No lawns to mow here

21:42, Jan 31 2013
Helen McEwan
Helen McEwan in part of her extensive Jack St garden.

She's been out in the garden for nearly half a century and Invercargill resident Helen McEwan is not ready to go to seed just yet.

Mrs McEwan's 1000-square-metre section in Jack St has no lawn, with almost every centimetre covered by tiled paths and gardens.

Among the plants is fossilised wood from Tokanui, a whole zoo of ceramic animals, and a tunnelhouse, originally used to grow vegetables, has been converted into a conservatory, filled with windchimes and cacti.

Helen McEwan
Helen McEwan

Her husband, Campbell, who has emphysema, constructed all the wooden furniture and sculptures - such as the miniature lighthouses and a windmill - which decorate the property.

Originally from the small country township of Otara, in the Catlins, Mrs McEwan has been working on her garden since she moved to Invercargill 47 years ago, but remains down-to-earth about her pet project.

"It suits me," she said.


Neighbour Iris Dewey, who lives across the street, explained Mrs McEwan was modest about her unique yard.

"She's very quiet about it. She doesn't go sort of advertising it.

"I think she's got a wonderful garden. It's just so different."

The green thumb gene runs in Mrs McEwan's family - two of her uncles also sported great gardens at Otara, she said.

However, she believed the passion had faded with younger generations.

"They keep their gardens tidy, but they're not gardeners."

Even with years of practice, things did not always come up roses, and maintaining such a diverse garden threw a few challenges.

Mrs McEwan was forced to replant much of her front garden three years ago when a car landed on the property.

The young driver was not seriously injured, despite narrowly missing the house, but caused major damage to the flower beds.

"I was really cross that night, but it's all fixed up again.

"It could have been worse. He could have gone right through the window."

The avid gardener has also had to deal with multiple thefts from her section, a big change from life in the country.

"When we came to town here we weren't used to locking anything up."

She bought solar lights to keep ornaments safe and moved most of her display to the back of the house, which seemed to deter the thieves.

Aside from gardening, Mrs McEwan enjoys walking, often making the 4km hike into the shops, taking a backpack when she needs to buy more than she can carry.

"We've got a car. I can drive. I just don't like driving."

The exercise wards off her arthritis and keeps her fit enough to hold pace with her nine great-grandchildren, who enjoy playing in the garden.

They are one of the reasons she plans to keep putting in the hard slog for a few years yet.

"I hope to be doing it [for a while]. We're quite happy here."

The Southland Times