Labour of love recorded
Beverly McConnell says Ayrlies is the book of her dreams.
It's not surprising considering the 81-year-old has spent more than half her life toiling away in her garden.
Mrs McConnell moved to a then bare Whitford property in 1964 and transformed it into what's now the flourishing internationally acclaimed Ayrlies garden.
When she first sat down to write the introduction to the book she was interrupted by a toddler.
That toddler is now a teenager in his last year of high school and the book sits finished in her hands.
She says the process of writing has been drawn out because instead of putting words down she wanted to be working in the garden.
Ayrlies requires three fulltime gardeners to keep everything blooming and under control.
"You are always rejuvenating it, restoring it, refurbishing it with plants and looking at the design and the different forms of the plants."
The book was originally to be called Three Acres in recognition of her late husband Malcolm and the very early beginnings of the garden.
"When we first came out here it was very much farming country, my husband fenced me off three acres from it.
"This all began as just three acres, I planned that and no more."
She says Malcolm was a great admirer of the garden and of his wife's talent for creating a botanical masterpiece.
"He was very supportive at a time when a lot of men really weren't," Mrs McConnell says.
"With some of the older gardening groups, you'd get into the garden and the wives would want to do something, push a fence out but the answer they would get was ‘what do you want to do that for? I need that for grazing the cows' but my husband always said ‘why not, let's have a look at it."
When Mr McConnell died in 1995, Beverley, her children and the other gardeners came together and decided to extend the garden out to 12 acres.
"We decided that we would make part of it a wetland to give back to the community and part of it a lake to commemorate him."
While walking around the garden the 81-year-old breaks out with the botanical names of plants as if they are her first language.
But then she does say gardening courses through her veins.
"They talk about green thumbs and green fingers but I'm sure my blood is green, gardening runs that deep."
A passion for the garden is something that her parents embedded into her life from a very young age.
"My father used to take me out in the morning to smell the best rose of the day and it rubs off, he really became the inspiration for this."
This year has been marked with success, not only has she finished and published her book but she has also been awarded the Veitch Memorial Medal by the Royal Horticultural Society - a feat which in the gardening world is comparable to winning an Oscar.
The future of Ayrlies is in safe hands as Mrs McConnell's children will keep it going for another generation.
"I felt I didn't want them to be burdened with my dreams, I didn't want them to keep it going if they didn't want to. But they all came back saying ‘it is worth more to them than any amount of money, it is their heritage'."
● Mrs McConnell's book can be purchased from Ayrlies garden or online from mags4gifts.co.nz.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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