'Robin Hood' gardener up for top award

22:03, Oct 27 2011
Di Celliers
GREEN FINALIST: Browns Bay resident Di Celliers who started the fruit for the needy campaign has been named as a finalist in the New Zealand Gardener 2011 Gardener of the Year Awards.

A green-fingered Aucklander who took from the rich to give to the poor has been named as a finalist in the New Zealand Gardener 2011 Gardener of the Year Awards.

Browns Bay resident Di Celliers started a fruit harvesting scheme where gardeners with excess crops could arrange to have their fruit collected by volunteers and distributed to needy families.

The part-time bank systems analyst came up with the idea earlier this year after driving past a garden with fruit-laden trees.

Owairaka Primary School
MANY GREEN THUMBS: Students and teachers of Owairaka Primary School have been nominated for developing gardens to prevent vandalism.

''I thought what a waste. Why not pick it and donate it to charity,'' the mother-of-three says.

Celliers got her idea off the ground by dropping brochures in letterboxes, and even used the direct approach of knocking on doors.

She then co-ordinated volunteers to pick the fruit through a Facebook page.

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Her team now picks 150kg of fruit a week and has donated more than 2000kg of fruit and 300 bottles of marmalade to Auckland City Mission.

The scheme has spread to Hamilton and Wellington.

''It's taken off beyond my wildest expectations,'' Celliers says.

Celliers is one of 14 regional finalists in the school and community gardens categories.

NZ Gardener editor Jo McCarroll says Celliers' idea was a ''simple yet effective'' one that showed ''just how much change can be effected by one person''.

Another Auckland finalist is Mt Albert's Owairaka Primary who stumped a vandalism problem at their school by developing gardens.

The school, one of three finalists nationwide in the school garden category, has kitchen and orchard gardens growing edibles as well as an Indian garden, planted with lots of brightly coloured flowers that represent the dazzling colours of sari, set to a background of the Taj Mahal.

The garden was built earlier this year after Year 5 and 6 pupils applied for funding and visited the Hamilton Gardens for ideas.

The school has also added a Zen garden and a Pou garden, in which pupils and parents from different immigrant groups designed and painted pou - like totem poles - to represent their cultures.

Each class at the 350-pupil school has its own environmental project. The junior school is responsible for the butterfly garden, another group looks after the school's chickens and grows food they like to eat.

McCaroll says this is the first year her magazine has had a schools category, but that didn't stop hundreds of schools being nominated.

She said Owairaka Primary stood out.

''It's great to see how the kids are involved at every level, from planning, creating to maintaining the spaces,'' McCarroll says.

Winners will be decided by public vote.

Full instructions on how to vote, along with the stories of all finalists, including Celliers and Owairaka Primary, are in the November edition of NZ Gardener.

Details are available on the NZ Gardener website.

Auckland Now