Driving down country roads, we often see random clumps of arum lilies and, in summer, fence lines covered with the lovely old pink rose, Dorothy Perkins. These flowers often mark the site of a pioneer’s homestead.
When settlers arrived, their priorities were to build some sort of dwelling and make their bush-clad land productive. Women soon established flower gardens, finding most plants grew well here, and there was a lively trade in seeds, bulbs and cuttings.
Extracts from some of their letters illustrate their love of flowers and gardening.
Mary Constance Hargreaves, from Oneriri, on the northern side of the Oruawharo River, in the late 1800s.
“When you and the girls come over, which I hope will be soon, as the days are nice and long and calm too, I must beg you to bring some mesembryanthemum cuttings with you, as I haven’t one now. You will think me a regular old flower beggar, but it is excusable where flowers are concerned. The ixias you gave me are up, but these cold mornings are checking their growth.
I have also to thank you for the cuttings of ivy geranium, what a beautiful eschscholzia you sent over amongst the flowers. I never saw a finer one. I am going to ask you to send me a root of it when you come again, or have a chance. I think they are such showy effective flowers.”
Susan Becroft, from Port Albert, in 1905
“The strawberries do not seem very forward in coming on, but the garden is looking very nice. We have even got some English currant bushes with some fruit on. It is said they do not grow in the north, but these ones we have got look as though they mean to make a show.
I expect your flower garden is looking nice now and you will be able to look at it from your door. I could give you some dahlia bulbs if you would care to have them, that is if you have not got plenty already. I am going to plant them out this week, as they have got large shoots on.”
Connie Stables (nee Witheford) in 1907
“My little flower garden looks so nice now. I have raised almost all the plants from seed. I have had a bed of all coloured pansies, they have been just a picture.”
These blooms, together with native ferns and flowers, decorated houses, churches and halls and made magnificent wedding bouquets. They must have considerably brightened pioneer life.
Lyn Johnston, Albertland Museum