Art & creativity  |  16 Dec 2019

The colourful and creative career of costume artist Jenny Gillies continues to flourish, with a fresh accolade close to home.

The passionate promoter of all things botanical – and her hometown – is one of the 10 recipients of this year’s Christchurch Civic Awards.

Approaching 70, Mrs Gillies’ commitment to growing the national and international profile of Christchurch as the “garden city” – via her colourful flower and vegetable-focused outfits of art – remains as strong as ever.

Blending outrageous concepts with the intricacies of flowers, plants and vegetable, Mrs Gillies reshapes “reality into fantasy” for exhibitions and competitions both at home and abroad.

Mrs Gillies says she is “passionate” about her designs – and Christchurch – and, after 25-plus years, remains committed to advocating for the city on a national and international stage.

“I do this because I want to offer something to Christchurch,” she says.

The Civic Award recognises Mrs Gillies’ promotion of the “Garden City” image around the world, and her work with design students and gardening clubs as she shares her knowledge and skills.

It also acknowledges her involvement in many popular events and festivals, including the World of Wearable Art.

Her unique Enchanted Garden exhibition in the Botanic Gardens has proved to be a popular attraction, drawing in locals and tourists alike and offering a quiet, reflective space.

Mrs Gillies says that having an exhibition in the Botanic Gardens is “totally unique”.

She describes her exhibition featuring “as botanically correct as possible” creations as being “community-based and something for the community”.

It is proving to be a popular tourist attraction, as well as appealing to locals.

She also aims to inspire – and guide – younger generations to learn about the plant world and develop creative concepts for display and competitions.

Mrs Gillies also enjoys working with the older community, with many exhibition visitors having had to downsize and leave much-loved gardens.

“Plants and gardens are very therapeutic,” she points out.

Among her other achievements have been an invitation to Adelaide – Christchurch’s sister city – to exhibit and perform at the Royal Adelaide Show.

“It proved so popular that we were engaged for the following two years as well,” she says.

Mrs Gillies also received a special invitation in 2017, asking her display her costumes at one of the top gardening events in Britain, the Harrogate Spring Flower Show.

Titled The Christchurch Connection, her exhibition proved to be a showstopper.

Away from her passion projects, both Mrs Gilles and her husband, John, provide the central “plot” for a section of a new book on special gardens titled Secrets of Small Gardens in New Zealand.

“I’m chapter two,” she says of the section on her inspirational and edible home garden.

For now, there are more costumes to create as the ideas continue to grow and flow.

“When you have a passion, as long as the passion is still there, you keep going.”