Gardening gene helps in planning festival

One of Jan Mathers’ many dogwoods in bloom.

Jan Mathers was the perfect pick to help select properties to be featured in the November 18 inaugural Cambridge Garden Festival.

Her own garden is in the line-up. It’s a picturesque sprawl of colour and texture, filled with all sorts of quirky surprises, secret corners and delights – a place that easily validates her own ‘gardening chops’. It’s also a fragrant comment on her own journey, one that more than suggests a gardening gene in her DNA and speaks to the fastidious approach she has in documenting each step of that journey.

These garden ornaments – made by a specialist woodworker in Geraldine to represent Jan (pictured) and Bill Mathers’ granddaughters – have become the emblem of the next month’s Cambridge Garden Festival.

Carey Church, who is organising the event as a fundraiser for the Cambridge Rotary Club, said Jan’s is one of “10 very different gardens” featuring in the festival.  She’s delighted at ticket sales to date and is keen to keep flying the festival flag.

“Three are new gardens – I’ve just written a blog post on a garden transformation, and we profiled our two new gardens in St Kilda,” she said, referencing the regularly-updated festival website. “I’m thrilled at the interest, especially given that this is our first year. And it’s worth remembering that all proceeds from the festival go to charity.”

Recipients will be Cambridge Community House, Victim Support and the Rotary Club of Cambridge.

News of the festival came out several months ago. Carey said well over half the 1000 tickets are sold, as are three-quarters of the tickets for an ‘optional extra’ behind-the-scenes tour of Lilies by Blewden.

Jan, meanwhile, is beavering away daily to put the finishing touches on her own patch. Her great-grandfather started the genetic ball rolling … he was an early Birkdale pioneer who established orchids and grew tomatoes and apples commercially and her grandparents, the Levesques, became adept gardeners in this neck of the woods.

Grouping colours together draws the eye to one of Jan Mathers’ most personal and important messages about gardening.

There are also seed-merchants in her backstory. Much of it then was, of course, about swelling pantries with home-grown produce.  That still happens in the Mathers’ garden – but the produce side of it comes at the hands of Jan’s Canadian-born husband Bill. She met and married him while on her “OE” from New Zealand many years ago.

“Gardening in Canada was very different to what it is in New Zealand.  I had a lot of learning to do that’s for sure,” she said.  “We had vastly different seasons, and the deer … they’d wander through at their leisure, eating any new plant I’d put in. It was very frustrating.”

When the couple re-settled in New Zealand, built their home 16 years ago and started working on their garden, Jan dovetailed her teaching job with soaking up as much knowledge as possible about growing things here. When she retired, she joined the Cambridge Garden Club, rising eventually to take the role of president.

Dogwood flowers in Jan Mathers’ garden add to its sprawl of colour and texture.

Each changing season has been scrupulously documented, and as she opened her garden to visitors, so she added details of those visiting groups to the files. It helps her plan, she explained, and allows her to track the progress of her plants as they thrive or otherwise in any given spot.

All of which has helped immensely in planning this garden festival. “The planning has been very important – time has been spent visiting the gardens, particularly those that are opening to the public for the first time,” she said.  “It’s going to be a wonderful festival … the 10 gardens are all so different.”

Visit for festival details.

Jan Mathers’ garden will feature in the Cambridge Garden Festival on November 18.

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