From Zimbabwe to New Zealand: no regrets for the gardener

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In the process of planting native plants in the countryside of northern Otago, Adam Blignaut is in his place.

It’s a far cry from his previous life as the operational manager of a tobacco company in his homeland Zimbabwe, but a much less stressful lifestyle for him and his family.

Last year, North Otago Sustainable Land Management’s waterfront project received $ 361,776 over the next three years to fund environmental improvements at dozens of sites in its region.

It was funded under the government’s Jobs for Nature program, which aimed to create nature-based jobs for the benefit of the environment and support economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The financing enabled the group to employ one or two full-time equivalent employees and subcontractors for specialized work and routine maintenance work.

It is right in the lane of Mr. Blignaut who comes from an agricultural background in Zimbabwe. His father was a professional horse trainer who made enough money training to buy a farm “in the sticks”, and they mainly raised beef cattle.

Later, when they saw land invasions coming, they were very lucky as their Swedish neighbor next door had always loved their farm and he bought it, knowing that the property was protected due to the Swedish-Zimbabwean bilateral agreement.

Their family has been extremely lucky as other farming families have had their properties aggressively stolen, he said.

Mr Blignaut traveled to the UK where he was in the military before heading to Australia where he obtained degrees in horticulture and landscaping.

It was either that or a pathology, but he realized that the prospect of sitting in a lab staring at blood all day was not for him, he said.

After completing his studies he returned to the UK and used his landscaping consulting skills before returning to Zimbabwe for 10 years.

He was the operational manager of a tobacco company that included a processing plant, which produced 21 million kilograms of tobacco per year.

The family of his Zimbabwean wife, Charlene, lived in Oamaru – she had spent her final years of high school at Waitaki Girls’ High School – and they decided to move to North Otago.

While he had a good job, the situation there was “so unstable” and there was the daily stress of what was going on. They decided that there was a better life and opportunities for their son in New Zealand.

The family arrived in August of last year; they had visited the previous Christmas and Mr Blignaut remembered when he first arrived in Oamaru he thought “I could live here”.

There was a very similar laid back approach among the people to those in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Blignaut opened a business, Little Prairie Garden Services, and after a few months he was approached by North Otago Sustainable Land Management (NOSLaM).

He had since managed to juggle the two; dedicating Mondays and Tuesdays to NOSLaM and the rest of his week to his garden clients.

He also had another contractor, while Charlene was quitting her job at a law firm and now working with him, and they were also involved in Jobs for Nature.

Initially he admitted that he saw a business opportunity in it but as the plantings began he saw the students from the school come to help him and as he learned why the plantations were made, it had slowly started to turn into a passion. It was one thing to “feel good” knowing that what you were doing was good for the environment.

A 1.5 km stretch of planting at Kia Ora was completed last week and then traveled this week to an area in Victoria Hill near Windsor. All the plantations were maintained for two years.

Some plantations, like around Island Cliff, in a few years were going to look “absolutely amazing” and bring back wildlife.

The native New Zealand plants were new to him and he found it interesting to learn what they were and why they had been selected for planting.

While he loved design when he did, he had always migrated to the horticultural side, with very little hard landscaping and a lot of soft landscaping. Through his work with the private gardens of his clients, he also took pleasure in enriching himself with their knowledge of plants.

Mr. Blignaut did not regret having moved to New Zealand. The only downside was his family and many friends were still in Zimbabwe, and with Covid-19 travel restrictions, he was unable to plan a return trip.

Living in the countryside in Maheno, just south of Oamaru, was “magical” and he enjoyed the town and its surroundings.

“Lively O-Town is as lively as I want it to be. “


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