Holy Family Timaru parish priest Fr Christopher Friel was a little surprised to find that a parishioner, “a good daily Massgoer”, entered his garden at Sacred Heart Basilica in the Timaru Horticultural Society Summer Garden competition.
An even more pleasant surprise for the priest was winning the competition’s best-under-a-year garden category.
“Not that I garden for competition. I just garden for the love of it,” said Fr Friel, who described his passion of gardening as being “in the blood”.
He recalled puttering around the garden as a child with his mum, Teresa. She, too, won the best small garden category a number of years ago in the same competition. He said he and his siblings are “all big-time gardeners”.
Behind the basilica, roses are blooming profusely. Carpet roses line one side of the driveway, followed by red and white petunias. The front of the presbytery is a riot of colourful flowers, which include tagetes or marigolds, as well as lilies. The small circular plot where the elm tree grows has been dotted with petunias of all colours.
The area was a far cry from when Fr Friel first arrived last year. The basilica was covered in scaffolding. A huge crane and large containers sat outside and there were fences all around.
It was early spring, when work on the basilica’s upgrade was finally finished, that Fr Friel started “plotting and planning”.
“A gardener is always thinking of next year or next spring or next summer. How I can change this? What doesn’t work? And as you’re out there, you just work out what’s good here and what works here,” he said.
“I’ve discovered a very windy area of the garden where things were knocked around a little bit. It’s been an interesting few months really, working out what’s good and what’s not, what needs more compost, all those sort of things,” he added.
Fr Friel said gardening helps him sort out his week, as well as develop his homily.
“It’s just time alone between you and God and your mind, you just do a lot of thinking. And it’s usually in an hour of the day when there’s no one around, so that’s very helpful,” he said.
Fr Friel said this was actually the second time a garden he planted had won an award. His garden on Ferry Road in Woolston about 12 years ago was named by the local authority as the best garden on the street a month after he left the parish.
“The parishioners were slightly embarrassed telling me, Father, you’ve won that prize but you’re not here,” he said, with a little laugh.
Fr Friel said the people of Holy Name parish were all happy with the current award, which makes him happy, too.
“When I started this garden this spring, I was just doing it for myself and the parish to uplift the look of the entire property, with no thought of entering any competition really,” he said.
“Gardening . . . you do it for the love of it. That’s what it’s all about. There is great satisfaction knowing that your vision that you had six months ago is working out perfectly.”