Flowers are my Passport, by J Barry Ferguson

Barry’s passion for plants, particularly flowers, began at the same time as his first memories. He toddled around the garden after his mother learning which weeds to pull, the names of his favourite flowers and marvelling at their variety in form, colour and fragrance. It was a natural progression that he went on to become one of the country’s foremost florists and took on the world.

His god-daughter Brooke demanded he put down in words the stories that he told her when she was younger, and so he has. The lengthy, but delightful, resulting book is a passionate love story to all things floral.

From his formative years in Dunedin to opening his shop in Christchurch at the age of 22, Barry details his time in New Zealand but an ache to get overseas is evident. He left the country on a one-way ticket in 1962 and, it’s fair to say, took the floral world by storm.

A job offer in New York opened exciting challenges and he began his own company. What followed was installations and garden designs for some heavy hitters – the Rockefellers, Billy Joel, Steven Spielberg and the set of Hair among them. Creating a garden right at the heart of 9/11 is a sobering and beautiful story.

Once New York began to lose its spark, Barry joined botanical tours and travelled across the globe, taking in the sights of Madagascar, Bhutan, China, South Africa, and very often, to beloved New Zealand. His story of how he acquired a yellow Clivia from the garden of Sir John Thouron, in Pennsylvania, is charming. The plants, one of which sold for $1700, are highly sought after and Barry managed to get one – for free – simply by asking if the ones he had been shown were the same that the estate had been named after. The fact he drove away with one shows his humility, grace and charm.

That warm personality shines through in each and every story. He writes as if he is sitting in the room next to you, telling the story himself. In parts where he is describing the flowers, his passion is evident and you can’t help but get excited too. Rich colour photographs littered throughout the book add to the experience and help even the most florally clueless enjoy the story.

After 32 years in America, a heart attack sent Barry home, where he now lives in Mahurangi, north of Auckland. It’s beautiful and heartwarming to see how beloved this country is and how connected to the earth he is.

Flowers are my Passport is a gorgeous book which will interest even those with the most basic of gardening interests. I struggled a little with the names of flowers, but Barry’s strong descriptions (and a little bit of Google), helped me imagine the beautiful blooms. His passion and drive are an inspiration and this book is a wonderful account of an extraordinary life.


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Rebekah is an Otago-based mother of two young girls. The former journalist and primary school teacher has a soft spot for New Zealand authors and young adult fiction. Follow her on Twitter.

  • J. Barry Ferguson March 19, 2016, 4:51 pm

    Delighted with the sympathetic review of Flowers are my passport from Rebekah Fraser, March 16th. I thank her, and will share her review with Facebook friends,JBF


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