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GARDENA Gardener of the Year finalist: Bunny Rathbone

NZ Gardener and GARDENA have selected these great Kiwi gardeners, that are now finalists in the 2016 Gardener of the Year competition. The overall winner is up to you, read more about our five amazing finalists and vote for your favourite. Link to the voting page can be found below.

Bunny Rathbone - Napier

Although she didn’t study horticulture until she was 45, Bunny Rathbone has established two public herb gardens, as well as New Zealand’s first seed bank. When nuclear war was a threat in the 1980s, Bunny became concerned about plants disappearing due to global catastrophe.

“It was crucial that the plants be given a chance, just by their dear little seeds being kept somewhere and grown in safe places. So I decided that it would be good if we developed a collection here in New Zealand.” Assisted by fellow members of the Otago Herb Society, Bunny set about cleaning and bagging seeds, then storing them in boxes under her bed. 

By 1988, Bunny had banked 25 different herb, flower and vegetable seeds. The response from the Herb Federation of New Zealand was so enthusiastic that she expanded the bank into a seed-distribution network. Members were encouraged to exchange and grow different seeds to ensure a wide distribution of plants that could  eventually replenish the seed bank. 

Lists of available seeds were published in the Herb Federation’s quarterly journal Herb News, members would put in their orders and Bunny and members of the Otago Herb Society would post them out. Today the seed bank holds more than 140 types of seeds, and multiple collections of herbs have been established from seed originating from botanic and domestic gardens nationwide. 

Bunny was also instrumental in developing Dunedin’s first public herb gardens: at Glenfalloch Gardens on the Otago Peninsula, and at Dunedin Botanic Gardens, where Bunny worked for nine years. A couple of years ago, Bunny decided it was time to leave her large organic herb garden in Dunedin and move closer to family. She advertised for a new home for the seed bank, and the Napier Herb Society offered to take it over. Luckily, Bunny happened to be moving to Napier – to live near her son. “I didn’t follow the seed bank, but now I am going along to the seed-cleaning and packaging days in Napier. How could you have such great continuity?”

Photo: Richard Wood
Text: Rachel Clare

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