A hundred tomatoes off a single plant is the best crop Blenheim gardener Roy Henry has managed.
The retired hairdresser, who celebrates his 83rd birthday this year, has grown many tomato crops since he and wife Wendy moved to Blenheim in 1965.
Originally from Greymouth, the couple came to Marlborough for its healthier climate. Plants, as well as people, thrive in the region's regular sunshine hours and alongside the tomatoes Roy's garden is bursting with crops of potato, corn, carrot, parsnip and celery.
"Sheer luck," he says when asked for a cultivation tip.
"I was bringing in horse manure a couple of years ago . . . last year we had tress topped so I put mulch on the garden, and I weed it like mad."
This year he also followed a suggestion Wendy had read, that basil plants sown between tomatoes keep the bugs away.
It seems to work.
"We haven't seen any white butterfly," Wendy says.
Roy corrects her. "There's one that keeps dodging me."
He doesn't move as quickly these days after a stroke, and he limits his daily gardening activities.
"Four feet (1.2 metres), I dig that across each day," he says. "But if I didn't have my garden I would be lost."
Gardening is an inherited interest, he reckons, identifying his mother as having green fingers.
"As kids we had to be careful about what we did around her roses."
Music was another shared family passion. His mother played the violin, his father sang, a sister played the piano, one brother the bass, another the tenor horn and Roy played cornet.
He was in the Greymouth Municipal Brass Band and entered brass band competitions. Second and third placings in the New Zealand brass band championships were his highest accomplishments but it was impromptu solo performances that remain two of his fondest memories.
His grandfather had played the cornet, too, and one day Roy ventured up into the hills around Reefton where the older man had practised.
He tramped up to an elevated position so notes from the cornet could echo around the valley below. But as he started to play, he saw a Chinese farm worker look around then run to his small hut, disappear inside and slam the door.
Not wanting to cause any bother, Roy headed for another hill, passing a man panning for gold in a creek along the way.
When he started to play his cornet again, he saw the gold-panner running down the hill. Roy smiles and wonders what stories were told in the Reefton pub that night.
Back in Greymouth, Roy had worked in his father's barbershop, learning the craft of giving men neat short back and sides. Then female clients started wanting Roy to cut their hair so he did some extra training and opened a women's salon.
Wendy was one of his clients, approaching him for an emergency hair repair after attempting to cut her own fringe before going to a ball. Her cuts looked terrible.
"He told me off," Wendy says.
"I tidied it up for her," Roy remembers.
When they moved to Blenheim, Roy bought the Pandora Hair Salon but became conscious of residents looking sideways at him. The first male hairdresser for women in town had raised the homophobic fears of 1960s small-town New Zealand, he soon realised.
Roy was upset but luckily his love for the job eventually won people over.
"It wasn't long before people realised I was just an ordinary bloke.
"I used to have hairdressing seminars ... and 30 to 40 people would come at night and the next day they would be on my [salon] doorstep."
Patience and "a good listening ear" are prerequisites for salon work, he says. "I was told a lot of things I was never to repeat."
Confidences were obviously never broken because business expanded and the Henrys started a Lords and Ladies Salon in Springlands, started another another in Picton and Roy made weekly trips to do people's hair in Murchison.
Roy made his final snip in 1996 when he sold the businesses but one of the couple's two sons has followed his father's footsteps and become a hairdresser, too. He lives in Scotland but a sister and younger brother have both made Blenheim their home.
- The Marlborough Express
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