An enticing star for creative procrastinators
Celebrity florist and craft designer Astar was the guest speaker for the launch of the Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular this week. Virginia Winder gets a fast-talking glimpse of her down-to-earth life.
Astar is perfect for creative procrastination.
The woman who suits her chosen name was a star on the Good Morning Show for 18 years and now has her own YouTube channel, Astar's Place.
For hours I've been watching her enticing segments on the internet.
I've learnt how to arrange orange and white wedding table flowers, make a living succulent picture and blend different essential oil to make perfumes.
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I can now make a floral arrangement in an empty champagne box, know how to create a caged design starring gloriosa, make chalk lime paint, herbal shampoo and conditioner and an oil blend for "he snores and I can't sleep".
The "he" is her gentle husband, only ever referred to as "the engineer".
Originally, her son, Slade and his friend Louis, helped set up Astar's online presence, along with her dear friend Erina Ellis. Slade disappeared to play ice hockey, but Louis and Erina stepped up to keep the production team going and Astar does all the filming.
"The hardest part of the whole thing is I've got to upload it from the camera to the computer and to the Dropbox and I'm a little challenged."
Astar only knows what she needs to know on the computer "because I can still draw an apple", she laughs.
She has turned an upstairs bedroom of her Auckland home into an artfully decorated studio with a stylish backdrop often filled with fresh flowers. She is just as well turned out, with hair piled on the top of her head, pearls around her neck and wearing gorgeous frocks.
On her channel she covers many other things like how to make lipstick, eyeliner, bath melts, perfume or a rose out of jeans. Many of these (not the rose) are made using ingredients from her garden. These creations are then labelled, popped in a cupboard and later given as presents.
Making gifts, especially using produce from her garden, is one of her passions. "I don't know when I last bought something."
When someone is moving into a new house she plants up herbs into a pot and other gifts include healing balms from calendula, face or hand creams, vinegars, jams, pickles and preserves, but not her homemade wine. "I'm not giving that away."
On the day we chat over the phone, she's excited because she's just found something perfect for her speech at the launch of the 30th Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular.
"I'm so happy. I'm just finishing off what I'm going to talk about and gathering all the bits and pieces for the festival (launch)," she says.
Her mum died late last year and before she died she gave Astar a wee envelope and it was weeks later before she opened it, so she thought she'd take it with her.
"My mum gave me my great uncle's three little tomato seeds and a handful of Christmas lily seeds."
When she was writing her speech about the importance of seeds and the seed vault in the Svalbard Archipelago, near the North Pole, she thought "oh my god I've got seeds".
She's was also gobsmacked to be asked as guest speaker for the 30-year launch of the TAFT-run event. "That's a milestone and one to be embraced and celebrated.
"When they phoned and asked me, I was really shocked, because I'm not Maggie Barry and I'm not Xanthe White. When I look at my neighbour's lovely clipped boxed hedge and her beautiful standard Iceberg roses I do feel a little bit insignificant."
Having said that, she has a garden packed with edibles on the border of Remuera and Meadowbank, knows how to hold an audience and definitely has the gift of the gab.
And she's impressed by the 10-day festival. "The gardens are so diverse – there's no two the same. I did a field shoot down there and I was just amazed. It's a lovely climate, because I'm from Southland. To me, the provinces are the foundation of our country.
"I'm a frequent visitor to Taranaki and it feels like going home to me," she says.
Astar believes there's a resurgence into gardening, because many people, especially older women wanting to have babies, are going organic and green.
"All I can say is for goodness sake, grow it yourself."
The wine she won't give up was made of the fruit from Astar's beautiful grapevine. "I pinched two sticks from a friend's garden before she shifted when I went to visit her in the Hawke's Bay."
The friend told her it was too late to take a cutting. "I said 'oh no it's not'. They were hauled off the vine, shoved into my bag, and about a week later, oops, I'd better plant those."
She appears to be able to grow absolutely anything in her city garden. "I just shove it in and just tell it 'this is it, just grow'. I really think that nature's just so clever.
"The other thing for me, is I just don't understand why people don't like a bit of dirt under their nails," she says.
"When you stand back after you've tamed the wild forces of nature and you've created a visual living picture, to me that's beyond words."
Astar doesn't spray her garden and she doesn't fertilise either. "But the banana peels go under things, and Epsom salts go under things.
"My nan didn't have access to any of these things. Rhubarb is the best thing, you can eat and make all sorts of things with the leaves to kill bugs with a bit of garlic. You boil it up and the house may smell like a witch's back cupboard but who cares.
"And it didn't matter that the hot water cupboard smelled like a vinegar brewery with my apple cider vinegar, and that's been replaced now with the kombucha."
Astar is always on the lookout for fresh projects for her online segments. "I'm never short for a good idea."
Her gardening bent comes from her grandmother, "Mrs Te Au", who lived in Tuatapere, in western Southland. "My mum had three children under three and I was a beautiful child – not. I spent a lot of time with my nan. I was beside her for years.
"My nan milked cows and I think that's the other thing I've got with Taranaki – the farming environment."
Her grandmother was renowned for her seed potatoes, which she grew to supplement the family income. "I learnt from an early age how to pick the eyes of a good seed potato."
Astar's great-grandmother and own mother had equally beautiful gardens.
Like the gardening women in her life, Astar lives by the "waste not, want not" mentality. That's why, when she had apples falling on the ground she used them to make the apple cider vinegar.
Her biggest gardening tip is to look around the environment to see what's already growing successfully.
"If you're going into a new place, don't do anything in that garden for a year."
She cites her mother's place as an example – she had an amazing flower and vegetable garden that had new beauties coming up throughout the year.
Everything her family ate was grown on their quarter-acre section in Invercargill. "I can tell you I got pretty sick of cabbages in the winter and carrots."
The only thing her mother would buy was meat and she often traded produce for that.
In late summer each they would go through to Central Otago and Astar learnt to hate that time of year. "We had to do the bottling – greengages, and plums, tomato sauce and spaghetti.
"That was back in the 1960s, when there were paper bags, no plastic wrap and her mum used to get cloth, paint it with wax and use that to cover food. "I'll pinch that I thought, that would be a great segment and it's so easy. It was held on with string."
With her deep roots in the land, Astar is forever sharing old ideas and new with people around the world and closer to home. "Everything gets turned into something and everything is botanically based. I just can't help myself. I'm always scheming."