Garden guru heads north for new adventure

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Gardening columnist Betty Munro (left) and Southland Express manager Lyn Frisby look over some of the columns Mrs Munro has written. PHOTO: JANETTE GELLATLY

PACKING up her writing instruments and computer, long-time gardening columnist Betty Munro is off on a new adventure.

A regular contributor to the Southland Express since 1997, Betty had been asked by former newspaper manager Camille Alabaster to write a gardening column.

“It was quite strange,” Betty said.

“Camille Alabaster came in one day and asked me to write a column for the paper because I was the president of the Myross Bush Garden Club at the time.”

Betty Munro 2019

Betty was a bit unsure at first, but thanks to her late husband Dick who said… “go on, give it a try”, she put pen to paper, and was off.

What began as a one-off, has resulted in nine scrapbooks of newspaper clippings over 22 years.

“They are more like my diary,” she said.

Her word count was 200 words, which Betty said was “really hard”.

“I wrote in long hand in those days, and had to edit it as well.”

Previously described as “our gardening guru”, by former Southland Express reporter Jeff Elton, Betty was the longest-serving columnist for the Express, which she did on a voluntary basis.

When he wrote his article in 2005, Mr Elton reported Betty saying it could take her get her column written’, using no technology at that time, as she found her hand’.

Looking out of the window was enough inspiration at times, Betty said.

Something would catch her attention, and away she went.

In recent times, Betty emailed her columns to the newspaper, which made it easier.

“I leave it open [the computer] all day and write as I am inspired.”

Plants and gardening have always been a passion for Betty, who has been a member, and often a president, of many clubs and societies, including Southland Heritage Roses, Southland Alpine Garden, Canterbury Alpine Society and one of her most loved, the Edendale Garden Club.

One of six children, Betty Shanks was born in Warepa, where her parents farmed sheep.

“I had two sisters and three brothers… As I was the youngest, I was the spoiled one.

“My oldest sister was 20 years older than me, which means my nieces and nephews are in my age group.”

High schooling was in Balclutha, and at 21 Betty began work at the Edendale Telephone Exchange, where she worked for 11 years before marrying Dick Munro at the Edendale Presbyterian Church on March 10, 1962.

Continuing with the garden theme, Betty exclaimed, “some very good gardeners and my very best gardens were in Edendale.

“Out on the the farm, I kept asking Dick to move the fence, so I could make the garden bigger.

“The soil was good… I used to crawl under the shearing sheds to collect the sheep poo.”

The couple lived in Kamihi, near Edendale, farming, before downsizing to 10 acres in Myross Bush for 10 years, then into “town” (Invercargill) 20 years ago. Each move meant the opportunity to create a new garden.

“I had a big garden at Myross Bush as well,” Betty said.

However, creating a garden was subjective.

“To a gardener, a bit of bare ground is too dangerous… we have got to get into it.

“Two people can’t garden… it’s in the eye of the beholder.”

During more than two decades of newspaper correspondence, Betty had been asked to speak at many groups and societies. “I get good feedback and have been asked to speak to groups as a result of the columns.”

And some of her columns had been sent around the world enclosed in Christmas cards.

While speaking at the local travel club, she was told some members had sent some of her columns to people as far away as Russia.

With a photo byline, it was not unusual for Betty to be recognised when “going to town”.

“When I go to town, I have a permanent smile on my face… often when I am in shops, people ask me, I know you, you have a familiar face?’ It’s been lovely in that respect.”

Twenty-two years on from that first column, it was now time for Betty, who recently turned 90, to seek a new adventure in Marlborough.

Southland Express manager Lyn Frisby said the readers and staff would miss Betty’s columns.

“They are such a part of the Express. The regulars look forward to reading about Betty’s garden and how the seasons are changing.

“Age has not been a barrier to her enthusiasm and Betty has been an inspiration.

“She is a one-off and we appreciate her years of service. Her vast gardening knowledge and special way of writing will be missed.”

Gardening is still important to Betty. Her plant treasures have been potted, ready to transport to Blenheim.

“I’m taking some of my treasures to establish a new garden.”

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