The American hits her goals in a New Plymouth garden
It’s a story about a lawyer and an athlete, a fighter and a backyard gardener – and their common ground of resilience, persistence, and startup.
The six-year-old avocado tree was given to Brittany Ryan by friends in Ōpunake, who found the seed germinating in their compost.
He spent a few years shooting a pot, until Brittany and her partner Jamie Rogers moved to a “well-built and well-positioned” house in Marfell, New Plymouth.
The soft-spoken American, with a remarkable history, transplanted the avocado from the pot to the earth at the Marfell Muse estate.
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This will be one of 35 properties open for the Taranaki Sustainable Backyards Trail in the spring. It takes place alongside the Taranaki Garden Festival and the Taranaki Arts Trail, from October 29 to November 7.
In the ground, the avocado became seriously ill.
A lot of people would have kicked the tree in contact, but Brittany refused to give up. “I fed him, removed what was dead and got rid of the disease. He ended up in the form of a cross, ”said the 32-year-old.
“I continued to take care of it, and then it started to grow really, really fast.”
Last year the tree produced 10 avocados, and this year again supplies the family with the potassium-rich fruit.
“It’s like going to the lottery after going through so much trauma – it’s nature’s persistence,” says Sustainable Taranaki’s communications manager and mother of 5-year-old Zeke and 2-year-old Aria.
Like this tree, Brittany knows everything to succeed against all odds.
In 2006, her final year at Easton Area High School, Pa., Brittany quit soccer to become the only female on the school’s soccer team. In New Zealand jargon, it’s gridiron.
The kicker place for the Easton Rovers then went to Lebanon Valley College, a liberal arts college in Annville, Pa., And was once again the only woman to play for the Flying Dutchmen.
She played for the college team for four years, while earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a lot of attention. It was not all positive.
“I was told to sit on the side with my pom poms on,” she says, admitting she’s received a lot of criticism over the years.
On the flip side, her high school team was filmed by ESPN, and Brittany’s story has been featured twice in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated (not in a bikini), and numerous sports and soccer websites.
Whenever she’s been interviewed, the exceptional athlete has hijacked her success by saying it’s all about the team. On her right wrist is a fitting tattoo combining the word “humble” with the image of a pie.
In 2010, Brittany became the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s all-time top scorer among kickers with 100 points. She still holds this record.
Fast forward to 2021, and life in Brittany is a world away from the “white suburbs” of its upbringing.
These days, she organizes demonstrations of worm farms, plants near the moon and follows the seasons with her hands in the earth and her close family.
Above the rear fence is the Marfell Community Garden, a sustainable Taranaki project led by Urs Signer.
She came to be here and now because of study and love.
As part of her business degree, Brittany came to New Zealand to study at the University of Waikato, landed a job at the International Volunteer Headquarters, met a Kiwi surfer in 2014, and stayed.
Wandering around the family’s 700 square meter backyard just days after Taranaki was hit by high winds, she lifts and moves fallen structures.
“It’s a good time to be in the garden but not to show off the garden,” she says.
June is her favorite month to work in the four-year-old garden. “You get into a routine of what needs to be done – composting and moving things.”
She learned a lot about sustainable gardening by doing an on-site education level 3 horticultural certificate in Taranaki.
When they bought the property in December 2015, the first thing she did was mark off the almost bare backyard – there was only a small greenhouse and a peach tree, now twice the size. “I drew up plans for the garden and it looks like nothing I had planned.”
She always imagines what can be and tries to figure out how to add a children’s water feature and irrigation.
It’s a busy backyard, especially with the family dog ripping apart.
Spud, a one-year-old pug-griffon cross, which they call a “puffon”, skids around the paths, under an arch that will be covered with hops, grapes and chokos, between flourishing native plants, in front of a vine of creeping passion fruit Brittany has just cut, around a flourishing pineapple sage, other herbs, flowers and fruit trees.
But he is not allowed in the vegetable and raspberry garden, kept safe in an enclosure built by Jamie, a roofer.
“I need his help a bit,” Brittany says. “He’s my foundation guy – I’m just the gardener.”
Jamie comes home to grab something and gets pinned for a few words and a photo. He says his role in the garden is to “Keep her happy.”
Although he prefers a lawn that children can play on, he likes home garden vegetables, such as lettuce and silver beets. “Avocado is cool.”
He is also the builder of all structures. “These are all leftovers. Everything was free. It’s what I do for a living, ”he says. “I do my own flashings.”
Then he was gone like lightning.
Under the house, he built a sitting area around a portable fireplace, which the family sits down for several nights. The resulting pot ash is added to the garden.
“Everything is reused,” Brittany says. “I show him a picture and he takes it.”
Jamie installed an outdoor bench to repot plants, made a cold sash, which looks like a mini greenhouse fashioned from old windows, and built a greenhouse using a collection of found windows, including beautiful leaded lights.
Today the greenhouse houses fresh ponga fronds and a black tank where an axolotl lives. Brittany swirls her hand half-heartedly in the water to see if she can find the amphibian, also known as the Mexican walking fish, but gives up admitting that she lets Zeke pick it up.
Brittany is also disgusted by worms. “I had a sickening phobia of it. I still do, but I just enjoy them more – I overcame it with love. This is what I try to teach when I farm worms. A lot of people don’t have a lot of love for worms.
His own garden has worm farms, a rainwater tank, and composting systems, including Japanese-style Bokashi, an anaerobic process.
She buried Bokashi’s compost near the avocado, so wonders if that’s one of the reasons he thrived.
But for the woman of the Bahá’í Faith, it could be something else. “The avocado tree is a real focus for me… whereas if it was in bloom, it was God’s gift – love at its best.”
– This story is published as part of a partnership between the Taranaki Daily News and the Taft Arts Festival Charity Fund.