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.
In his teenage years Barry was an avid tramper and developed a botanical interest
in New Zealand’s unique flowering plants. “We have the world’s biggest fuchsia,
a tree up to four metres, which towers above the world’s smallest fuchsia, an
elegant groundcover. The snowy white clematis festooning the forest canopy in
spring is always a pleasure, as is our New Zealand Christmas tree, pohutukawa,
which flowers in a blaze of scarlet right on target. Flowers of the golden kowhai
are a knock-out in late spring. We claim several unique small orchids and, in the
off-shore Chatham Islands, the world’s largest, and most intensely blue, forgetme-
It was logical that Barry would train as a florist and, in doing so, his knowledge
of flowers and botany grew. He opened Barry’s Flower Shop in Christchurch, aged
22, had a radio programme, Doing flowers with Barry Ferguson, aged 23 and gave
classes in floral art.
But he was not always content in provincial New Zealand. He wondered if he
would ever see rhododendrons flowering in the Himalayas, bromeliads in the
rainforest of Brazil and the surreal cactus of Mexico’s dry deserts.
Barry left New Zealand in 1962 with a one way ticket to the world. He wanted
to see what grew along the road side, in farmers’ fields and foreign forests. He
especially wanted to visit classic gardens of the old world and get first-hand
experience of new and different approaches to garden design and floral art.
A job offer in New York opened exciting challenges. Barry loved all the Big Apple
had to offer. With hard work, creativity and charm he soon had his own company,
J Barry Ferguson Flowers Ltd, and designed gardens and floral installations for
special events. David Rockefeller, Horst, Billy Joel, Malcom Forbes, Steven
Spielberg and many others of the New York high-fliers were his clients.
Never one to relax for long, when New York was frozen over, Barry joined
botanical tours to extraordinary places; Madagascar, Bhutan, China, South Africa
and, very often, to his beloved New Zealand.
After 32 years in full-on New York, a heart attack told him it was time to slow
down and go home. He returned to New Zealand and began creating an extensive
garden, filled with his favourite flowers, in Mahurangi, north of Auckland.
Barry is a marvellous raconteur and Flowers are my Passport is a pacey romp
through his life and his world of flowers.