Gardens to share

Brian Powell looks after the Renwick Community Garden
Brian Powell looks after the Renwick Community Garden

Passersby with an eye for a good garden cannot help but admire the fresh vegetable plot outside the Anglican Community Church in Renwick.

Peas, beans, red beet, potatoes and lettuce have already been harvested but second crop plants are getting established. Corn plants are standing tall and zucchini, cauliflower, tomatoes and carrots, are nearing maturity.

Could Sunday prayers be responsible for such a bounty?

"Sheer work," responds retired North Bank farmer Brian Powell.

He and his wife Frances have retired to Renwick and belong to the Anglican church parish on High St. Two years ago Brian chatted to the vicar and asked if he could start a garden on the church grounds and share its produce with the wider community.

"I get more out of gardening than I do sitting in there singing a song," Brian confides outside the High St church this week.

He might need some willing hands to help with some of the more physical gardening worship for a while, though. Two weeks ago Brian sliced the top off his thumb while cutting firewood with his grandson on the family farm at North Bank. A gardening glove he wore was loose and slipped into the log splitter, pulling his left thumb under the blades.

The 75 year old seems unfazed by the accident.

"I must have put a thousand cord [3600 cubic metres] through the log splitter so it had to happen some time. I'm a lucky fellow."

In fact, Brian counts his whole life as lucky.

The sixth-generation North Bank man's formal education finished at the old Pine Valley School in form 2 (year 8) when he was just 14 - "My father had an accident and I had to take over milking the cows" - but he didn't let that slow him.

He joined Young Farmers when he was 18, then Federated Farmers where he is still on its Marlborough committee.

He also served on committees for the former North Bank Settlers Association and the district's tennis, table tennis and bowling clubs.

All have since folded, he says. As roads improved, people obtained cars, and clubs and groups centralised their activities.

He has been a justice of the peace for 45 years and a long-term marriage celebrant. Wife Frances was one, too, and at one stage the couple were conducting about 80 marriages a year.

Frances has since swapped the celebrant's role for secretarial duties for Brian, who says he could never do the things he does without her.

"I've had a fantastic life . . . but it's not the man himself, it's the woman behind him. She has just been perfect."

The couple have five children and a grandchild's recent marriage indicates an eighth generation of Powells is about to start in New Zealand.

The first Powells came to New Zealand from Chinnock, in Somerset, England, to Nelson. By 1857 they had moved to Marlborough, digging a cave into the hill to live for a few years until a cob cottage was built near Bartletts Creek. It was named after the Bartlett family, which Brian's mother came from.

Such stories are all recounted in a book he wrote, Memories and the History of the Golden Valley.

A man Brian met from Tauranga, Ted Bartlett, hasn't been able to trace his lineage back to the Bartlett's Creek family but the two men have become friends. Brian also attributes much of his gardening success to a garden spray Ted makes from the coal dust, malignite.

New stocks of it were due this week and Brian says it is an effective foil against white butterflies and the psyllid bug. Totally organic and containing 14 minerals and several vitamins, malignite also enhances the flavour of tomatoes, peas, beans and strawberries. It works on corn and potatoes, too.

This summer's new potatoes were one of the best crops he has dug, each plant averaging 18 new tubers.

"Everyone is saying: what a garden; how do you do that?"

Brian doesn't mind sharing his secret.

"Sheer work and time."