We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. By continuing to browse this website you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Find out more by reading Cookies
10/12/ 2015

From earthquake tragedy, new garden blossoms. After her husband Brian suffered severe injuries in the 2011 Canterbury earthquake, Helen Coker became a woman with a mission – to create a garden her wheelchair-using partner could enjoy.

That dedication led to Helen winning the 2015 GARDENA Gardener of the Year competition. Now in its ninth year, the contest run by NZ Gardener magazine aims to celebrate New Zealand’s unsung horticultural heroes.

As proud gold sponsor of the awards, GARDENA is delighted to congratulate Helen from West Melton, Canterbury, on her win. She was nominated by her husband Brian, who lost both his legs in the February 2011 earthquake after being trapped in the PGC building.

Helen and Brian had always enjoyed gardening together and had spent many years carefully cultivating their 720m2 section in central Christchurch.

But after the quake, and a lengthy rehabilitation process, the couple realised their home was simply not suitable for Brian anymore. So Helen and Brian moved to a larger 3300m2 section in West Melton, 25km outside of Christchurch. It was here, over the past 18 months, that Helen got stuck in to create a garden they could both enjoy together once again.

While Brian’s injuries meant that he could no longer play the same physical role he once did, Helen was undeterred. She moved and planted trees, hauled bags of manure and lifted bales of peastraw. The result was a new garden that boasts flat, wheelchair-friendly access and low walls that Brian can perch on and tend his vegetable garden.

While the quake changed their lives in many ways, spending time together in their garden is something the couple treasure.

“The whole point was to make it accessible for Brian,” says Helen.

“There is no doubt that our dream of a new garden wouldn’t have been possible without all Helen’s back-breaking work,” says Brian.

NZ Gardener editor Jo McCarroll said there were thousands of voters in this year’s competition and Helen won by a whisker with just over 30 per cent of the vote. 

“Helen’s story touched so many people, and showed what an important part of people's lives gardening can be. 

"Gardena, like NZ Gardener, is part of the gardening community in New Zealand and committed to helping the gardening community grow. We are so glad to be working with Gardena to celebrate New Zealand's horticultural superheroes like Helen and Brian," says Jo. 

Helen has won a range of prizes, including lots of goodies from GARDENA, a brand she has always put to good use in her garden. 

To thank all those who voted, the Cokers will open their garden to the public from 1pm-4pm on Sunday 20th December, at 211 Halkett Road, West Melton. Entry is by donation and all proceeds will go towards the Canterbury Charity Hospital.

Get inspirational gardening tips! Sign up for the monthly GARDENA digital newsletter.