How Martin’s Block thrived through a pandemic

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

Taku turanga ake
I te taha o te rata,
Ka titiro atu
Ki te akau roa—e!
Ko te rite i aku kamo
Ki te pua korari;
Ka pupuhi te hau,
Ka maringi te wai – e!

Lonely I sit
Beneath my rata tree,
Gazing, ever gazing
On the long sea-strand, Ah me!
My weeping eyes
Are like the drooping flax-flowers;
When the wind rustles them
Down fall the honey showers, Ah me!
– From My Eyes are like the Flax-Flowers (Traditional Māori  love chant)

How did the rose ever open its heart and give to this world all of its beauty? – Hafez (Persian poet 1325-1390)

I recently received the most poignant of reminders of just how long this wretched pandemic has gone on.

It came in the form of a delightful note from Soraya Hendesi, the Iran-born co-founder of the Snowberry skincare brand in New Zealand which was acquired by P&G in 2018.

Together with her husband Mark Henderson, Soraya created not only a beautiful brand but an extraordinary home for it – a vast 22-hectare block in verdant subtropical hill country near Warkworth, around 90 minutes north of Auckland. They dubbed it Snowberry Gardens, where they planted over 8,000 native plants and shrubs.

With Soraya (above) and her husband Mark (below) at Snowberry Gardens in September 2019

I had the privilege of visiting these extraordinary skincare bio-discovery gardens in September 2019, shortly after travelling to New Zealand to cover Snowberry’s global travel retail launch event in partnership with Aelia Duty Free (Lagardère Travel Retail) at Auckland Airport.

Just days later, on the eve of the TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes, we published an eZine celebrating the history, provenance and future of this fascinating natural ingredients skincare brand. In that publication I detailed Snowberry’s unique carbon offset plan – all local staff members and all the Snowberry team globally are asked to plant their own plants when they visit Snowberry Gardens.

If that was special, then what happened next forms an indelible memory of my last visit home. As we neared the end of our tour of Snowberry Gardens on that beautiful September day, Mark introduced me to ‘Martin’s Block’ – a patch of land allocated by him and Soraya on my behalf. The idea was that every time I made a trip back to New Zealand in future the team would plant some native Kānuka and Mānuka to offset my considerable carbon footprint.

A few weeks later in Cannes, Shweta Sharma (below), then P&G Global Travel Retail General Manager (and since promoted to Vice President of the company’s Philippines operation) presented me with a surprise gift.

It was  a two-sided framed photo. One side showed the patch of land, not just newly cleared but newly planted with native New Zealand plants – the base from which all Snowberry products are produced.

A sign laser-etched in native recycled Rimu timber featured Snowberry’s familiar delicate graphics of a native bird on the branch of a tree and the words Martin Moodie’s Carbon Block. The other side carried the same sign underneath the words ‘Martin’s Snowberry Gardens Visit Carbon Offset 2019’.

Shweta had another surprise, a video filmed from a drone that showed the cleared land being planted with my offsets, set against the ravishing backdrop of the sub-tropical paradise that is Snowberry Gardens.

[Martin’s Block in October 2019]

Simply writing about it brings back all the emotion of that special day. So to receive a few weeks ago an updated shot from Soraya showing how Martin’s Block has transformed in the intervening years was a special moment. “Your trees are thriving and are now much bigger than me!” she wrote. “Every time I pass your block, it reminds me of the wonderful time you graced our garden and of your kind support.”

Soraya at Martin’s Block, January 2022

Soraya has recently completed her contract with P&G. I have no doubt that she will bring her creative genius and warm human spirit to alternative projects in the future. And when I visit New Zealand next – hopefully in the not too distant future given the welcome reopening of the country’s borders – I will visit Snowberry Gardens for sure. It’s a reminder not only of the beauty of our world but of our responsibility to it.

The flourishing of Martin’s Block coincides pretty much entirely with the sustained period of the pandemic. A beautiful reminder of the halcyon days that preceded this descent into a world covered by a deep black cloud. That darkness will pass but those Kānuka and Mānuka and other native flora will thrive and continue to reach higher, ever higher, into the bright, blue sky of New Zealand Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud.

Like friends united, it’s a season blessed:
Heart’s light is sparked to life by body’s death.
At the sound of lightning laughing, clouds cry,
And the garden laughs as tears fall from the sky.
– From 13th century Persian poet Rumi’s Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi