STANDING in Yvonne and Ray Lambert’s award-winning garden on Edgecumbe’s Soldiers Road, it’s hard to imagine that in April last year, little of it existed.
Their previously well-established garden, including Yvonne’s extensive collection of irises – around 40 varieties in total – were lost to the raging waters of the flood that decimated parts of Edgecumbe and surrounding areas.
Today their Rakaunui Orchard property bears little testimony to the destruction.
The house, long uninhabitable after chest high water rushed through it upending everything in its path, has been rebuilt. The couple consider themselves lucky to have recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary within it.
And the garden, most of it destroyed at the time, is now flourishing with growth and colour, appearing as though the flood didn’t really take place at all, and surprising the couple recently with its second-place award in the rural garden section of the Pride Whakatane annual garden competition.
Known as “the iris lady” for her love of the flower and her previous extensive collection, seeing the blooms of new irises planted after the flood, is a joy for Yvonne.
“We were one of the last properties to get pumped out afterwards so anything in the garden that hadn’t been washed away just rotted in the garden anyway. The water was there for nine or 10 days.”
Some older trees on the couple’s lifestyle orchard block survived – Ray points out limes and mandarins that made it, and lemon trees that, curiously, didn’t. There were avocado trees and some of the property’s beautiful big magnolias that either died or were blown over in the cyclone that followed shortly after.
Yvonne and Ray can look back now and laugh at some of their actions leading up to the event, though it’s taken a long time to view the incident comically, they admit. Four o’clock on the day, high tide, water beginning to creep up out of the nearby Omahu Canal.
“You know, I really never thought it would get to our house,” Ray says. “It never has before.” As the water started spilling across the land, the couple decided a little bit might get in.
“We put towels across the doors to be doubly sure it didn’t,” he says, laughing now at the futility of the act.
First came the bugs, Yvonne says, huge numbers of bugs and insects being pushed out ahead of the water. “Bugs everywhere,” she says, followed closely by the water now flowing across the property, and quickly
“Within an hour it went from knee height to waist height,” by which time towels across the doorways were abandoned, and Yvonne and Ray had been forced to leave.
Today the home is rebuilt. Though last to be pumped out, Ray says they were one of the first to get their rebuild under way, moving back into the (unfinished) house just before last Christmas.
New growth and flourishing plants this year have brought much pleasure to the couple, Yvonne says. Irises, roses, and a host of new plantings have thrived, with hardy spring bulbs that survived the flood adding familiar colour to the property.
With many precious things having been lost, the few garden adornments that survived now feature pride of place.
Two ornamental herons greet those arriving at the property, a wooden seat made by Yvonne’s father sits in the garden, while other items, less sentimental but survivors never-the-less, have been re-purposed.
Rakaunui Orchard is a testament to Yvonne and Ray’s determination to not only rebuild their lives and their property, but in Yvonne’s case, to rebuild her garden “and to make it better than ever”.