A host of golden daffodils
Good old William Wordsworth wrote his most famous poem when he was blown away by drifts of daffodils at Ullswater, in the English Lake District, more than 200 years ago. "My heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils," he wrote.
It's possible the Mabin family of modern-day Hawke's Bay like daffodils just as much as Wordsworth did - but they take a less romantic approach to them. For the Mabins, daffodil season is simply the Mad Month of September. That's when they open their farm, the historic Taniwha Station, to all comers. Every day for a month, during daylight hours, they arm young and old with buckets and invite them to pick daffodils for the bargain price of $3.50 for a bucket of 30.
It's all in the name of charity - Central Hawke's Bay Plunket benefited to the tune of $10,000 last year - and it began because family matriarch Railene Mabin didn't want to bake a cake for a fundraising stall when her children were young. She decided to sell flowers instead. "This is the story of one woman and a spade," says daughter-in-law Esther Mabin, who is now the guiding light of the Taniwha Daffodil Trust.
"Ten thousand saw I at a glance, tossing their heads in sprightly dance." If Wordsworth was inspired by English daffs, who knows what he'd have said about this daffodil farm on the Ruataniwha Plains, south of Waipukurau. Wordsworth's 10,000 daffodils are just a fraction of the total picked at Taniwha last year - about 200,000, including 8000 for the Dannevirke Cancer Society's Daffodil Day and several thousand more for Rotary. At the 2011 Christmas party for Rotary's Waipukurau branch (where Railene's husband Barrie is a member) Railene was made a Paul Harris Fellow, one of the club's highest awards, rarely given to a non-Rotarian. "An extremely high compliment," says Barrie proudly.
The Mabins have about eight hectares of daffodils. They take up most of the paddocks around the homestead, home to son Angus, his wife Esther and their three daughters, and around the homestead's original stables, which have been converted into a large cottage for Barrie and Railene.
So how did all this happen? "Because Railene doesn't turn anyone down," says Esther, laughing. "We have a tiger by the tail."
"It is such a great joy to see the children," says the daffodil-planter herself. "There are so few places where they can run and run and be safe while the parents sit under a tree and watch. We have families coming for picnics, playgroups and kindergartens, garden clubs and old people's homes. Even grumpy dads who don't want to stop the car go away looking relaxed and happy."
When Railene and Barrie first moved to the old Taniwha homestead in 1969, clumps of daffodils were already growing around her front door. She decided to spread them out a bit and the annual 'lift and divide' programme - based on Railene and her spade - hasn't stopped since.
In 1970, with her daffodils spreading into the ram paddock, Railene opted out of baking for Takapau Plunket, where baby Dougald went for check-ups. Instead she sat the older children, Angus and Heather, at the road gate with bunches of daffodils. They made $40 and Railene never had to bake a cake for charity again. Other Plunket mothers were soon helping with harvesting and daffodil sales became Takapau Plunket's major fundraiser.
In the 1990s, with Esther now involved, 'open weekends' allowed visitors to come to pick their own daffodils and cups of tea were served on the verandah. "Before we knew it, bus tours were turning up," says Railene. "It was starting to get a bit out of control. We pushed back the fences twice to make more space and people just kept coming."
So the Mad Month of September was born, with visitors welcomed all day, every day. A charitable trust has formalised the fundraising and covers legal obligations. Esther is 'dipping toes' into commercial possibilities, selling coffee from the corner of an old bull-grooming shed and instituting an annual sculpture exhibition. (Esther is a daughter of the Barker family of Geraldine, so country-based business ventures are in her blood.) But Taniwha Daffodils is still very much a family effort for charity, selling flowers for Plunket and creating a parkland for free public enjoyment.
If he hadn't been a farmer, Barrie Mabin would have liked to be an architect, and his son might have leaned towards landscape gardening. Barrie's replica of the famous Wooden Bridge at Queens' College in Cambridge, England, which spans one end of the biggest lake in the daffodil paddock, is testament to his skills. Angus' landscaping flair is clear in the sweeping pathways and ponds between hundreds of recently planted oak trees.
There isn't much flat land that's daffodil-free around the Mabin houses and Railene has her eye on a remaining paddock. "There's a river there; it would be perfect," she says.
So far, Angus is holding firm, pointing out that the paddock is needed as part of his bull-farming operation. But no one in the family will be surprised if the power of one woman and her spade prevails.
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Story: Pam Neville
Photographs: Paul McCredie