The gardener, storyteller and the story of Winlea Acre from Waitara
There is a lot of laughter among the leaves at Winlea Acre as Anne and Maurice Crackett remember some of the colorful visitors to their Waitara Garden.
Let’s be clear from the start – Ann is the garden expert and Maurice is the storyteller, a thread spinner. But Ann also knows how to tell a story or two, and Maurice loves to mow the grass.
Together, they transformed their one-acre property on Joll St into a pristine garden with lush lawns, gently curving paths and bold borders, with odd specimens dotted among the most common or common varieties.
“The week we moved here, they brought out the cattle,” says Ann, who says the property was once a nursery.
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Last year they hosted 1,880 people in Winlea Acre during the Taranaki Garden Festival hosted by TAFT and are looking forward to opening for the sixth time from October 29 to November 7.
Along with the celebration of spring, the Taranaki Arts Trail, the two weekends of the Garden Festival, and the Taranaki Sustainable Backyards Trail, open on the dates indicated in the three-section program.
One of Maurice’s favorite stories is when he unknowingly shared height advice.
At last year’s festival, he was chatting with three people about signing the guestbook and entering a competition.
Jokingly, he said the prize wouldn’t be an ocean cruise, and then, as four other visitors passed by, he voiced an idea: Auckland for the homeless.
Half an hour later a woman came around the corner and spoke to her: “I heard what you said to these people… I am Jacinda Ardern’s mother and I have already called her with your wonderful suggestion.
He was stunned. “Ann thought I was talking to pigs until she saw the guestbook. “
The idea for the boat did not float.
In the flat garden, ideal for wheelchair users, it’s Ann’s time for a story.
During the 10 days of the festival, she noticed two young women laughing. When they got to Ann, she asked if they had ever seen Lemon “Hand of Buddha”. “All they could do was laugh, and one of them said, ‘We thought you blew up a yellow glove and tied it to the tree.’ “
This is an apt description of the fascinating fruit, best used for peel.
Another time, an Auckland IT businessman bought a range of brass ornaments in Mauritius – and even more inside the house, much to Ann’s surprise.
Outside, the same man was walking barefoot on Maurice’s lawn, telling the others: “Take off your shoes and walk on the grass; it’s good for your soul.
Ann says another visitor saw the lawn as a fluid force. “There was a guy looking at the garden moving his head side to side, then he said, ‘do you know what that reminds me of – it looks like there’s a river going down to across the lawn ‘. “
It takes about 40 minutes in Mauritius to mow the lawn using a riding mower. As it goes, it creates waves in the grass that complement the rolling paths and garden beds bordering the lawn.
Maurice traced all the paths, built all the arches and together they used quarry stones to give height to the edges and prevent the dirt from washing away in the rain.
“We’ve never had an entrepreneur here,” he says.
But they had visitors from all over including the United States, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Australia.
Almost everyone has given great reviews about the gardens and landscaping, especially the men who are wondering how the large pergola at the end of the lawn can be maintained. “There are stainless steel plates on the back,” says Maurice.
A woman once complained that the garden had three wedding cake trees planted in a row, saying there should only be one.
Quickly Maurice replied: “There is a bride and a groom, and usually a vicar, or a priest.
Another day, not during the festival, they received a visit from a family, including an old woman with a cane.
“She said, ‘Excuse me, are you having weddings?’ I said, “we can do – when do you book? “”
The woman continued the joke, “I haven’t found a guy yet, but I’m going to a function on Wednesday and will call you back.”
With a straight face, Maurice asked her if she would need red, white or sparkling wine.
“Certainly bubbles,” was his response.
Alongside these stories is Ann’s botanical knowledge.
Let’s meet three unusual plants and a star in early spring.
The latter is Acer negundo, covered in pink acorns and loved by bees.
At the beginning of the garden, near a veranda filled with orchids and tropical plants, is a carpet of large leaves, which appear to have been placed on the ground. This is Haemanthus coccineus, also known as the brush lily, which will produce a blazing orange flower in February / March.
Climbing plants grow on three garden arches, including clematis and Petrea volubilis, also known as sandpaper vine for its raspy leaves.
Another much admired plant is a darwinia, dripping with waxy pink flowers.
Ann’s love for gardening runs deep.
The mother-of-three says her first husband Jim Herbert teased her about author, radio and TV personality Eion Scarrow, who hosted Dig This from 1972 to 1986.
“Come on Ann, your boyfriend is on TV,” he would say.
Sadly, Jim, a dairy farmer in Korito, passed away suddenly in 1986 while mowing the lawns.
She took care of her involvement in the Women’s Division of Federated Farmers, eventually becoming the Provincial President.
Ann also spent time working on her country garden and through this her TV “boyfriend” became her husband.
Eion, who regularly led garden tours, brought a bus full of Americans to Taranaki and planned to visit Ann’s Garden.
They couldn’t do it, so she called the gardening expert to ask him what had happened and he invited her to be a tour guide the next day.
Next comes dinner, and that’s how a slow-burning romance began, leading to a 23-year marriage. The couple lived in Hampton Downs, where Eion died of prostate cancer in 2013.
Meanwhile, Ann was working in a fruit shop in Te Kauwhata, where she met Maurice.
Later, when the store closed, she went to work in Winlea Heights, Mauritius’ 8-acre botanical garden on a 32-acre property in Glen Murray.
After selling the property to a movie star, he moved to Northwest Auckland where he had a five acre garden in Kaukapakapa called Winlea Rise.
After Eion’s death, Maurice invited Ann to see her new place.
He was standing next to her and, while looking out the window together, he asked, “Do you think you could live here?”
Maurice laughs at his answer. “She coughed and spat and said ‘yes’.”
After getting married, they moved from Auckland to Taranaki, to be closer to Ann’s family.
Now they have Winlea Acre, the size of her name. “He’s just a puppy compared to the rest.”
The one they tamed with love, work and laughter.
The Big Jims Garden Center and Café is a must-see for anyone with a green thumb. The family business is full of plants galore, garden items and gifts. The adjoining cafe offers freshly prepared meals daily. Big Jims is open seven days, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at 1217 Devon Rd, near Waitara.
Between the awa and the moana in Waitara, you will find The Beach House Café. Order from the menu or choose cabinet food, especially a freshly made cream horn. Next, stretch your legs on the history-rich Waitara West Walkway along the Waitara River. The cafe is open Wednesday through Sunday, 9:30 am to 2:30 pm, in West Beach, Waitara.
People come from near and far to visit Bin Inn Taranaki in Waitara. It offers a wide range of gluten-free, organic, protein, probiotic and vegan products, as well as bulk foods. Open Monday to Friday 8 am to 5 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 61 McLean St, Waitara.
• This story is published as part of a partnership between the Taranaki Daily News and the TAFT Arts Festival Charitable Foundation.