Willow ocicat Asmera in the background
Artists Bernard and Sharon Carroll, both 66, specially designed their Tasman home to accommodate more than 120 houseplants and their all-consuming creative pursuits. Bernard, whose career was as a vet, and Sharon, a microbiologist, are now full-time artists and self-described “old age pensioners”.
BERNARD CARROLL: We moved here for the lifestyle, for the weather, and for the art environment. We weren’t having much success in Christchurch but we’ve had a huge success with our art here.
The house was designed by us about eight years ago. Before that we were in Prebbleton, and before that we had a cattery in Mairehau (Christchurch). We survived the earthquake there.
Sharon does glass mosaics which involve a lot of glass cutting … and a lot of blood-letting from that.
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And I do mixed media, which is textural, and sometimes acrylic painting. We sell through cafés, exhibitions and our website bernardcarroll.co.nz.
Absolutely not one tiny little bit do I miss being a vet. I’ve turned into somebody who can’t bear to see animals hurt or suffering and of course as a vet you have to give them injections and so on. I was too caring, that was the problem. That happened gradually over 21 years.
Here, we have built a large studio and a large garden room. I’ve got over 100 houseplants in there, and I’m always trying to collect more. Sharon has to be my handbrake.
I’m a Taurus. I love nature, I love trees and this is bringing a bit of nature into the house. And I think it’s part of my creativity. In my art, I specialise in trees and native birds, tuī and fantails.
I use a lot of dried foliage, bark and leaves. I get that from the garden; we have a quarter acre here.
We get up about 7o’clock and then we have breakfast and either do gardening if it’s a nice day, and if it’s not nice, we do art.
Lately we’ve had a lot of commissions. So we haven’t been able to let fly. We’ve been doing things to people’s requests.
I’m working on one where the customer’s late mother pressed all these ferns in a phonebook, and she wants them included in a bush scene, so I’m busy thinking what to do with that.
Sharon’s latest commission is a big mirror surrounded in clematis and ferns and native birds.
We’ve been together 47 years. We were each other’s first love. We met at Massey University when we were 18, married at 21.
We look back on our lives and think it’s just as we wanted. We did all the things we wanted to in a timely fashion and we don’t regret any of our moves. It’s teamwork all the way.
We don’t have any kids. That was a considered decision. Our brothers and sisters have all had kids; There are plenty of kids around.
Babies just don’t interest us. Somebody shows us a puppy or a kitten we go all gooey over it. But not babies.
We’ve had 29 cats so far and four dogs. They took all our love and they returned it ten-fold.
At one stage we had 10 cats and two dogs. Now we just have three cats, ocicats. They’re absolutely delightful, like dogs.
In this unique Christchurch cafe, coffee and scones are served up with a side of Swiss cheese plant, plus a smorgasbord of potted treasures that would whet any houseplant lover’s appetite.
I have all sorts of plants, just about every species but I don’t want a monstera. People don’t realise how big they get.
I’m a real Scrooge. I seldom buy anything over $30 and the ones that cost up to $100 I buy as little ones and just grow them up.
I propagate a lot too and that really annoys Sharon because instead of having one plant of the species, I have five. I sell them, I give them away.
I have bonsai too, about 30, and some are about 80 years old. It’s not really tricky.
My favorite one of those is the kōwhai. They’re pretty good at making their own wiggles and swirls and squirls.
Just like the art, it’s lovely to be creative.