Sally wears a vintage Trelise Cooper top; photographed by Emma Bass; make-up by Kaitlin Chapman; hair by Michael Kent
I have discovered the secret to living the perfect life… and it is gardening. The wondrous effects of gardening have dawned on me slowly over two years of editing NZ House & Garden. I often deal with truly passionate gardeners who spend hours in their gardens – and, almost without exception, I’ve noticed these people have something special: they radiate wellbeing and a general lack of grumpiness. So when deputy editor Rosemary Barraclough hung up after a long phone session with some of our garden owners the other day and exclaimed: “They’re all such NICE people!” I knew just what she meant.
To start with, serious gardeners are almost always super-fit. Hardly surprising, because Google tells us gardening can give you a full body workout and burn about 400 calories an hour (or more than 700 if you are shovelling). Eva Shaw PhD, the American author of Shovel It: Nature’s Health Plan, says it reduces stress and lowers blood pressure, noting that brainwave activity when gardening is similar to praying or meditating.
A good local example of the serious gardener’s physique is wiry 83-year-old Jim Hopkirk on page 110 who has spent his life planting and nurturing 700 rhododendrons.
But a finely tuned body is just the packaging. Rosemary and I agree that The Really Impressive Thing about serious gardeners – and this is the thing that makes me want to leap up and start shovelling right now – is that they seem deeply happy. If you’re looking for an example of Ultimate Job Satisfaction, it would be hard to go past Janet Blair, whose Central Otago garden is in this issue. After four decades of work, up to eight hours a day, she describes her garden as “utterly riveting”.
So what, I asked NZ House & Garden’s garden editor Julian Matthews (another passionate gardener and all-round fine fellow), is behind this extreme satisfaction? He had a few theories. There’s the control – when you’re creating your own garden, you are in the driving seat, even if you’re a rank beginner. There’s the creativity of mixing up plant textures, sizes, colours. The fresh air. The natural rhythms. “But actually I think you just get hooked on watching things grow,” Julian says. “And watching things grow makes you an optimist.”
So there you go. Optimism, health, happiness: they’re all yours if you love gardening. And if you don’t, it’s worth trying harder. The stunning pictures of Janet Blair’s garden on page 26 might be a good place to start.