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.
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.
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.