But stoicism paid off in spades for the Auckland-based landscape designer, whose green-fingered magic struck gold at the recent Ellerslie International Flower Show in Christchurch.
“I was in the Christchurch earthquake last year with my children and was working on another display that was rudely interrupted by the earthquake,” says Xanthe.
“It was a bit risky going down there, especially from a sponsor’s point of view, to actually put something in after what happened last year. But it seemed like it was an important year to be part of it, to maintain the show and its standard, and its presence in Christchurch.”
Her creation, sponsored by Daltons, earned first place in the gold medal section of the annual garden show, as well as the supreme award for best overall garden construction.
Xanthe says her aim was to capture the essence of Christchurch and its tradition as the Garden City.
“The focus of the garden, rather than being about Daltons or me, was really Christchurch… its heritage of flowers, but also native plant material, and blending it together to create something really special.”
The garden featured two sides to reflect the pendulum swing of Cantabrian emotions and the reality of life in the quake-stricken region.
“One side was outward-looking and all the plants in that area were quite arid, dry and really hardy. It was quite stark, open and exposed. It’s sort of like the public face, the brave, kind of looking out to the horizon, forward-looking side.
“That sort of represented the duality and sense of strength in the challenge that Christchurch has.”
Plants used included orangeberry with native ferns such as rosy maidenhair, native ground cover including muehlenbeckia, selliera and blechnum penna-marina, while perennials, such as lobelia, complement scarlet and red flower carpet roses.
While plain and understated at first glance, Xanthe’s competition exhibit had many layers of detail beneath the surface.
“The actual detail of it isn’t necessarily that apparent,” she says. “Our work is really intricate. Something appears simple on the surface, but every layer is considered and every detail and line is considered in the process of the design.”
Fittingly, the durability of the garden was one of the Three Kings resident’s chief concerns.
“You’re building a show garden, but to an incredibly high safety standard. We had to use stone cladding on timber framework because if you build straight stone walls they’re not very safe in earthquakes. It was showing that if you build in the right way you can use these sorts of materials.”
The gardening guru’s design know-how has brought her numerous awards over the years, including silver at last year’s Chelsea International Flower Show in the UK.
But of all the accolades Xanthe has received, winning in Christchurch tops the lot.
“One of the judges said it was as close to perfection as a show garden could get. I guess going down there and going into the situation as it is now, you only want to do your very best. But it’s nice that other people thought your very best was good. It was really nice.”
Remembering a throwaway comment from a visitor to the Christchurch show brings a smile to the Mt Wellington gardening school teacher’s face.
“One of the days at the show there was a lady there and she said ‘oh, it’s just not Auckland. It’s beautiful. It’s us’. It’s totally true because Cantabrians really are educated gardeners and they know their plants. Compliments from a Canterbury gardener should be taken with grace.”
The decision to throw her name into the hat for the contest wasn’t easy for Xanthe, but it’s a step she felt she needed to take.
“It was a really big decision to go, especially because I’m a mum and have other people to consider.
“The first week was really hard because that was the time when all of us were down there [last year].