows in sandy soil and doesn’t need much water,” he says.
There is also the melaleuca, a tough and fastgrowing bush popular in public landscaping projects because it needs so little care and yields creamy yellow or purple flowers amid its light-todark green leaves.
Mishtelot Wende also imports some items from the Far East, such as a Chinese variety of rose-like camellia suited specifically to lime-rich local soil and glossy, brightly painted ceramic pots from Vietnam that are no more expensive than standard plastic pots. All merchandise can be seen at, a website set up four years ago in partnership with another nursery, Kal Shatil, that specializes in hardy plants.
Meanwhile, the elder Wendes operate a small, noncommercial nursery in Ein Vered, where participants in the Volunteers for Israel program help them cultivate imported plants that are later given away for free.
Vaun met his wife, Dorit, a native of Moshav Be’er Tuviya, while earning his degree in soil and water management at the Hebrew University’s agricultural branch in Rehovot. Dorit manages the plant architecture and professional landscaping end of the business. Married in 1986, they have three children: Niv, 17; Netta, 16; and Negev, 10.
Vaun doesn’t believe any of his kids will follow their parents into the family business, but he’s philosophical about it. “Today, agriculture is a nono, and they’ll probably go their own way,” he says, although Netta boards at a Sde Boker high school focused on environmentalism.
“My favorite part of living in Israel is the quality of the friendships – the openness and truthfulness,” says the affable plant expert. “My friends are the reason I’m here.” His entire social circle is Israeli, and some of these buddies go back to his days in National Service, where he helped organize youth groups on moshavim.
The worst part of life in Israel, Wende says, “is feeling that the future is not secure.”
In a time of drought and rising water prices, Wende has advice for people wanting to plant and maintain a garden without wasting precious water.
“It’s what I call ‘smart management.’ The biggest water wastage in gardens stems from the fact that all irrigation lines have drippers every 50 centimeters, while the plants are spaced according to the garden needs. So the water is not necessarily going where the plants need it. By putting in a new system with drippers only where they are needed, you can save 50 percent of the water going to your garden.”
For anyone contemplating a move here combined with an entrepreneurial vision, Wende prescribes a large dose of Zionism.
“Your reasons for coming here should be totally Zionistic because there are so many hardships to going into business, and you ultimately have to fall back on your beliefs,” he says frankly. “Starting a business in Israel is difficult mainly because the bureaucracy makes it longer and harder to get a concern going. But you also have to take into account that the domestic market is very small and very competitive, with not much potential for growth. So you need to come with more financial backing than you’ve probably taken into consideration. Double it.”
Wende reflects that without the backing of their established business in Australia, his parents may not have made a go of it. “If they had come for business reasons only, they would have gone back. They stayed because this is the country they want to live in.”