Community spirit

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Nestled on a gentle north facing slope at Tauranga’s Pyes Pa, the houses at Copper Crest Village are united by their classic architecture and beautifully maintained streetscapes. But their gardens are as individual as their occupants.

Everyone has a nice garden at Copper Crest, but you can garden as little or as much as you like and there’s no need to own a lawnmower or trimmer. On week days, chief gardener Kevin and his team are busy throughout the village keeping everything spic and span. “Our gardens are a sense of great pride, both to our residents and our grounds team,” says Village Manager, Astrid Martin. “We know how important it is to one’s wellbeing to do the things we love, so we share the caring and feast on the visual delights that brings!”
Bill Reeves enjoys his spacious back lawn, but these days he is only partially sighted so he’s happy to leave the mowing up to others.

A few doors down from Bill, Alison Beck gardens mainly on her sunny street frontage where her cheerful display of flower pots is enjoyed by passers-by. For Alison gardening is all about colour. “If it doesn't have flowers I’m not interested!” she says. But she doesn’t miss out on fresh locally grown vegetables. Down at the Meridian Centre, the social hub of the village, there is a table where gardeners can take their surplus fruit and veges to share and swap.

Vegetable gardening is popular at Copper Crest. To make it easy, every home comes with a waist high garden bed. And you don’t have to go far to find an experienced gardener willing to give advice.

Keen gardener Robin Clegg speaks highly of the friendship and community support he enjoys at Copper Crest. The Growing Competition he started for fun four years ago now has over 50 participants. Last year they grew carrots. This year they’re growing peanuts. A regular newsletter from ‘Mr P’ and the Growing Committee keeps contestants up to date with progress and advice.

Robin is a former school principal. He remembers the time a local dad came to talk to the school gardening club and delivered a lesson the kids (and Robin) never forgot. Mr Clegg was made to take off his shoes and socks and stand on the soil with his bare feet. If it felt cold, it was still too cold to sow seeds.

Robin’s compact garden exudes variety and surprise. Beans, salad greens and strawberries are lush with spring growth in his net-covered vegetable beds. Around the corner in a space less than two metres wide is a mini orchard - fruit trees trained against a tall retaining wall. The espaliered apple tree is triple grafted with Royal Gala, Golden Delicious and Splendour. Each ripens at a different time, extending Robin’s harvest. Stanley plum is a variety he's grown for years but this is the first time he's espaliered it. Self-fertile with beautiful navy blue skin, Stanley is a prune plum, but so delicious fresh Robin’s never had any left to dry.  “The grandchildren know it’s time to visit from the 12th to 15th of February when the sweet juicy plums are ready to eat,” he laughs. There are two different kinds of feijoa; Wiki Tu with huge fruit and Opal Star for late season ripening. There is also a dwarf lemon tree which Robin believes every gardener should plant.

Above his fruit trees Robin has planted blue flowers for the bees. They are also flowers his wife Val would have enjoyed. Sadly Robin lost Val to cancer two years ago. He points to her favourite flowers in the garden, like the sweet peas he grows from seed, and plants they enjoyed in all of their gardens over the years, including a dwarf Japanese Maple. The hollyhocks are on their way up and the Vireya rhododendrons are covered in bloom. He feeds them and many other plants in his garden with worm juice from his own worm farm. Robin also recommends seaweed and fish food.

Robin credits his friend Pamela Robertson for her wonderful planting ideas and says she’s great for advice when deciding what to plant. Coming from a neighbourhood of people with young families and busy jobs - people they rarely saw - Pamela and her husband David say they're loving the greater sense of community they have found at Copper Crest. If they feel like an adventure their mobile home is set to go. But they don’t have to leave the village to get up close with nature; the birds are daily visitors to the feeding table David has set up under a Kowhai tree in their private north-facing garden.

Lynne and Robin Sandford also recognised the importance of community when they reconsidered a long held plan to retire to the family beach house in favour of Copper Crest. Four years after relocating from their Taranaki home and garden, they’re happy they made that decision. “We’re close to family, walking distance from friends, and we can lock up and leave whenever we please,” says Lynne. Not that their convenient new lifestyle has prevented them from creating a beautiful garden. Surrounding vibrant green lawns (Robin’s specialty) and sheltered sitting areas are colourful shrubs, perennials and flowering annuals including Kaponga rhododendron and little Hawera daffodils to remind them of Taranaki.

There are stories to tell in Nancy and John Pavior-Smith’s garden. A favourite rose called Hugs and Kisses was named by a group of school children who John introduced to rose breeding. Another special rose, named after a daughter, took years to get growing from a cutting.  Failing eyesight has not stopped Nancy from actively gardening. She enjoys bright colours and fragrance, both in plentiful supply in this immaculate rose packed garden. As long time members of the NZ Rose Society, Nancy and John’s collective knowledge on all things rosy is inspiring.

And if you want to talk about orchids, Dan Jensen is your man. Dan says he’d study botany if he had his university days over again. Dan and Judith’s compact garden is devoted to a stunning collection of orchids. Potted cymbidiums provide a spectacular mass of bloom right outside the living room window. Dan has transformed the narrow patio and retaining wall along the south side of the house into a magical green alley where and rare orchids in mossy ponga logs mingle with ferns and other shade-loving treasures.  Dan also has an interest in native plants and is a member of a Copper Crest group who regularly visit Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, helping with maintenance projects while enjoying the beautiful native bush and bird life.

The physical and mental health benefits that come from gardening are well documented. In his book ‘The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life’ the American psychiatrist Dr Gene Cohen points out the importance creativity plays in strengthening brain function. The sense of wellbeing we get from creating something like a garden promotes a positive outlook which boosts the immune system and fights disease.

Gloria and Chris Elmiger know that feeling of accomplishment. They’ve been busy creating a new rock garden at the entrance to their villa, carting their rocks by the boot load from a local supplier. “It’s cost a few dollars but we’re really happy with the result,” Gloria says. “We hope to be here for another 15-20 years, so will enjoy the money we’ve spent!” 

The Copper Crest garden club provides an opportunity to socialise and visit beautiful gardens around the district. Garden club convener Dulcie Fisher also devotes a lot of time to her golf but she still finds plenty of time to enjoy her garden, growing colourful shrubs, succulents and flowering perennials. Dulcie’s neighbour Ann Hardy has transformed her small outdoor space into an elegant sanctuary filled with lush green foliage and flashes of colour. There is also a thriving vege garden. The secret to such lushness she says is to water and feed lots.

For Betty and John Wakelin, the move to Copper Crest marked huge life changes. Moving to Tauranga after 47 years in the Waikato coincided with Betty finally retiring from a busy travel agent job in her late seventies. Now, with more time to play, a new canvas to plant and new friends with inspiring gardens, their interest in gardening is reignited.



Alison's colourful front garden

Lynne and Robyn's garden

Gloria in her rock garden

David's bird table

Dan and Judith's orchids