Well-tended garden a pleasure to more than just its master
Everyone has a story to tell and reporter Caitlin Wallace manages to dig up Graham Dunstall’s.
Most men feel at ease grasping a spanner or a drill – not Graham Dunstall.
His tool of choice is definitely the pruning scissors.
Anyone would think the 76-year-old spent his working life in horticulture, but the royallooking garden he grooms is merely a colourful hobby.
The remarkable collage of alyssums, marigolds and petunias which stands at the front of his house is nothing short of artwork on the quiet Tokoroa street.
When the retired teacher is not visiting family, he spends his days out in the sun – a pastime that has tinged his ageing skin brown.
Dunstall said horticulture has always been a part of his life and he inherited the not so ‘‘manly’’ hobby from his grandparents.
Despite an admirable 33 years in the primary education sector, Dunstall has always had an eye for a good-looking garden.
So it was only natural that he grew one from scratch.
The blank canvas he arrived to almost half a century ago took years of hard work to transform.
The father of two and grandfather of six chuckled when he remembered what his double section property used to look like.
‘‘There was a house, the garage, a driveway and there was a letterbox and the grass was up to here,’’ he said as he raised his hand up past the table.
His wife of 50 years shared his passion of horticulture until she died in 2011 from leukaemia.
‘‘It probably took us about 15 years. I had to remove all the grass and grow crops. Margaret was the landscaper and together we did a lot of work,’’ he said.
Every morning he wakes up to his masterpiece of a backyard and is reminded of what they shared.
And it seems as if others delight in the sight as much as Dunstall.
‘‘Someone took photos of my gardens when they walked past my house and put them on Facebook,’’ he said.
He admitted to not knowing his way around the computer but said a friend alerted him to his ‘‘five minutes of fame’’.
For those who live on the street, the bubbly, grey-haired resident has became an iconic figure.
Neighbours often stop by for a chat as he prunes his flowers or mows the lawn, almost always wearing the same thing – cargo shorts, a checkered shirt and wellloved, dirt-covered gumboots.
In true definition of a hobby, Dunstall said he enjoys spending up to six-hours a day, elbow deep in dirt.
And the hard work has paid off in more ways than one.
Before his wife died Dunstall became involved with the foreign world of competing in flower shows.
In seven years of entering chrysanthemums he had collected more than a few trophies.
Out of about 80 flowers he keeps in his greenhouse, only a few make it to competition.
It is a lengthy seven to eight months to produce a perfect flower, he said, and there is a lot love and nurturing that goes into the final result.
And while some might call it a repetitive hobby, Dunstall said it is the ongoing change that keeps things fresh.
The season continues to bring new colours and during winter – what he calls the ‘rest time’, he knows he can look forward to a new, exciting summer.
Like most of his era, the greenfingered Dunstall invested hours in the South Waikato community.
Some may know him as a teacher, others a parks and spaces manager or even a rugby referee once upon a time.
But to many, he is simply the lively gardener pruning his little corner of Tokoroa.
GREEN FINGERED: Avid gardener Graham Dunstall is making the most of his retirement.