by Helen Martin
There’s been a lot of talk about the need to give our town a more attractive face. Ten planter boxes provided by the Lions some years ago brightened up Commercial Rd and now, thanks to a personal initiative by Holly Southernwood, there are 26.
Holly’s original beautification plan, for which she says she gained approval and a promise of funding from the North West District Business Association, was to put 100 planter boxes from the bridge by the roundabout through to Pipitiwai Drive in an installation and maintenance project that would involve the whole community. “There were people keen to be part of it, but in the end the Business Association vetoed it on the grounds that some businesses were concerned they wouldn’t be maintained. So, I decided to go ahead and put planter boxes in front of my property at my own expense and got consent from NZTA to do it,” she says. Also taking part in Holly’s scheme are the owners of the former BNZ bank and the music therapy store, Mapu-I-Musika-Therapy Fale (formerly Video Ezy) who have paid for their own planter boxes.
With the flowers she has planted in full summer bloom, Holly is delighted with the positive feedback she’s receiving. “It’s very social,” she says. “People stop and talk and sometimes offer me coffee. I get a lot out of seeing how much enjoyment the planter boxes are giving them.” She admits she has “got a bit carried away”, spending a lot of time tending to the plants and adding new ones. “I initially planned to plant three shrubs and a few flowers in each box,” she says, “but when I go to a garden centre I always buy more flowers than I set out to. It’s trial and error. I’m planting things I’ve never heard of before, but I’ll plant anything and everything that is colourful that might look good. I’ve found that shrubs like hebes and gardenia need a lot of maintenance to keep them trim and I leave the tags on so people can see what they are.”
There is a downside, which is that some people are more interested in vandalising the plants than valuing them – flowers are picked, plants are snapped off or pulled out and, on more than one occasion, people have been seen using the boxes as seats, squashing and breaking plants. With cameras placed outside her buildings Holly can identify the culprits and notify the police, but she wishes that wasn’t necessary.
Holly, who is Chair of TARRA and organises the Christmas lunch and parade, has a long association with Helensville – her grandfather Reg Screaton was the town’s first mayor. “My father Phil Southernwood and John Pyatt planted flowering gum trees the length of Mill Rd in the early 60s, so it’s in my blood to do this sort of thing.”