Real Life

Gorgeous Gael’s darling bulbs

In her happy place toiling in the garden, the independent 81-year-old says it’s the secret to keeping a spring in her step

It’s a tad tricky keeping a straight face when Gael Blaymires declares she’s downsized her garden and is now a “lazy gardener”.

The spritely 81-year-old is in sole charge of a 1.2-hectare site that’s home to, amongst other things, “thousands upon thousands” of daffodils. At an estimate, daffodil numbers sit at about “100,000 easy” and Gael planted every single one.

It was six years ago that Gael and her late husband Cedric made the move to Te Puke in the Bay of Plenty, from a nearby property high in the Pāpāmoa Hills. There, the duo had created the acclaimed Looking Glass Gardens on a site much bigger than Gael’s current property.

About 20 years ago, the Weekly featured an article about Gael and that garden, which was open to the public. Whimsical sculptures, little nursery rhyme houses and a stairway to heaven (196 steps up a daffodil-clad hill) were amongst the delights Gael dreamed up to replace gullies of gorse and thistles.

After 30 years of living and labouring at their beloved property, they purchased a home in Te Puke. Restoring the 1911 villa was their new goal – which they did. But when the land at the back of their section became available, Gael’s green fingers began to twitch.

The property was “rubbishy, rough pasture”, tells Gael, who knew she’d gain great pleasure transforming it. “Gardening is my escape route and happy place. Instead of going on overseas trips, I buy land and plants.”

Cedric helped to transform the space, erecting picket fences and trellis after they’d cleared the site. Sadly, he passed away a year later in 2017. “When my husband died, it was the garden that saw me through,” tells Gael.

Cedric and Gael’s 2016 version of the famous Grant Wood painting American Gothic.

There was no garden plan as such. “I have a saying: ‘The garden tells me what to do’ and it did. If you work in it, it will tell you what to do in terms of placement of trees etc.”

Daffodils were a given, including many hardy species Gael’s divided up over 50 years – King Alfred is a favourite. Hardy daffodils equal lazy gardening as there’s so little to do, she says.

Rising above the daffodils – and bluebells too – are trees she’s especially fond of: the wonderfully scented magnolia maudiae, bird-pleaser drimys winteri, and the spectacular colours of the nyssa and maples. There are also about 200 camellias, as well as eye-catching details of the non-growing kind, like a Tinkerbell sculpture and house, a Never Bird, painted toadstools and poles adorned in baubles “for the fairies”, Gael laughs.

The garden was designed around the practicalities of lawn mowing. It takes her about an hour on her ride-on to tackle the flat area that’s punctuated by ponds and big circles defined by plantings and bollards. There’s a straight strip to mow too and her neighbours joke about their much-loved octogenarian hooning around on her racetrack.

One of those neighbours offered to create ponds in Gael’s garden and now she enjoys the ducks that have moved in.

“The reflection of the maples and daffodils is just beautiful – it’s double value for money,” she enthuses.

“I go down in the morning to feed the ducks and sit for about an hour watching the kingfishers nesting in a dead stump, the tūī and finches at play, and the masses of monarch butterflies too.

“In the afternoon, I sit in a sunny place. I am completely independent. If I feel a little lonely, I go and sit in the garden, and soon feel cheered up.”

Gael believes that if you are old and on your own, you need a garden and a dog for company. She owns two dogs – Daisy, who Gael says is more like a cat because she doesn’t like getting her feet wet or dirty, and Loui, her trusty Jack Russell who is a fellow outdoors enthusiast.

Pup Loui is her constant companion.

While her knees sometimes give her jip, Gael encourages the elderly to try a spot of gardening. She explains, “You’re out in the fresh air, and get engrossed enough to forget about your aches and pains.”

Gael concedes her plot is nearly finished with son Neale (she has six children and five grandchildren) on hand to help with the remaining touches, like building bridges over a drain.

With her family at their beloved Looking Glass Gardens property (back row, from left) Andrew, John, Cedric and Ian. (Front row) Neale, Peter and Tessa in 2000.

“It will look absolutely magnificent in another four years when the maples have grown and the daffodils have continued to spread out nicely.

“If in good health, I hope to live to see it. In the meantime, I know I have already created my own little paradise.”

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