Mel Hurrell is often asked if she will tend the gardens of complete strangers.
One of the most experienced gardeners in the Council’s City Parks team – with the best part of 15 years’ experience – Mel began her apprenticeship with the Council in the mid-1990s. From there, she travelled overseas for a while before returning to Hamilton and rejoining the Council staff in an enviable role at Hamilton Gardens.
Mel has been working in the central city for 16 months, where she tends the gardens in Civic Square, Garden Place and Victoria on the River, as well as the gardens in the Victoria St traffic islands.
Mel says she gets “constant” requests from people impressed by her craft and skills, with many asking if she can look after their own gardens.
“They say ‘can you come and do mine?’ It’s an ongoing joke among gardeners – we all get it!”
Surprisingly, she has no qualms over a task many amateur gardeners will loathe – weeding.
“I love it!” she says. “It’s really satisfying! You can look back at it when you’ve finished and think, ‘that’s fantastic’.”
The frustrations? Seeing the plants and shrubs she has carefully tended trampled and damaged when she has put in the hard work to nurture them for more than several hours or weeks.
Winter, she says, is the busiest season – and the most overlooked. A lot of hard work goes into winter and summer so the gardens are at their best in spring and summer.
In recent months, Mel has been having direct input into species selections for the gardens she cares for. She is responsible for the appropriately named “bright lights” silverbeet featuring in a number of planting beds – just part of the beautiful array of work she is regularly complimented on.
“The comments are generally pretty positive – I’ve been quite surprised,” says Mel. “It’s the most I’ve had the public engaged in any of the bedding planting I do. We plant it there for them (the public), so I like it to involve them – and they’re our customers, at the end of the day.”
“I’ve planted about 26 trays of silverbeet, with 32 in each tray – a good 1000 all up,” she says.
“At this time of year (autumn and winter) there’s not a lot of height you can put into a garden, aside from kale which has a terrible smell!” she laughs.
Mel says the selection of the red-tinged silverbeet was “something a bit different” and when the sun shines through or on the plants, the colour really bursts.
“It’s really cool to know people are seeing what I am doing, and it’s not lost.”
She particularly likes working in Civic Square, where staff from the Council’s main Municipal Building can enjoy the fruits of her labour.
“It’s really nice to put a smile on the faces of my colleagues up in their offices,” she says.
Mel is so devoted to gardening, it’s a hobby at home too. There in her own backyard she can plant any species she doesn’t use at work. These are specimens “which need a little extra TLC” says Mel.
“Plants are my passion, and you never leave that behind.”