The things we do for our mums! This is the thought in my mind as I waded into a pond choked with flowering waterlilies in nothing but underpants.
The last time I was immersed in this body of water was 35 years earlier, for the purpose of clearing the pervasive oxygen weed to make way for these same lilies planted by my parents.
Now, here I was up to my waist again, but this time for a different reason – to gather flowers for Mum’s funeral the following day.
Thankfully, this time I didn’t have to be on alert for the resident black swans who weren’t regarded as the friendliest pond companions all those years ago.
* When you love nature, why not plant out your own private reserve
* Octogenarian plantsman Gordon Collier on his latest garden project
* Book excerpt: The garden created in a lifetime amongst plants
It was Mum’s passing that brought me back to Springfield, the farm of my childhood on the outskirts of Marton.
Its five-acre garden had been lovingly created by my parents Jaff and Marg Frederick as their mutual hobby. And it was Lily Boyce, my partner and a florist, who came up with the splendid suggestion that flowers sourced from Springfield could be used to adorn Mum’s casket.
The current owners of the property were open to our impromptu arrival and introduction, and immediately opened their hearts and garden to support this vision.
Likely due to the differing priorities of a succession of owners after my parents retired to town, the garden is now wonderfully rewilded. So off we embarked on a floral treasure hunt in what could be described as an overgrown Victorian farm garden where nature is charting its own path.
The first stop with buckets and clippers in hand was the magnificent magnolia; my 50-year-old body momentarily accessed its memory of youth, and I climbed high to collect the flowering bud Lily had spotted with her detailed florist’s eye.
From that height, I looked over to the adjacent ‘Omega’ plum groaning with juicy offerings we would gorge on as kids in the late summer.
Through the rambling and overgrown undergrowth, we continued to discover rich pickings and plucked deep blue giant hydrangea heads, while shredding our arms on wild roses as we reached high for the perfect blooms; Mum had a preference for soft colours that guided our selection, including ‘Cecile Brunner’.
Several branches of the velvety blue gum were added to the bucket, if only for the nostalgic subtle aroma that instantly transports me back to childhood.
Still acting as the epicentre of the garden and reminiscent of one of Monet’s famous paintings were the two ponds now clogged with waterlilies. From the shore, Lily directed me to unopened flowers waiting for the sun’s arrival.
In that moment, I felt the comforting realisation that my early role in keeping the ponds clear of weed had, in its own small way, helped the lilies take hold and make these ponds their home. With care, I took the opportunity to also pull up a couple small roots and try my luck in establishing them in our own Dunedin garden.
Lily worked her magic in putting these gifts from the garden together in an arrangement named Marg’s Springfield Garden, presented in such abundance the casket could hardly be seen. With the chapel also decorated in a manner fit for a wedding as per Mum’s request, it was all a fitting floral tribute to accompany her send-off.
Growing up at Springfield, I was always involved in gardening – the construction of the paths, the regular truck-filled nursery trips, the planting, the watering, the nurturing and endless other jobs. I didn’t think much of it at the time, and off into the world I went to do my thing, which funnily enough, didn’t involve plants. But it seems no matter how hard we try, every aspect of our lived experiences informs who we are and become.
After 15 years as a freelance photographer and writer, I find it intriguing that photographing and writing about gardens has become one of my specialist areas. But it doesn’t stop there, and plants infiltrate and connect us in mysterious ways. Our daughter is named Hebe, and life with a florist and flower-growing partner means our garden explodes with all manner of interesting specimens, artfully curated amongst the fruit trees, edibles and berries.
The inner city garden is looked over by a mighty tōtara, and framed by several rhododendrons, Dunedin’s most iconic plant. The ever-reducing lawn area takes two minutes to mow, and the grass berm on the street is now a planted street side verge.
Plants connect us all in unimaginable ways. The way they facilitate reflection and connection between generations is a constant source of joy.
Waterlilies from Springfield, as well as some of Mum’s iris bulbs have been carefully translocated south, and those very plants that were part of her own life’s narrative, will now continue through mine. So, here’s to the plants and flowers of our lives, and here’s to you, Mum.