Master Plantsman: Joy Plants
I started gardening to make some money while studying at university. With a backpack for my tools, I walked from job to job and my gardening knowledge was guided by the experienced gardeners I worked for and my friends at the garden centre. The traditional way of learning a trade, hands on and in action. It wasn't long before the gardening became more important to me than the mix of subjects I was studying.
I'm trying to remember the first time I met Terry and whether I started ordering plants from his nursery before we met or after but I do remember driving my truck down Jericho road and trying to decide which drive to head up. The name of the nursery was definitely a winner and for a few years I thought Terry's wife Pam was the actually Joy. I'm sure for Terry she always has been. But details aside, this is when my knowledge of plants really began to expand.
Terry is a nurseryman by trade but an artist and teacher by purpose. The magic of Terry is not that he can spout off a list of botanical names with plants sorted into abstract boxes (a talent in it's own right). In fact Terry taught me that to know plants sometimes you might get the name a bit wrong or backwards or even have your own name for it, but more important is the story of each plant.
To grow plants you need to know where they come from and the conditions in which they grow. To grow Astellia, Terry climbed a tree to collected kereru poop to rub around the seeds to see if this was the key ingredient to trigger germination. Burning Australian seeds in a fire, crushing karaka berries and covering them in leaf litter, building crevice gardens out of slate, if there was a plant Terry wanted to grow, his imagination and observation would focus on all the possible tricks nature might have in place to discover what triggers it's germination.
From Terry I also learned that plants are tough. When you've worked in a garden centre you are trained to display the plushest plants that are flowering like little beauty pageant princesses begging to win the prize of first trolley. When I got my first order of plants from Joy some were a bag of roots with the heads chopped off and some of the plants were not even visible in the pots. Everything looked dead. "If they don't grow will send you some more" I was told and it didn't take me long to work out that these plants were less likely to fail than the plump greenhouse princesses that I'd gotten to know in my previous job.
"You've got to let plants dry out" Terry taught me. It doesn't rain every day in nature, sometimes it doesn't rain for weeks, the plants can handle it. So when the plant arrived from Joy into carefully prepared soils and over zealous watering regimes they quickly outgrew any others. First choice always was Joy plants and then all the others. This is precious information now with water restrictions a reality. We need to listen to this advice and stretch our watering regimes out if we want to plant resilient gardens.
But as a designer Terry has always given me more than that. Even after 25 years since I started with my backpack and trowel, walking with him around the nursery expands my knowledge of plants more than any book I could put my nose into. You'd think 25 years of friendship and my own practise might have seen me outgrow his lessons but walking with Terry is always a walk of discovery. Sometimes it's remembering the old plants that have slipped out of memory, others it's a new form of a favourite or a little bulb that I have no knowledge of. Perhaps that day it is flowering, is a day I've not been there before through all the years or perhaps last time I was head down in another plant and looked the wrong way.
Terry and I have travelled far together, to see the Queen in fact. Terry was by my side with his decades of plant knowledge when we went to create the second New Zealand garden at the RHS Chelsea flower show. Terry was a Londoner (now he is definitely a New Zealander) and had started his horticulture career with a RHS apprenticeship as a young man so being on the main Avenue at Chelsea was a joy. Terry's favourite part within the larger garden was a little hollow at the back in the depths of the forest with an old log woven through the planting and a soft valley of groundcovers with small saplings sprouting through. The full life cycle in one corridor of planting. We used to look at it when ever we needed a break.
On my last visit to Joy I found a little secret that had hidden from me on all my visits to Joy before. Down in the banks of Terry and Pam's beautiful garden which weaves through the nursery, are two beautiful beech trees. I've wished to grow a beech tree, like some people wish they could grow peonies for what seems like always. I'm not normally one to not try a new plant but many nurseries have persuaded me it is not possible here in Auckland and I have restrained myself. But here on this beautiful morning with Terry I am learning another lesson. Don't give up trying, there are little niches everywhere we might be able to cultivate some magic. I am very impressed.
The nursery itself is divided into two areas the natives and the perennials. My favourite is up the back with the natives because this is where each plant comes from an adventure where Terry and Lindsey have escaped into the hills looking for botanical treasures. Lindsey is one of Terry and Pam's three children who started working in the nursery before he left school and never left. I've always wished that I could go on one of these botanical expeditions into far flown places like the Chatham Islands.
In my garden I have a clump of yellow clivia amongst my red, because Terry thought I should try both so tucked some yellow into the order. The Anamanthele that won't stay where I planted it and chose to leave the garden and grow in a pot was found by Terry on the side of the road when they stopped for a sandwich on a family holiday in the South Island.
I love to imagine how many stories Terry has planted in gardens across the country through the years and how his ideas and love for plants grows with each of those plants. It reminds me that as important as cultivating a garden is passing these stories along.
How precious is the rose or tree given to us by someone we love or hold in high regard.
If you think about the garden as a composition of stories as well as colours and seasons I suspect Terry's laughter is part of most of our tapestries.
And the best thing about being with Terry, Pam and Lindsey is knowing that those millions of plants they've sent into the world have almost all passed through the little potting shed and every invoice is hand written. It's proof you don't need an industrial operation to change the world. Just willing hands and joy.