This week, Alexandra Headland’s living botanical encyclopaedia turned 90.
But age has not dulled the mind of Order of Australia medal recipient and keen horticulturalist, Grace Goode.
She knows the name of every single brilliant bromeliad in her 1000-strong collection, possibly because she created 700 of the hybrids herself.
There’s Fat Cat – named after the bureaucrats in Canberra for its plump leaves – and Sharon, after her next door neighbour, then there’s Mandela, with its proud black foliage.
“Traditionally, you are supposed to ask permission before you call a plant after a living person.
“But I think Nelson Mandela would be thrilled,” she said, after rattling off various scientific names for her plants.
“My interest in plants started after my mother gave me a bromeliad and called it a lily. I thought “that’s not a lily”, so I went to find out what it was.
From there I began importing them from Brisbane and New Zealand.
Plants are like kids. You don’t know whether they will turn out good or bad.”
Grace’s garden grew to such immense proportions people came to visit from all corners of the globe, including Don Burke – who filmed a segment for Burke’s Backyard.
She had never bothered to get a licence. Instead, she “got the world to come to my doorstep”.
Incredibly, Grace’s garden today is just a shadow of what it used to be. She was forced to sell the bulk of her plants after breaking her leg in a gardening accident in July 2003.
Her adopted daughter, Sheryl Waite, said her mum was cracking jokes despite a nasty compound fracture.
“She fell at the back of the garden and dragged herself up the steps with her leg bone poking out through her skin,” she said.
“When she got to Nambour hospital, they couldn’t believe she could stand the pain – but there she was, cracking jokes.”
In fact, Grace loves jokes – particularly naughty ones – so much so she owns two books full of them.
Her legendary sense of humour was shared with her famous brother Jack Evans who established the porpoise show on the Gold Coast.
Grace celebrated her birthday last Tuesday with a Maroochy river cruise and a surprise party was held yesterday with 80 guests who had travelled from as far as Cairns and Melbourne to be there.
Her family spent most of this month convincing Grace she was in for jumping out of a helicopter for her 90th.
“They told me I would be taken up in a helicopter and would have to jump at 10,000 feet, so I had only just resigned myself to just shut my eyes and do it,” she laughed.
After spending a lifetime tending to plants – and eventually being awarded the OAM for her trouble – Grace has developed a stoic philosophy that likens flora to human beings.
“That’s what it’s all about,” she said.
“You are born, you grow up and reproduce and then you die.”