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A Labour of Love

When Geoffrey Marshall and John Hayward were asked to open their inner city garden as part of the inaugural Heroic Gardens Festival, little did they realise, 18 years on, how much the Festival would form part of their lives.

"A simple suggestion to improve the ticket design in the second year instigated our inclusion on the organising committee. By chance or design, we then assumed the role of running the Festival for the majority of years.

We were just left to it. It must have been our strong views on how things should be run," laughs Geoffrey.

The Festival was originally set up with three main focuses in mind, philosophies that remain unchanged today. To provide Auckland with a garden festival, to support a charity through a strong fundraising event and the unique ability for gardening enthusiasts to spend time with the gardeners themselves in their own environment.

"We limit the Festival to 24 gardens, ensuring enough variety and contrast between big country gardens and small central city gardens including everything in-between. Our aim is to provide gardening enthusiasts with inspiration of the possible and appreciation of the unobtainable," says Geoffrey.

John and Geoffrey have been on a path of discovery with their Festival involvement over the years. Running a successful garden festival simply does not just happen. Dedication, enthusiasm, incredible organisation and many months of planning are evident.

"A large part of our time is spent sourcing new gardens. We are privileged having the opportunity to see exquisite gardens and meet like-minded people through our Festival association. Thinking ahead to ensure a geographical coherent programme remains in place is important. This year the Festival's new gardens are concentrated in the East including Howick, Whitford and Clevedon and we are already looking ahead to the 2015 Festival with potential new areas in the South," explains Geoffrey.

The Festival appeals to a wide range of gardening enthusiasts, from those who appreciate the technical skill to others who simply enjoy the beauty that is unique to each garden.

"We often see the same people returning each year, many of whom will just sit and soak up the atmosphere of the garden. Others are new, often lured by an innovative garden highlight. Gardens have to evolve as gardens grow, it's a process not a product and that's what makes the Festival so exciting. You never quite know quite what you are going to see each year," says Geoffrey.

Funds raised now go to support Mercy Hospice, however this was not always the case.

"Initially the Festival included gardens solely from the gay community with funds going to Herne Bay House. After it's closure in 2005, supporting and raising awareness for Hospice seemed right. At the same time it became increasingly difficult to draw only on the gay community, as the pool of new, quality gardens didn't keep pace with our needs. Rather than see the standard of the Festival drop, it was decided to open the festival to all gardens in order to widen the pool of potential participants. In 2012 Mercy Hospice increased its involvement taking on an increased administration role and we haven't looked back," reflects John.

For the majority of people, the thought of having 1,500 people wander through their garden over a weekend is terrifying, not so for Geoffrey and John who have spent their Christmas holidays finessing their garden in preparation for the February Festival.

"The Festival provides a great stimulus for keeping our garden maintained, it's a positive focus for us. As much as the weekend itself is exhausting, we find it incredibly rewarding and satisfying. We can't quite imagine life without the Festival, although we could go away for Christmas," says Geoffrey with a smile.

The Heroic Gardens Festival will be held 22-23 February. Tickets are $40 each and valid both days. For more information and to purchase tickets visit

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