NZ Gardener - - 2018 Gardener Of The Year - TEXT: JO MCCAR­ROLL PHOTO: ALDEN WIL­LIAMS/STUFF

Wait­ing for their red-stick­ered house to be de­mol­ished, Bryan and Colleen Fair­bairn were fre­quent vis­i­tors to what had been the res­i­den­tial Red Zone left after the 2010 and 2011 Can­ter­bury earth­quakes.

“We wanted to see the bull­dozer,” Bryan ex­plains, “but ev­ery time we came I would growl at Colleen, ‘look at that long grass.’”

Then Bryan heard an in­ter­view with Sam John­son, founder of the Stu­dent Vol­un­teer Army who had mo­bilised more than 11,000 peo­ple to help with the quake cleanup.

“He said peo­ple were talk­ing about what to do. But he went out and started do­ing it. And I thought, if he can do it, I can do it!”

So that Sun­day, near the end of 2013, the re­tired in­surance un­der­writer took a push lawn mower down and started mow­ing.

“A car pulled up. Some­one jumped out and said ‘what are you do­ing?’. I ex­plained, and they dis­ap­peared. Then on Mon­day, a car came back and some­one said, ‘you are not al­lowed to do this.’ So I ex­plained we were do­ing it any­way. And he said, ‘we’ll go back and have a talk about it.’ I think they’ve been talk­ing about it ever since.”

Since then Bryan has spent about four hours a day work­ing, ei­ther by him­self or with the help of Colleen. He’s now cleared and main­tains about 13 hectares.

He keeps things tidy rather than per­fect: weed­ing, trim­ming back trees and shrubs. And of course, keep­ing the grass down (his orig­i­nal push mower has been re­placed, and he’s now on his third ride-on).

As well as spend­ing time, he’s spend­ing money. He es­ti­mates his ef­forts have cost about $80,000 over the years, and while he’s re­ceived sup­port and do­na­tions from var­i­ous quar­ters, more than $30,000 of that has come out of his own pocket.

But it’s worth it, he says, when peo­ple who pre­vi­ously lived there thank him.

“They left be­cause they had to,” he says. “Be­cause of Mother Na­ture. They didn’t want to go. And of­ten they are just so chuffed be­cause some­body cares and that’s pretty much what it’s all about.”

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