It began as a paddock. Scrubby, low-lying land in a newish suburb with possibly little potential.
But this patch of earth had Effie Legge to contend with.
She moved in to her Roto St section eight years ago and today nurtures a colourful garden full of flowers, raised vege beds and neat lawn. It's tucked away, although it's not a backyard section governed by a mantra of "easy-care".
Effie, who is chatty with an expressive, bright face and a trim frame, embraces hard work. She's 72 but building raised beds, digging holes and laying pavers fail to faze her.
'It's easy. That's nothing,' she exclaims with a laugh when pointing out a raised garden she's built or a propagating corner she's constructed.
It comes from being an industrious farmer's daughter. At the age of about 10 she helped her Dad build a garage.
Growing up on the farm, if you wanted to do something, you did it yourself, reckons Effie, who made herself a Girl Guide uniform when she was 12 because her mother was too busy.
These days she and her three siblings - born and bred on South Taranaki's Skeet Rd - all keep gardens as well as sewing, knitting and preserving. (Brother John Sothill knitted himself a cable jumper last winter, she tells me.)
That early determination has seen her right. It is probably why she took on a house and garden project as a widow with no experience - at least in the building line.
When her husband died just eight months after they'd moved into their Pembroke St house in New Plymouth, Effie swung into action.
'It was a matter of survival.
'I thought, 'what am I going to do with myself'." She rented Pembroke St and bought a little unit in Westown. But really, she wanted more land and a double unit. When her Pembroke St tenants offered to buy the house, she went hunting. Nothing appealed.
About the same time, as a volunteer for Riding for the Disabled, she was walking ponies down Roto St. 'This was all this bare land, sections were selling for $30,000 or $35,000. I thought 'oh my goodness why can't I build a house'.' In great excitement she contacted her family one Monday, all the while mentally calculating finances. The next day she was on site with the developer and builder Rodger Hassall (who'd agreed to come and have a look just the night before). In half an hour, on that Tuesday, she'd bought the 840 square metre section and resolved to build two houses on it - one for herself, another as a rental.
'This is how life goes. You can't plan your life, it plans you because what did I know about building?
'Look, I was the luckiest lady, you have no idea,' she says talking about the ease with which the project was completed.
The section was flat, although three macrocarpa trees that dominated and shaded one side were cut down in an agreement between surrounding neighbhours.
When the house was built, 18 poles were driven into the ground to ensure stability. Then Effie, with her brand new brick houses was left to it. There was no great landscaping plan.
'See, I'm not a person with vision. I can't see things ahead but I create as I go.' She had the driveway and a back terrace constructed as well as a fence, trellis and raised box built. She laid the lawn for the front unit but paid someone else to do hers because by that stage, she was getting fed up.
'Everything from then I have done myself.'
She began at the clothesline in the southwest part of the garden and laid about a square metre of paving stones. ('Well, they're not difficult.') Radiating out from that is the vege garden, a series of raised beds of different shapes and sizes: one large raised bed is U-shaped, another is rectangle with an overhead trellis that supports a passionfruit. In the summer fruit drips from the vine.
Other smaller beds - square or long and narrow - house a range of edible trees, veges or herbs. The big U-shaped bed contains many brassicas as well as coloured chard. The rectangle garden with the passionfruit "roof" contains a flourishing crop of brussel sprouts. In another smaller bed yams are popping up. Don't grow them, she warns. They're related to the oxalis and once you have them in the garden, they are there for life.
In between each raised bed, Effie has spread bark chip as a "carpet".
'How was I going to mow around all this? A man probably would have paved all the way round but I didn't see myself doing all that. It was too daunting.'
Lined up under the eaves of the garage is a range of potted up brassica seedlings as well as garlic cloves sprouting roots. She's counted 136 seedlings - all to be sold at the New Plymouth Horticultural Society's spring show, which opens to the public tomorrow.
For the first time Effie is also growing garlic, having sourced cloves from brother John, on Ketemarae Rd, South Taranaki. (John has featured in Taranaki Daily News garden pages over the years, winning garden contests and acting as a judge for the paper's vege competition).
Visitors to the hort show, held biannually, will also receive the benefits of Effie's preserving. Jars of lemon honey, lime marmalade and homemade chocolates are to be lined up on a sales table, says Effie, as she produces a basket of goodies.
Growing veges wasn't always her favourite task but when her husband died, she had to take over. Now the task is relished. She loves the fact that the grandchildren pick fresh strawberries or peas, that she can eat fresh food and that there's always something to give a friend.
In addition she helps children at Welbourn School tend their vege gardens. That's a regular Monday job with 10 children making up Effie's gardening group. Students are receptive and productive - since she began in April they've made $52 from selling produce and homemade desserts
Back at home Effie runs a kind of babysitting service for plants.
Adjacent to the edible part of her garden is the shed and potting and propagation area, screened behind a fence covered in broom matting.
She calls the propagation collection her 'liquorice allsorts'. As a 'horty' committee member Effie collects plants left over at the end of a meeting. Members bring along contributions and sell to each other, but often there are strays. Unable to leave a plant behind, she brings home the orphans, nurtures them and returns with them to the next meeting.
The remainder of Effie's garden is dedicated to flowers. Gardens curve along a neat back lawn. She's popped in the coloured ornamental brassicas this winter after growing them from seed.
Below the back terrace a colourful bed with a low border of a gold succulent is full of flowers. Carnations were grown from seed, tall anemones wave in the breeze, freesias give off a scent and irises will soon be blooming.
Recently Effie has installed three magnolias: 'Old Port', a yellow-flowering one called 'Koban Dori' and an unidentifiable pinky-red.
In one corner variegated ivy growing in a pot smothers the fence. Below here, she's planning to develop a bed of clivia. In the meantime plants with gold-orange foliage or flower are flourishing.
Also flourishing, triffid like is 'Dublin Bay'. Robust canes arc in a fan shape and in summer the rose flowers profusely.
'It's a mass [of blooms]. That rose just loves me for some reason. I've never had to ask it to flower. It does it on its own thing.'
Effie thrives in her garden, and so it thrives back.
'I enjoy it. I don't garden for anything other than having fun and giving to friends.'
She also gets a kick out of sharing knowledge.
'It's up to grandparents to get out there and get helping because you have all the time in the world. You have this knowledge and no grandparent should be sitting at home watching the jolly box.' Said like a true farmer's daughter.
The New Plymouth hort society's spring show runs tomorrow from 12.30pm-4.30pm and again on Sunday from 9.30am to 4pm at the La Mer Lounge, Pukekura Raceway. Members of the public enter flowers in the cut flower classes with members of the Daffodil and Camellia societies also submitting entries. Judging takes place tomorrow morning. As well as plants there's stalls selling plants, preserves, crafts and other garden-related items.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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