Papakura’s Vera Marshall may rent her Housing New Zealand home, but the house-proud 54-year-old treats the property like she owns it. In the three years she’s lived there she has transformed the garden from tidy but bare, to a suburban oasis boasting a vegetable garden, ornaments and a colourful array of flowers.
“I just love gardens,” the former painter and landscaper says. “I like pottering around and making something out of nothing.
“My family say to me ‘you do so much, what happens if you have to move out?’. But it doesn’t matter to me what property I go to – I’ll always do them up. I treat them like I own them – that’s how I look at it.”
Vera says she can visualise how she wants a garden to look as soon as she sees it and while hers now looks a million dollars, it’s hardly cost her a penny.
“I’ve traded bacon and egg pie for stones and dirt! To me, it’s not about the money but what you can exchange and do for each other in return.
“I’ll ask the guys at the transfer station to look out for certain things for me – I’ve brought back corrugated iron and a broken water fountain which I’ve done up and hooked in to the irrigation system!”
The mother-of-four and grandmother-of-six is partially deaf and, after becoming ill in 2007, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. But that doesn’t stop her getting her hands dirty on the days she’s feeling up to it.
“Being out in the garden is my therapy. It’s good for my mental health and it’s my enjoyment – I love it,” says Vera, who can turn her hand to most things, including repairing mowers. “I wanted to make a happy, bright place, inspire people and be a star tenant for Housing New Zealand.”
And Vera’s Tenancy Manager, Afran Khan, says she’s achieved exactly that.
“It’s always a pleasure visiting properties like Vera’s – she keeps the home in immaculate condition inside and out. She takes such pride in her home and really looks after it.”
Vera also beautified her former Housing New Zealand property in Papakura’s Cross Street and, as a result, took out two awards in the final year of Housing New Zealand’s Garden Awards in 2008.