The 2023 Christchurch Beautifying Association Spring Garden Awards saw numerous wins for residents and staff from various Ryman villages across Christchurch. While Anthony Wilding and Ngaio Marsh claimed the 2nd and 3rd prize, this year Margaret Stoddart Retirement Village in Riccarton took out the top spot for resthome, retirement, and corporate villages, the Peter Lawrence Trophy.
The man to thank for that win is Margaret Stoddart Lead Gardener Stephen Cartwright who has been working in the village for the last three years, with this being the second year he has entered the competition.
He shared that the judging process could be quite brutal, “they can they be quick. Basically, you know, see what it's like and if it’s worthwhile (the judges) stop and get out. Then they'll get out and judge it properly, otherwise they go to the next one…
“When we want people (prospects) visiting, you want the same for that too. So, they know that mum or dad is in a place where it's well looked after. The gardens are great which means the more chance that the residents will get out and go for a walk and have a look around,” Stephen said.
For many years Stephen worked in the culinary industry in Australia, working as a chef in Sydney, the Gold Coast, and Port Macquarie before making the move to New Zealand in 2001. Upon his arrival he worked with a few restaurants before taking on a small eatery called Trilogy.
“I helped them start that off and they won some awards…, I've been published in books for cooking and that, (then) I just woke up one day and thought I don’t want to do this anymore it’s not fun like it like it used to be, so then I decided I might try gardening,” he said.
He started his gardening career with the Anglican church as property manager at Bishopspark village, and then when Ryman bought Bishopspark, he was offered the big job of looking after the place. From there he was offered more and more work over a two-year period across multiple villages.
Then when the lead gardener role popped up at Margaret Stoddart, he was happy to take the opportunity which allows him to work closely with the residents in the tight knit Riccarton village.
The spring competition is run by the Christchurch Beautifying Association, which was founded in 1987. This year’s entry is the second time Stephen has put forward his gardening talents for judging.
After a mishap by some (construction) workers at last year’s competition, Stephen had a few wise words for the onsite team, “I managed to talk to them nicely and say please tread carefully.”
His hard work truly paid off and saw some incredible results for Stephen and the village. “I do it for the residents, you know, so they get a nice place to live. Not just inside… but also when they're outside they've got something they can enjoy, you know, so the better I can make that, the better they'll feel.”