Cheyenne Mataira lives in Napier with her two little girls. Although they only moved into their rented house this summer, their sunny back yard is already bursting at the seams with horticultural treasures. A large collection of potted succulents and houseplants is displayed on shelving, steps and table tops. There are potted fruit trees, bright flowering annuals, herbs - and as many vegetables as Cheyenne can squeeze into the raised beds and borders, which awaited her arrival.
“Going from rental to rental makes it hard to lay your roots,” says Cheyenne. “But I always just make use of every bit of soil I have. I do love my current home, although I think we all could use an extra garden bed or five!” Finding enough space is an ongoing challenge, but finding the time to practice her love of gardening is the biggest challenge of all, she says. “It's not unusual to find me in my PJs, pink steel cap boots and mask, potting up at 9pm!”
Juggling the demands of single parenthood with studying horticulture at EIT (Hawke’s Bay’s Eastern Institute of Technology) is tricky enough. But when her previous rental home was sold in the midst of a housing shortage last year, there were some nail-biting weeks as she struggled find another place to live close to the girls’ Te Kōhanga Reo and within walking distance of EIT. When she eventually found it, complete with a large garden and outdoor pizza oven, she could hardly believe her luck. She now has more space for the girls to play and more space to grow food.
Cheyenne grew up among gardeners. Her passion for plants began around ten years ago, but it’s only recently that she started thinking about horticulture as something much more than a hobby. “My artistic side led me into cheffing then interior design, but I know now that horticulture is my true path. Honestly, I don't know why I didn't study it earlier!”
Hawkes Bay’s dry climate doesn’t faze a young woman whose earliest gardening memories were made in Australia. “Growing up in dry climate you soon learnt you had to water your plants regularly. My father had at least 30 indoor plants just in our living room. When we knew some decent rain was coming it was my job to haul all of our plants outside to get a good drink. Sometimes if I was too slow I'd also get drenched myself! My mother also had a vege patch out the back, I remember being amazed as a teenager that you could grow spuds in tyres.”
An appreciation of nature is something Cheyenne is keen to instil in her own children. “My proudest moment was a conversation I had with ‘Miss three’ some months ago. I held a leaf up and asked her what it was. Without hesitation she said ‘kawakawa’. So I asked her ‘what do we use it for?’ She answered ‘medicine’ with high pitched glee. That moment still brings me to tears. It pushes me to learn more, and teach my tamariki (children) as much as I can. Kayla has very bad eczema at times. I find that kawakawa helps tremendously. The girls don't know it, but their favourite ice blocks I make have kawakawa in them.”
Cheyenne’s great-grandmother, Lillian Ormond, is one of her gardening heroes. “I’ve been told stories about Lillian,” she explains. “Living on our family farm in Kinikini (Mahia) she provided fruits and vegetables for her 20 children. All of four foot nine, she had an amazing self-sufficient garden, collecting her own seed and trading seed with neighbours. Her daughter, my grandmother, has some not-so-fond memories of the many duties she and her many siblings were given! Hearing the stories makes me feel like I'm connected to my great grandmother, like it's in my genes. I strive to one day match the harvest that she achieved. I keep a small vial of her soil on display to treasure.”
Soil, or the lack of it, can be one of the real challenges faced by gardeners who are renting. Even if the soil is good, not every landlord is keen to have you dig up the back lawn. And potting mix is a luxury item when you’re on a tight budget. Cheyenne gets around such limitations by making her own compost. Waiting to be rebuilt after the summer break when the girls go back to day care are the timber compost bins she first constructed at her previous home. “Only this time it’s going to be bigger!” she declares. Her Christmas present to herself was a Kawasaki tool kit with everything she needs to build the compost heap, portable garden beds and useful bits of furniture.
Cheyenne loves to make stuff, but says her greatest gardening rewards are in growing healthy food for the girls and herself. Inspired by her great grandmother’s legendary success, she loves to grow her own plants from seed. “I get a great fulfilment from nursing my plants from seed to plate. I love watching all my ‘babies’ grow. I do have a habit of sowing too many seeds though. Most visitors can't leave without a tour of my garden and cannot escape empty handed - be it a plant or produce!” Lately, friends and family have also been treated to vegetarian pizzas made in the pizza oven with herbs and veges from her garden.
Much of Cheyenne’s gardening skill is self-taught. “With a lot of help from the internet!” she adds. “Until EIT, YouTube and Facebook were my tutors!” But Cheyenne says the knowledge and confidence she has gained through the practical classes she attended during her Certificate in Horticulture course has inspired her to extend her studies at EIT towards a Level 5 Diploma in Nursery Production.
She also loves nutrition and naturopathy saying, “I'm hoping I can tie the three things together and one day have a business of my own. But good things take time. I'm just germinating. Wait till I bloom!”
Cheyanne in her vege patch at EIT
In the garden at EIT