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This small garden, once mostly lawn, provides all of Maurice’s produce. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

From lawn to vege garden

Retired mechanic Maurice Cooper’s Tararu home is unassuming from the road. The back garden, however, is a vegetarian’s dream, overflowing with a supermarket’s worth of produce. 

When Maurice moved here two years ago the section was mostly lawn, shaded over by large trees.  

“I was in [Te Kouma] for 34 years and I had a big garden. I had the whole lot covered in, the butterflies couldn’t get in… So I came here and I was horrified,” Maurice said. 

“In the afternoon it got no sun at all, and this was just a fantastic crop of kikuyu and rubbish, took me weeks to get it all out.” 

Now, what little lawn remains serves as a transition between garden beds. The beds themselves are prolific, filled with strawberries, kumara, silverbeet, passionfruit, lettuce, herbs and rhubarb, to name but a few. 

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There are some surprises too. Alongside the house is a babaco tree – tastes like “a very mild pineapple” – and in the centre of the lawn a dying vine sports a zucchetta as tall as a person. 

“I must have got 30 off it, and they’re absolutely beautiful,” Maurice said. 

“These are better than courgettes… that part’s got no seeds in it and it’s dry, not like a courgette where it’s all squishy and got moisture.”

Maurice’s gardening philosophy is simple. 

“I’ve got a motto: if you can’t eat it don’t plant it,” Maurice said. 

“[And] I never need to buy vegetables.”

Maurice Cooper spends hours tending the garden he built mostly from scratch. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

The last of the summer tomatoes are coming out of the garden now, but at their peak they were lined along the fence in their dozens. Maurice uses reinforcing rods as stakes; they last longer and are sturdier than the wooden ones, he said. In fact, many of his garden accessories are crafted from found materials: the bottom of plastic water bottles to protect seedlings; drilled pipes for irrigation; plastic supermarket crates.  

“I make those out of reinforcing mesh,” he said of the plant covers. 

“And I go down to the people who sell beds and get their plastic they throw away.” 

You can do a lot with a little, Maurice said – just a small patch of lawn, some seeds and a few miscellaneous materials can make a space capable of feeding several. 

Gardening is just part of life for Maurice. He spends two or three hours out there every morning, when it’s cool, and in return he receives a bounty. 

“It keeps me occupied,” he said. 

“I give everybody around here veges all the time, they love it. And I get in return cakes and biscuits. It all does pretty well.”