In Memory of Malcolm
On a recent wet grey day I decided to go through my entire study, sorting papers, journals and books, rearranging things and decluttering. I was physically tired at the end of the day as I have shelves on three sides of my study. So many good memories came back throughout the day. One of the things that I decided to do was to get onto the pile of books which I haven’t yet read. It will be a good occupation on the very hot days ahead.
One book that caught my attention was passed on to me by a very dear gardening friend who has since passed away. The book is “Gardening in New Zealand” by Michael Murphy, first published in 1885 and I have a copy of the fourth edition. The book was popular, hence the fourth edition which has updated info, additional chapters and more illustrations. At the front of the book is a photo of the author standing on the verandah of his home, to my mind looking very much like Claude Monet. Michael Murphy came to New Zealand from Ireland via Australia. As I meandered through some of the chapters, I came across neatly folded newspaper cuttings, taken from Christchurch’s newspaper, The Press, with dates such as Saturday 10 May 1947, and Friday 22 May, 1953.
The friend who had given me this book was Malcolm Shearer with whom I shared many garden conversations and visits. Malcolm’s garden was a plantsman’s and artist’s work with superlatives. I contacted his wife Ann, saying that I wondered if the newspaper articles had been collected by Malcolm, as it seemed a little before his time. Ann replied and I would like to share her message with you all.
About Malcolm’s gardening interests: He was the youngest of three boys who were born close together in the early 1930s, when his parents were living in an absolute shack with three tiny rooms on the banks of a river south of Harihari. His father Jim was doing casual work on farms there but three of his sisters “married well” and seemed incredibly affluent to the little boys! Malcolm’s mother had artistic interests and to join in activities that appealed to her, or even to go to the store, she had to cycle down a long shingle road – often with Malcolm on the back of the bike. I don’t know how she did it! One of Malcolm’s aunts had a garden which he loved to visit – it had a pond with a fountain and a statue! She gave him cuttings of plants that he admired, and dear Jim scratched out a little flower patch for him beside the vegetable garden. Very soon, before he was even at school, the women in the village were giving Malcolm cuttings and bulbs for his patch. When he was seven, Jim got a job at the Butler Bros sawmill at Ruatapu, and they moved there to another terrible bleak house which was at least bigger than the Harihari shack. Once again Malcolm started collecting plants from all around the village, and his mother gave him a subscription to the NZ Gardener when it started in 1944. Eventually Jim rose to the position of “bush boss”, which meant he directed the actual logging operations, and was given one of the four new houses that were built opposite to the mill. So by the time Malcolm invited me to visit his parents in 1956, the only shocking thing about their living conditions was having to face the huhu bugs in the long drop! The Coast was still a bit of a shock to a girl who had recently come from the beautiful Kentish countryside! But I came to love it. When Malcolm and I went to England for three years after we were married, he and my mother heeled in cuttings from many of Malcolm’s West Coast plants into my parents’ garden, which my mother faithfully tended during our absence, so that our first garden in Rangiora was quickly stocked with these, and they then came with us to Winters Road. So some of our plants had a long history of ownership, dating back to Malcolm’s pre-school days!
Sorry to get carried away by memories!
All of the photos were taken in our garden last November by Juliet Nicholas.
When we were visiting friends in the Loire Valley in France this year, our hostess served the most delicious fig preserve with cheeses. Here is the recipe, passed on to her from a friend who lived in Corsica for many years.
Corsican Fig Preserve
- ¼ litre water, I kg sugar,
- 1 ½ kg fresh figs, Grated rind and juice of two lemons,
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla essence.
Bring the water to the boil, add the sugar and cook until the sugar is dissolved and mixture bubbles.
Add all of the ingredients, bring to the boil and simmer for 1 ½ hours until the figs are transparent and the juice starts to gel. Put into jars and seal.
Our relaxed country garden started twenty nine years ago. In the early days I had very little gardening experience and no vision for the site, but an interest in plants was quickly developing. Over the years, with much trial and error, a garden has emerged which we and our visitors do enjoy.
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139 Old Tai Tapu Rd, Christchurch 8025, New Zealand
+64 3 3228 061