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An heroic garden

Thu 16 Feb 2012 In: Events View at NDHA

Nestled in a suburban Mt Eden street is Geoffrey Marshall and John Hayward’s slice of paradise. We chat to them about their beautiful garden, and the history and future of this weekend’s Heroic Gardens Festival.   Geoffrey Marshall and John Hayward in their Mt Eden garden Gardening has been a lifelong love for Geoffrey Marshall, and a passion he shares with his partner of nearly 30 years, John Hayward. “I always did my parents garden,” Hayward recalls. “From as long as I can remember. And when I was a student that’s how I earned extra money – gardening.” Marshall works fulltime as a garden designer, after starting out in a career as a computer programmer. “I fell into gardening when I couldn’t get computer work in England where I wasn’t legally allowed to work,” he explains. “It sort of took off from there.” The couple have been at their Mt Eden property for nearly ten years, and have created a home based around their stunning garden, and such indoor-outdoor flow you feel like you are sitting in the garden when you are in their living room. “He would describe it of me as an obsession, but that’s something else,” Marshall laughs when asked how much time they spend in their garden. “It’s the shaping, trimming and refining of existing plants,” Marshall explains. “Because nothing stays the same, you’re constantly keeping the balance right,” Hayward continues. The couple says the garden is best summed up as being about exploring what they can grow in Auckland. “Because Auckland’s not quite truly subtropical,” Hayward says. “Technically I suppose it’s a semi-formal garden because there’s quite a lot of structure, to give it year-around coherence. But that structure is a framework for enormous diversity of plants. There are hundreds and hundreds of different plants in the garden. But the effort and intention is to make that huge collection not look like just a mess,” Marshall says. “If people are plant oriented, they’ll spend hours here and just get lost in it,” Hayward adds. “If people come who don’t necessarily understand plants and are expecting a wow factor rather than atmosphere, then they’ll probably be disappointed. I mean it works on a quick glance level … but the point of the garden is much beyond that.” Marshall says even people who aren’t particularly plant-focused are drawn into the atmosphere of the garden and will ‘stop and feel it’. “The garden’s about atmosphere, plant interest, the way it complements the house, because we designed the house and garden together.” Hayward says if people do take the time to stop they start to understand the juxtaposition of shapes and colours. “Which are all part of the harmonious whole, we hope.” They have been busy recently, ensuring everything is perfect for Heroic Gardens this weekend, when people will traipse through and see all their hard work and love. The couple was among those who opened their gardens when Heroic Gardens began 16 years ago. Marshall became involved in the committee during the third year, “when I opened my mouth and made some suggestions on how things could be better,” he laughs. “And by proxy that meant both of us,” Hayward chips in. “I remember being really excited because after the first one, we really didn’t know how well it had gone, apart from the feedback on the day, in terms of fundraising we didn’t know. And when we found out we’d raised $8,000 we thought that was extraordinary. And when it peaked at $60,000, it showed how much the whole idea of the festival had taken off. I guess that first year was much more gay visitor based proportionately.” Marshall says having people coming through the garden is a curious mix, but something he enjoys, as he is keen to share what he has. “People who come through who are ignorant and not interested in learning are annoying,” he says. “It’s just a waste of time. But most people are happy to have a quick look and they might enjoy it, or they might want to spend hours asking millions of questions. But the essence of it is enjoying sharing what’s here with people that are interested.” Hayward says it’s a positive experience, as most people are well-mannered enough that if they don’t like it they won’t say anything, they’ll just keep moving through. “So over the weekend you get lots of positive feedback.” Changing times Heroic Gardens has slowly grown and changed shape over its 16 year history. It was established to raise funds for Auckland City Mission’s Herne Bay House which provided care and respite for people with HIV/AIDS. For 15 years it showcased gay and lesbian-owned gardens and the gardens’ creators. Times have changed. Herne Bay House has since closed, and from 2009 the money raised has gone to Hospices of Auckland with this year’s funds going directly to Mercy Hospice Auckland. The festival now includes gardens created by both the glbt community and other supporters of Hospice, and has far more straights buying tickets than glbt people. There has been some backlash in the community about this, as some feel the money raised should go to glbt charities and community groups. Marshall explains that he personally would love it if the festival could “extract more money out of the straight community and give it to gay organisations, but it was the practical reality of maintain Heroic Gardens as a viable festival that we were essentially forced to continue with Mercy, who were willing to do so much of the admin, and in consequence of course they get the money. But if Mercy hadn’t become a fulltime part of the committee and the organisation, I believe Heroic Gardens would now be dead.” Hayward says there are two strands to the situation; “one is; are there enough gay gardens, or gay gardeners willing to open their gardens, of a standard to maintain the festival year after year? The other thing is, is there enough energy and commitment to organise and do it without going to someone like Hospice who has got the resources? They’ve got the contacts. The website’s been redesigned through them, they’re handling the money and ticketing and publicity and all those admin jobs.” While it is turning into a wider community event the couple is passionate about its gay history being remembered and celebrated. It’s sure to be kept alive in their garden this weeked. For more information on Heroic Gardens and how to get tickets, go to the event's website here Jacqui Stanford - 16th February 2012    

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Thursday, 16th February 2012 - 12:55pm

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