Shirley Greenhill says there is nothing quite like the magic of growing things in a garden, and it is that magic she hopes to share with readers in her newly published book.

The book, I Am In The Garden, is a gentle stroll through Shirley's memories of gardens and gardeners she has known, interspersed with stories of her childhood, photographs of plants and flowers, and even a recipe or two.

The inspiration for the title of Shirley's book came from her answerphone message, she says.

"I always had a recorded message saying I can't come to the phone, I'm in the garden, so it seemed fitting to give the book that as a title."

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Shirley has missed numerous phone calls due to gardening over the years. A keen gardener, she is patron of the Stratford Floral Art Group and a long standing entrant in the Taranaki Garden festival.

"My husband Ian and I entered our garden on Hamlet Street every year in the festival, back when it was called the rhododendron festival."

They never missed a year, and even after Ian's death Shirley has continued to welcome the public to see her garden. The venue has changed - 15 years ago she moved to Cassandra Street, but her love of gardening has never wavered.

"Oh, just having my hands in the soil, planting, growing, seeing the colours change through the seasons, it really is just magical. There's nothing else like it."

Just as a garden takes time to grow into fruition, so the book was a time consuming project. In fact, says Shirley, writing the book was far harder than tending any garden in her opinion.

"I never intended to write a book, it was others who encouraged me. I always have written things down, and I was talking to Suzanne about that and she said well don't stop. It grew from there really."

Suzanne Blackwell is one of several people Shirley says encouraged and helped her to get the book written and published.

"Suzanne and Jo Stallard both put a lot of work in, Suzanne taking photos and encouraging me and then Jo did a lot behind the scenes, just keeping it going. The Lizelle van Antwerpan did so much work on the design of the book, she was so creative with how it all looked on the page. It is so detailed, even the page numbers are in little leaf designs on each page."

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Shirley says while she has written the book, it features many people and places Stratford people will know well.

"I've always lived in Stratford, other than training as a nurse at Waikato Hospital, so most of my memories are of people and places here."

The book was published in time to be sold at this year's Garden Festival and so far, it has been well received, says Shirley.

"I always thought people came to the gardens to have a look and buy plants, not books, but it has been selling well so far."

As well as being on sale from her own open garden during the festival, Shirley's book is available from both Perera's Paper Power and Stratford Paper Plus.

"It makes a nice Christmas present for anyone interested in gardening, or in Stratford really. The photos are lovely to see and you can dip in and out of the book as you like."

While Shirley says she has enjoyed the experience of putting the book together, and seeing the finished project, gardening is still her number one passion.

"I just love it. And the festival is always so good to be a part of. I love talking to people about gardening, and sharing my garden with them. "

Shirley's garden is open as part of the garden festival: 9am - 4pm, 37 Cassandra Street, Stratford.