A Tribute to Russell Fransham May 7, 1948-December 5, 2017

Many of us on the Tutukaka Coast will have met Russell Fransham, who passed away on December 5.

Visitors to his Matapouri subtropical nursery were impressed by his gentle humour, helpful advice and passion for horticulture, landscape design and ecology.

All gardeners, amateur and professional, will have read his thoughtful and inspiring articles in the NZ Gardener, to which he regularly contributed.


Sue Young recalls that three years ago she visited the nursery to buy a bodhi tree, sacred to Buddhists because the Buddha received his enlightenment while sitting under one.

"The discussion that followed showed Russell's profound knowledge and acceptance of other cultures and values."

Russell was born in the Waikato and grew up on the family farm in Horsham Downs with his three brothers.

From a very early age he was passionate about the natural world. After high school in Hamilton, Russell spent five years studying zoology, geology and botany at Auckland University. Then followed a two-year stint teaching science at Tikipunga High School before he left for an extensive OE that included backpacking in SE Asia and India, then a year in California and Mexico.

He became fascinated by the people, plants and food he came across, falling in love with the tropical monsoon forests along the Pacific coast.

In 1978, with this experience and passion for subtropical plants, Russell established his nursery, Earthsea Gardens at Matapouri, a project which was to last for 39 years. At first he specialised in growing olives, paying tribute to a "great team of loyal, passionate plant lovers" for the success of the venture.

However, as local demand for olives dwindled, he decided to concentrate instead on hibiscus and subtropical collections, developing an expertise in adapting unusual plants to New Zealand conditions.

Central to his nursery is the delightful home he built on the edge of a man-made lake, catching the sun all day. The inspiration came from his childhood adventures at his grandfather's farm.

"My grandfather's farm, where we lived, had trees planted around every field and stands of unusual species in fenced-off corners," he once wrote in NZ Gardener.

"My younger brother and I spent every spare hour down at the lake, building huts, stalking the nesting birds and catching eels. As we played there through those childhood summers I used to fantasise about running away and living in a house on stilts by the lake amid the birds and trees so I'd never have to go to school or do homework again."

As his business developed and grew, he became a much-loved member of the Matapouri community. He was a humble, generous man always ready to chat and offer advice.

Beloved son of Joy and the late Stan, brother to Paul, Ray and Warren, Russell is survived by his partner McGregor Smith (Mac) and their children Lena, Josh, Adam, Ben and Erin, and their grandchildren Ebony, Jhan, Alyssa and Keira.