When Diane Bruce was a little girl, there were over 100 roses in her family’s King Country farmhouse garden and her job on Saturdays was to pick and arrange some for their dining room table. It was a job that she loved and led her to a lifetime creating gardens bursting with colourful blooms for herself and others to enjoy.
Diane has fond childhood memories of time spent in her family’s farmhouse garden, which had lots of fruit trees and many flowers. “All farmers had lovely gardens in those days,” she said. “They were self-sufficient and people shared their produce. Farms were quite small then and they were subsidised by the government, not the big farms we have now.”
Diane now lives in Tairua and there are several gardens around the town that look lovely thanks to her care. She trained as a primary school teacher and her first job was at a tiny school at Waimiha. When the government policy changed and special needs children were merged into mainstream, Diane specialised as a resource teacher of learning and behaviour. She trained teacher aides and teachers, and helped source funding to implement the new policy. “It was very satisfying being involved,” she said. “When I first started, there were only a few schools with special needs children and now it’s nationwide. Getting funding for teacher aides and for the new programmes was the biggest challenge.”
Diane met her late husband, Ray, while she was at teachers’ training college. They lived in Mangere Bridge and had four children. She says it was a very nice community and it was there she first met her long-time friend, Perrine Busby, who introduced her to Tairua. Diane and Perrine, along with their total of seven children, had an annual summer holiday in Tairua at the camp group that was by Mary Beach’s store.
Ray and Diane moved to Tairua permanently in 2007 and Diane remembers their garden was bare at that time. She was keen to create a beautiful garden and so they started digging. “But about 15 centimetres down we hit asphalt,” she says. “Unbeknown to us, it had been a parking space before. The developers had just covered it with a thin layer of soil. So we got a digger in and the kind driver also brought us some topsoil.”
A neighbour sketched a plan for Diane’s garden and she decided she wanted tropical plants. Now she wonders why. “I had not had tropical plants before and didn’t realise that they weren’t suitable for Tairua and that the frost would kill them,” she says. “It was a mistake that cost me a lot of money. But then people started giving me cuttings and it felt nice to put them in my garden. I love all the colours.”
Diane joined the Tairua Garden Club and is now its secretary/treasurer. When she joined there were about 30 members and now there are 85. “Some members don’t even have gardens, but love the company and being involved. They are a lovely bunch of people and we swap some good ideas.”
Diane tends the gardens along the main road by the corner of Manaia Road and across the main road, with plants and maintenance supplied by the RSA. She is also responsible for the lovely blooms outside the Tairua Community Hall, with the Garden Club paying for the plants. You may also spot her looking after the gardens at the Tairua Golf Club.
All that gardening sounds like hard work and back ache. However, Diane reckons her back has been strong since, when her son Craig was a teen, she carried a backpack full of pamphlets and delivered them to fundraise for his overseas trips to gymnastics competitions.
As well as her passion for gardening, Diane also enjoys playing golf and golf croquet. She loves learning about history and is a member of the Tairua Heritage Society.
Diane’s favourite blooms include the vibrant zinnias and “the beautiful blue and white bells of campanulas”. She loves that her garden attracts bees, bumble bees and monarch butterflies.
A few of Diane’s gardening tips:
• If you are starting a new garden, walk around the area and see what grows well in other people’s gardens.
• Look after your soil. If you don’t, you will not have good plants.
• Learn about companion planting in your vege garden.
• Plant potatoes and tomatoes early, before the psyllid moth lays its eggs.
• Put natural bait in milk bottles and hang them on trees.
• If your garden is very sandy, you may need to add topsoil for best results.
Pictured is Tairua’s Diane Bruce, who is responsible for many of the gardens in the town bursting with colourful blooms.