Through photography and floristry, Ruth Maywald has made the world around her a more colourful place. Today, it is her Waikerie garden that is her most splendid masterpiece.
My Town: Ruth Maywald, Waikerie
The old proverb “gardening adds years to your life and life to your years” is true for Waikerie’s Ruth Maywald, who still devotes many hours tending to her superb roses and pristine garden.
Studies have shown that centenarians living in the world’s “blue zones” share the hobby of gardening. Ruth says it certainly does keep her fit and motivated. “Time is one of those things that you can’t measure very well,” Ruth says. “I’m in my 80s now so I do what I feel like doing, when I feel like doing it.”
She nurtures about 60 roses in her award-winning, yet humble, garden that is visited by gardening clubs from time-to-time. People often stop for a sticky-beak when they see Ruth out watering, pruning, or trimming. In fact, if you type her address into Google Street View, Ruth can clearly be seen tending to her well-manicured front yard, where not a blade of grass is out of place.
Ruth was born in Mannum and was just a few years old when she came to Waikerie with her family; her mother looking for job opportunities and schooling. Ruth had a happy childhood with her two brothers and three sisters, and she has lived in the town ever since.
When she was just 14 years old, Ruth saw a “position vacant” sign at a local photography business. Something about it appealed to her creative side, and after successfully applying for the job she continued to work in photography for a decade, learning the art of colouring photographs by hand.
“I did have an artistic steak and I loved photography,” says Ruth. Before colour photography, black and white photos would be retouched with oil paint. It was Ruth’s job to bring them to life in colour — literally by hand — as she used her fingers and silk to apply the paint.
With a sharp eye for detail, Ruth re-touched many images for local marriages, debutante balls and more. It was a booming time for photography in the town of Waikerie, which had a community that was fascinated with both images and cinematography.
However, when processing the images, Ruth found the local florist’s bouquets were often too dark and would become black. “I would get sick of trying to colour photographs when the flowers were dark,” Ruth says. “So, for good photographs, I did my own flowers to make sure they were light colours and not red.” And so began Ruth’s passion for gardening and floristry.
At the age of 22, Ruth met her husband John who ran a deli on the main street. John was a quick-witted and a much-loved local character, who was never short of a quip or one-liner.
“I married the local deli proprietor and that was terrible,” Ruth says with a laugh. “The deli wasn’t my scene at all. I was a creative person, and to have to make sandwiches and bag bananas, there was nothing attractive about that. Colouring photographs was my thing.”
However, Ruth was in love with John, and she says they were both married to the cafe. “I lost John about two years ago now, he was a wonderful man and we were still very much in love. I’m on my own now, but I quite like my own company.”
When they sold the deli, it gave Ruth an opportunity to re-discover her creative side. She began a floristry business, arranging flowers for people across the Waikerie region. It was a refreshing change after so many years in the cafe. Ruth prepared flowers for weddings, debutante balls and everything in between. Ruth would know all the local gossip when it came to Valentine’s Day, being the only florist in town.
Riverland photographer Italo Vardaro has known Ruth for more than 40 years, and went to school with Ruth’s eldest daughter. Italo admires Ruth’s passion for gardening and her sharp eye for colour. “She’s a creative soul — her house and garden are impeccable,” Italo says. “She’s very fit and active and spends a lot of time in the garden.”
Italo says re-touching photographs by hand is a long-lost art form. “Film is sensitive, it can scratch easily and you can get dust spots, and you’ve got to fix all of that by hand. Ruth was a real master; she had a very steady hand.”
Over the years, Ruth’s garden was influenced by the flowers that she wanted to use in her floral arrangements. “For starters, I wouldn’t plant anything that I couldn’t pick,” she says. “I grew flowers that I could use, rather than ornamental flowers.”
Her floristry business was called Jacaranda Florist for her admiration of Waikerie’s streets lined with the purple-coloured flowers. “You can’t use jacarandas in floristry, but it was a lovely sight to see when Waikerie’s jacarandas were out in flower. They have mostly died out now.”
Ruth’s artistic streak has continued in the family, with all three of her daughters pursuing successful creative careers. And today, Ruth’s garden is a local marvel. She no longer paints or supplies bouquets, but her garden is still very much a florist’s delight. “Oh yes, my goodness, I still love my garden.”
This story first appeared in the June 2020 issue of SALIFE magazine.
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