Where were you born and where did you spend most of your childhood?
My childhood was powerfully dominated by the magnificent Mt Ruapehu, under whose watchful eye I frequently sallied forth into the desert among the wild flowers and other intriguing alpine flora near Waiouru, often bringing home bags of botanical loot to pore over in the evenings or to press inside the pages of Arthur Mee’s Encyclopedia.
Mum was a keen gardener, sending all over New Zealand for specimens for her precious rock garden. And then my grandfather, a survivor from the ANZAC Campaign, hence my love of poppies, had a small orchard and also grew pansies for the flower market in Auckland. Some forty years earlier he had planted native bush at the rear of his property overlooking the Manukau Harbour, so holidays there meant playing in the bush, making huts and bow’n arrows from Supplejack, and becoming familiar with the Rewarewa, Puriri, Rimu and especially, Cyathea dealbata, the Silver Fern. My grandmother was an trained artist who also spoke Maori. She belonged to Elam’s Rutland Group and produced the first published work on NZ plant pigments. Hers was also the hand behind many indigenous book plates, hand cut and usually incorporating native plants and Maori motifs.
Where do you live now?
My husband and I have a home in Hyde Park which we have recently had repaired so we took the opportunity over the last year or so to completely re-landscape and bring it into the 21 st century. Whew!
What aroused your interest in gardening or horticulture?
After I left uni, where I had studied Environmental Science and Botany, I worked surveying the remnants of native forest in Northland for the DSIR. Later I was employed by Telford Farm Training Institute, now part of Lincoln University, as a horticultural tutor. I set up an herbarium there and also worked in their nursery and extensive vegetable garden, in which they trained students and grew a mountain of veggies to feed them all.
What gardening or horticultural interests do you have now?
Growing edible plants is high on my list, as I know where my food has been and what isn’t sprayed on it! It’s great to eat from my own garden, even if it’s only a handful of herbs that form a small part of our meals. Having investigated, I discovered that I had fifteen varieties of edible herbs and thirteen of fruit trees. I think the easiest food to grow for success is greens; they are ready for harvest in no time and are wonderful for a continuous supply of what we are told we should be eating.
What’s your favourite plant and why?
Some years ago I travelled in Asia and was thrilled to finally see those famous, forested mountains of China, with almost vertical sides and pines emerging against the skyline – I was so thrilled on seeing them as we landed and attempted to photograph the scene only to be arrested by a Red Guard who grasped me by the shoulder and removed the camera! Another escapade in China in which my botanical pursuits gave trouble was in my excitement to photograph the enormous Lotus flower I dropped my camera into the pond where it was growing! Many other Chinese plants are among my favourites, including lots of their vegetables, Narcissus, Chrysanthemums, Pines and Bamboos. I love plants with all their myriad of colours and textures but one stands head and shoulders above all others, New Zealand Flax, Harakeke (Phormium tenax). She is strong, useful, elegant and for me, a symbol of my patriotism, and I miss Harakeke a lot when I am out of the country as it really is a key feature of our landscape; followed a close second by that other iconic figure, Te Kouka, the Cabbage Tree. As a child I spent many days and hours fishing for Koura, freshwater crayfish in a meandering stream amongst a forest of tall flaxes.
What’s been your most challenging and/or rewarding gardening project?
Apart from raising four children, I also thoroughly enjoyed home-schooling them for about fifteen years. As well as a thorough dose of history from wo to go, I was able to share with them my love of New Zealand’s great outdoors, forests, science-on- your-door- step, being inquisitive and responsible about everything around us.
When did you join the CHS and why?
In the two years I’ve been involved there have been many fascinating opportunities to grow my plant knowledge, even into areas I hadn’t previously thought about.
What is your passion for the future of the CHS?
Getting into the garden is so good for you; it’s refreshing and stimulating as well as great exercise, whatever your age from toddler to elderly, so I think it is high time that our Council acknowledge this and start using a good chunk of our rates to support the CHS and the home gardener in our gorgeous Garden City.