Te Kauwhata's rose custodian

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 03/02/2014
Gilbert Powley
CHRIS HILLOCK/Fairfax NZ

The constant pruner: Gilbert Powley has looked after Te Kauwhata’s roses for almost 20 years.

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By their very nature, good sorts tend to shun the limelight.

Their ranks are filled with quiet achievers, grafters and the roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-stuck-inners.

Men and women who don't seek plaudits or special titles, just the satisfaction of knowing they've made their community a better place.

People like Gilbert Powley.

Spend some time at the 85-year-old's Te Kauwhata house and it's not long before a freshly cut rose is offered up from his garden.

Among his and wife Barbara's favourite blooms are the dark red roses which cover an archway at the front of their house.

"I like all roses really but there's something about the red ones," Gilbert says as he offers up the freshly cut rose.

It's a simple gesture from a man whose life has been about service to others.

He's been president of the town's swimming, badminton and athletic clubs, council handyman, and coach and mentor to scores of young athletes.

But it is Gilbert's gardening prowess which has arguably left the greatest mark on his home town.

For the past 19 years he has been the unofficial custodian of the town's roses, carefully tending to the numerous rose bushes along Te Kauwhata Rd, Travers Rd and around the historic Rongopai winery building.

Famed rose breeder Ken Nobbs planted the rose bushes, some 2000 plants in total, about 30 years ago as a colourful tribute to the community he loved.

Mr Nobbs was a celebrated figure who created a variety of roses with no thorns.

Eventually the task of caring for the roses became too much for Mr Nobbs and the secateurs were passed to Gilbert.

It's a role which, during certain parts of the year, can see Gilbert spend up to four hours a day pruning and tending the bushes.

"During the winter months I can easily spend at least 20 hours a week pruning the bushes," Gilbert said.

"In the summertime I leave them alone and they seem to do fine. It's just in the wintertime they involve a bit of work."

Waikato District councillor Jan Sedgwick describes Gilbert as a "quiet gentleman" who embodies the Te Kauwhata spirit.

"If we could somehow clone him that would be a good thing," she says.

"He's typical of many of the older people in the community who do good things for others just because they can. Gilbert's no longer a young man but the work he puts in looking after the roses is something the wider community looks up to."

The physical work doesn't faze Gilbert, who up until his 80th birthday was still running half-marathons.

A recent knee replacement gives him occasional grief but he reckons it's just because he uses it too much.

"My doctor keeps telling me I need to find an apprentice," Gilbert laughs.

"I had a lady help me for a while last year but she got a job and so I was back to doing it by myself. But as long as I'm healthy I'll keep doing it because it brings a lot of satisfaction to a lot of people. The roses add a lot of colour to the roadside and it's nice to be able to do something for the community."

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- Waikato Times

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