Jon-Paul and Leona Heather
Jon-Paul Heather would love to build a tropical garden inspired by sixteenth century Kashmir, shady and well watered, a paradise cut off from the outside world. As the youngest team appearing on Ultimate Garden, Jon-Paul and his partner Leona White have been given ten weeks and $15,000 to bring their dream garden to life.
The New Plymouth couple are no strangers to the world of flowers. As a keen artist, Leona often paints them, while Jon-Paul works closely with plants in his job at a winter garden in the city.
Jon-Paul, aged 22, is currently studying horticulture part-time and hopes one day to look into landscape architecture as well. The couple's four-year-old daughter Dawn is never far from the action. "She loves digging in the garden with her Dad, playing with the worms and snails," says 22-year-old Leona. "She has an amazing imagination - I think she gets it from Jon-Paul."
Leona is probably being modest. Though at high school she abandoned art studies early, tired of being asked to draw pictures of forks, Leonas photographs and paintings now cover the house." I'm into painting huge hibiscus flowers. It takes me ages, but I love doing them."
Though she was born in Dunedin, Leona's family moved to New Plymouth when she was eight. These days she helps out with the paperwork at her father's new car repair business, though she expects to return to a job in retail before long.
Jon-Paul has spent his entire life in Taranaki, beginning in coastal towns like Oakura and Opunake. An enthusiastic surfer since the age of 12, he still returns to the area occasionally to surf the beaches where he grew up.
The opportunity to go on Ultimate Garden was simply too good to pass up. "I've always wanted to do something on TV," says Jon-Paul. "We're the kind of people who sit in armchairs and pretend we can do better than the contestants, so we thought why not?"
The young couple's dream garden is inspired by a series of famed sixteenth century gardens in Kashmir, where the Mogul Emperors of India once kept summer residences to escape the hot season. "They thought of gardens as a private place, a paradise shut off from the rest of the world," says Jon-Paul. "They also used a lot of natural sloping contours to power the water springs. I'm hoping we can build a garden that follows some of those ideas, but still draws inspiration from the wider landscape. I like the idea of a garden being paradise."
Jon-Paul and Leona are the first to admit that their own garden at home needs a lot more work. The current focal point of their backyard is the play area, and a honey-brown rabbit named Bunny.