From grief stems life

A cemetery beautification project that grew out of one woman’s grief has spread seeds around the world.  

Our in-house storyteller Kyra Piccione recently sat down with Rocketspark Design Partner, Tonia Hill, founder of Greenhouse Creative, to talk about a website project close to her heart; Flowers from Felix.

Flowers from Felix is a giant community flower garden situated in Purewa Cemetery, the garden started with Miriama Tomms.

“Miriama is a videographer and friend and we had been part of the same networking group for about three years when her beautiful son, Felix, suddenly died.

“The news of Felix’s passing shook our group to its core. We couldn’t imagine what Miriama was going through and, while we did what we could to help, it seemed completely insignificant given the magnitude of the situation,” Tonia said

Felix died on 7 April, 2019 at the age of 16.

“For Miriama it’s ended up being a huge journey and part of that journey has been planting a garden around Felix’s grave. After she started growing flowers around his grave, people tending to neighbouring plots then started becoming interested, and she asked if she could plant out their plots and it just grew and grew and grew, literally.

“She then began taking the seeds from all these wildflowers that she’d planted and giving them to others, including us at the group and we planted them at our homes, this all grew out from where Felix was.”

Now, it’s a cemetery beautification project and Miriama has a team of volunteers on board.

Felix is in the old part of the cemetery where the graves are mostly uncared for so after Miriama planted around Felix she planted around the surrounding graves as well and continued radiating out until the cemetery management took notice and wrote a story in the local paper where they offered for volunteers to join the effort. What began as a subversive guerrilla planting exercise is now a thriving community flower garden.

During the covid lockdown Miriama sent seeds to bereaved mothers in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and South Africa, as well as all over New Zealand.

“It started as a way for her to cope with her grief, but now it’s helping so many others. She’s told me that when they are there and gardening they can talk about their grief and death and it just feels normal.

“At one stage along the way she mentioned that it might be good to have a website because she was starting to get sponsors and she wanted to give away the seeds and be ready for anything else. So I volunteered to put the website together for her,” Tonia said.

Tonia’s work on this website made her a finalist for the Rocketspark Launch 2021 Community Good Award.

Miriama said that before she even knew she needed a website Tonia had already begun logo design. 

“When I realised the scale of the community involvement Tonia offered straight away to donate her time and skill to draw up the logo and build the website. Her skill and experience meant she was able to structure the site for the purpose of what we are doing.”

The site Tonia created presents the story of the beginnings of the garden with photographs and videos. There is a function to register to volunteer, a place to donate garden materials or funds towards the efforts, and there is a small shop space to buy flowers, hand cream made with the flowers grown, pottery vases and embroidered gardening aprons. 

“The website allows us to formally recognise the contribution of our sponsors and wider community involvement that include Purewa Cemetery, Little Bamboo coffee shop, Sunhill Garden Centre, NZ Girl Guides and many more. 

“There are links to our social media platforms where we share pictures and stories about the garden and the resource section on the site has information for those who are grieving to find support in their grief journey.”

Miriama said gardening and nature had been proven to increase wellbeing and it was widely known that resilience came from community. 

“Flowers from Felix is a community and together we create beauty and send it out into the world in the form of seeds, flowers and stories. 

“Tonia was able to bring together all these abstract concepts into a coherent form that will enable the garden to continue. Purewa Cemetery Trust Board are currently in the process of formalising the garden legally and Tonia’s work has definitely helped to articulate the profound benefits of growing flowers,” Miriama said.

The old part of the cemetery is now a safe place for bees and butterflies and the planting is a source of nourishment for many bird species. 

The monuments from over 100 years ago now look loved and cared for and by simply growing flowers the value of the space has increased while at the same time the planting is drawing carbon down and doing a bit for climate change. 

Miriama has made it so Felix’s memory not only lives on, but also helps to make the world a better place through her environmental work because of him.