New Zealand, hydrangeas and my father’s secret longing for home.

Amy Bell Photography, Wedding Photography, Waikato, Tauranga, New Zealand

There was a particular rose that grew by the back door of the house I grew up in.

It was tall and kind of ugly with great big thorns that would catch my sleeve when I walked past it, but every year it would redeem itself with the most beautiful creamy pink flowers with a fragrance that would fill the back yard with sweetness.

It formed part of a magical garden for me in what was otherwise a modest, rather uninspiring brick home.

There was a great big orange and lemon tree whose fruit would drop on the ground with a satisfying thud all year long, hydrangeas that exploded with bunches of blue blooms over summer, honeysuckles whose flowers I would run my fingers through to lick off the nectar and a big old tree I called the “Christmas flower” because every December it would break out in red flowers that looked like little festive baubles.

The garden was my father’s pride and joy, and as I grew it became our secret playground, a rare moment to be alone together outside the confines of school and work. When my mother would be in one of her moods mowing the lawns became his sanctuary, a crude tree house fashioned out of the bough of a pine tree mine.

When my father died the garden became neglected, then all but destroyed. The citrus trees and my favourite little Christmas blossom were cut down, a new barbecue area and stepfather taking their places.

I never gave the old garden much thought after that, there was nothing to keep the memory alive.

It was 20 years later, when I moved from my hometown in Australia to the New Zealand town where my father grew up, that I saw his old garden again.

Only it wasn’t in photographs, or a faint memory recalled. It was in the rose section of the public botanical gardens, close to where dad’s mother and father are buried. There I saw, and smelt, the familiar pinky cream rose from our old back door.

In every front or back yard there was a fruit-laden orange or lemon tree, the sandy soil so close to the town’s river making for perfect growing.

There were the hydrangaes, which I learned grew in dad’s childhood home where his mother would arrange the blue blooms on the hearth each Christmas.

There were the honeysuckles, that grew like weeds, and there was my mysterious Christmas bush, a feijoa tree as synonymous with New Zealand as sheep and rugby and whose tart fruit are eaten by Kiwi kids each summer as it falls from the tree.

And there it was, the secret that my father had hidden from us all those years in Australia. He had been terribly homesick for Hamilton, New Zealand, and had filled the garden with little reminders of home.

Now his three grandsons he never had the chance to meet play in a garden in the town their grandfather grew up in, surround by the same trees and flowers that followed dad all his life.

One day the boys will learn the significance of their own secret garden, but for now I am happy to watch them throw rotting lemons over the back fence into the paddock while I pick the blue hydrangeas to put on the hearth and wait for the feijoas to ripen.


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