Friday flowers

img_5823 Image: Su Leslie 2019

One of the more unusual gardens included in the Taranaki Garden Festival was actually a cemetery — Te Henui Cemetery.

On the edge of New Plymouth’s CBD, Te Henui is the city’s oldest cemetery, with graves dating back to 1861. It occupies almost 10 hectares (24 acres) and is extensively planted with fruit and ornamental trees, while flower beds bring colour, texture and fragrance to the (mostly heritage) plots.

img_5826 Image: Su Leslie 2019
img_5836 Image: Su Leslie 2019
img_5822 Image: Su Leslie 2019

Large-scale maintenance is done by the council’s park’s’ staff, but the magnificent flower-plantings are entirely due to the efforts of a small group of volunteers.

img_5827 Image: Su Leslie 2019
img_5837 Image: Su Leslie 2019
img_5825 Image: Su Leslie 2019
img_5824 Su Leslie 2019

I find cemeteries fascinating; sad and poignant, and full of glimpses into other people’s lives and families. Sadly, in New Zealand at least, I don’t often find them beautiful. Graves that are lovingly tended by partners and children quickly become neglected as generations pass on. Many of us don’t know even where our grandparents and other members of the wider whanau are buried, let alone have the ability to visit and care for their graves.

Through their wonderful gardening efforts, the volunteers at Te Henui are dissolving time and distance. The beautiful, tranquil, contemplative space that they maintain and watch over helps connect the present and the past, and remind us all of our humanity.

img_5835 Image: Su Leslie 2019

41 thoughts on “Friday flowers

    • I’m not sure how much Council funds the work, but the Parks Department obviously does a good job looking after the actual grounds. I was amazed too at how such a small group could have a huge impact, but they are really motivated, and the more people visit the cemetery and talk about it (especially on social media), the easier it will e to attract new volunteers. It actually features on Trip Advisor as a great place to visit.

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    • Mine too. T and I have been to the Auckland cemetery where his gran is buried, and although some of the newer plots are cared for, the older ones are in a terrible state — overgrown and utterly neglected. It’s not local to us, but I’m wondering if I can look for a garden group that might be willing to work on at least some of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. How beautifully you have captured this lovely place. It is my kind of cemetery, too. I find most cemeteries in Christchurch incredibly ugly but I suppose the council does the best it can with the resources available.

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  2. The flowers are just so pretty! How lovely that there are volunteers who take care of them! But sadly I think it’s the same here – more and more people stop taking care for the graves of their loved ones, or just pay for having taking care of it (which is something at least). My mum and I used to tend my grandmother’s grave for years – it had such lovely flowers. My mum has three siblings but none of them took part in this. 😯 After 25 years the graves (that is the bones actually) are being removed here in Germany if relatives don’t pay for it.

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    • I’ve heard of that happening in Australia too. The burial plots have a fifty year lease and if it’s not renewed after that time, the bones are dug up. I was appalled when I heard that, and even more appalled that you have only 25 years.
      My mother travels up to Scotland several times a year to tend the grave of my older brother, who is buried with our paternal grandparents. I know that when she can no longer do it, neither my brothers nor our cousins (who live within about a mile of the cemetery) will bother. The whole issue is so thorny and I can’t think of solutions — apart from maybe becoming a volunteer gardener so other families’ graves will be looked after.

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      • That is so sad to hear that neither your brothers nor your cousins would continue to tend to your older brother’s grave even though they live nearby. 😯 It must be hard on you to know this and not being able to do something about it, living so far away. When the time was up for my grandmother’s grave my mum and I debated whether to prolong it but we felt that the work was becoming too hard for her and she didn’t want me to do it all on my own. Also we had a feeling that her mother would understand it and know that we will always keep her in our hearts.

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        • To be fair, it’s only my cousins who live really close by. But my brothers could go once a year if they wanted to. I’m glad you understand that it does bother me: I mentioned it to a friend and she thought I was a bit crazy to care about a grave. But for me it’s not really about the people buried there; I care because it is so important to my mother.
          I’m sure you were right about your grandmother; love and remembrance don’t need physical places when you have memories.

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          • Sorry for the late reply! Of course I understand! I don’t want to judge but for me it’s weird that your friend didn’t get the implications – of course it’s less about the people burried (although that’s part of it naturally) but how your mother must feel if she can’t do it on her own anymore. But then I know a lot of people who didn’t understand why I kept going to my grandmother’s grave – it wasn’t so much because of her (again that’s of course part of it) but I didn’t want my mum to be alone there and to do all the gardening herself. My hope was that she felt a little less sad. And also it was a beautiful and peaceful place to be. 😊

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