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Some people make every moment in life count. Time for them is a precious commodity, not to be wasted. I recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Margaret and Graeme, a couple for whom there is never a dull moment.

The first thing you notice about Margaret and Graeme is their down-to-earth, practical nature with an element of determination thrown in for good measure.  They exude energy and warmth and you can’t help but be caught up in it, with Graeme’s cheeky sense of humour and Margaret’s mischievous smile.  Graeme’s passions are gardening, golf and crosswords.  When I arrived he was sitting completing a crossword while watching Sport on television.  “I don’t understand how he can complete a crossword while watching television, but he does,” Margaret laughs.

Home for Margaret and Graeme is a delightful historic cottage (built in 1870), which they bought in July 1999.  “We were between houses and looking for something around town, when the Real Estate Agent stopped outside the cottage and said, ‘I’ll take you in there for a laugh!’  It was no laugh, as the tenants had been fixing motorbikes on the lounge floor!” Graeme exclaimed.  “It needed complete restoration and had no garden whatsoever, just very large macrocarpa and Laurel hedges, which took quite some effort to remove,” said Margaret.  In fact, some of the macrocarpa roots proved too obstinate and remain insitu, hidden by the garden.

It took 12 months to renovate the cottage. The restoration is sympathetic to the era in which the cottage was built and oozes charm and character. “We sourced authentic historic light switches from Musgroves in Christchurch and Graeme built the kitchen out of kauri which he discovered had been used as match lining in the lean-to which we extended and rebuilt,” Margaret said.  The rich glow of the kauri is gorgeous and contrasts beautifully with the green cabinetry of the kitchen.  “We said after the renovation, that we would have a rest and stay here for a year, but 20 years on we love it so much, we are still here,” laughed Margaret, and I can see why.

 A winding path leads from the white picket gate to the idyllic front verandah and a striking lipstick-red front door adds a pop of colour to the entrance. Beside the door a cane chair with a bright and zesty patchwork cushion begs to be sat in and a wandering wisteria creates the perfect shade from the blazing sun. Pots filled with bright red begonias add splashes of colour.

The garden surrounding the cottage is a reflection of Graeme and Margaret’s personality.  It is bright, vibrant, quirky and stunning. “I would describe my garden as being ‘eclectic’ – it really is a mix of plants, garden art and sculpture.  I am not into formal gardens; I love colour and art.  I also don’t care about what colours should ‘go’ together.  There are reds beside orange and I don’t mind that,” said Margaret.  “We garden for our own pleasure, not the person looking over the fence,” said Graeme.  

Visually the garden is a feast; red begonias abound beside blue hydrangeas; roses of every colour delight the senses, as their scent wafts through the air; pelargoniums, blue agapanthus and hundreds of other plants peep out of every nook and cranny and mushroom sculptures with cheerful bright red tops pop up where you least expect them.  These were created by Graeme and reflect his sense of humour.  “We came with 250 pots containing our favourite plants, which included 160 roses,” said Graeme.  The ‘Flamboyant’ Begonias were given to Margaret by Graeme’s mother.  From six plants, they have divided them multiple times and they now adorn not only their own garden, but Terrace View Retirement Village, Coniston and many friends’ gardens.  “We both work together as gardeners at Terrace View Retirement Village and Coniston and have done for many years.  We don’t consider it to be work, more of a privilege,” said Margaret.

Apart from gardening, Margaret’s passion is patchwork.  “I do what I call ‘charity sewing’.  I make two types of patchwork bags; one type are sent to Australia, where they are filled with toiletries and handed out to Aboriginal women who are escaping violence; the other are filled with school needs and sent to the Philippines to be distributed to children in need.  I am very fortunate to have kind friends who are very giving and provide me with fabric and zips,” Margaret said.  Margaret also enjoys yoga and swimming.

Another shared passion is travel.  “We travelled to Italy four years ago to explore the village of Lucca, as I have some Italian ancestry,” explained Margaret.  “We just loved it.  While there, we also visited Venice and collected some amazing Murano Glass lollies.  Anyone we know who travels to Italy brings us back a Murano Glass lolly.  It is interesting to see which design they choose,” said Margaret.  The lollies are exquisite and have pride of place in delicate bowls on their coffee table.  “Every time I look at the lollies, I am reminded of who bought each one back.  It is really very special to us,” Margaret said.

I asked Margaret and Graeme if they would like to share their philosophy for life.  “We have a simple philosophy for life – age is just a number.  I never get up in the morning and think, ‘I am 76 and I am stiff’. It never crosses my mind that we are in our mid-late seventies,” said Margaret.  Graeme nods in agreement, “If you’re going to worry about age, you’re never going to do anything,” he said.  “We both believe that being out in the open air, exercise and mental stimulation keep us young.  Being fit is so important.  We often walk to the Supermarket for our groceries or to Tinwald to visit friends, just to keep fit.”  I think we could all take a leaf out of their book – what an inspirational couple.

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.