Gerry and Valerie Zwarts are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary on October 3.
Gerry and Valerie Zwarts are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary on October 3. Brett Wortman

Tending their garden of love

THEY say great love stories start with a single memorable moment and for Gerry and Valerie Zwart 60 years of happiness began with Valerie falling asleep on Gerry's shoulder.

Valerie said their union was destined considering she met Gerry almost eight months after he arrived in Sydney from Holland and he lived with close friends of her aunt.

"We are sure it was a set-up by our families, although in Gerry's words his shoulder was very comfortable for me and stopped me from talking," Valerie joked. A mere three-and-a-half months later on October 3, 1953, the pair were married and living in a small flatette in Sydney.

Obviously fans of spontaneity and a touch of practicality, they gave Valerie's Adelaide family and both their Sydney families only two weeks' notice and said "I do" on a long weekend, going back to work on Tuesday.

They were married in the Church of England in Narrabeen, the next suburb north of Collaroy and in a show of true frugality, Gerry took a taxi to the church that then went to pick up Valerie and her brother who was charged with giving her away.

"We arrived one minute early which put the minister in a panic because as he stated to all and sundry in the church he'd never had a bride arrive early before," said Valerie.

"We have so many wonderful memories of our wedding including Gerry not quite being able to understand when the minister asked him to repeat after him - 'according to God's Holy Ordinance', muttering ac……ance, although thankfully he has since learned what he should have said.

"Gerry and I had a fabulous reception in Gerry's brother's flat with over 50 friends and relations - the entire cost somewhere in the region of $75 which was about six weeks' pay for a man then.

"We spent our honeymoon time on Collaroy Beach with our families; that was on Sunday and then on Monday we went by bus to the airport to see my mother and brother off home."

Speaking to Gerry and Valerie, you get a clear sense their love hasn't weakened over the years. And they still have that same sense of fun and mutual respect that drew them to each other all those years ago.

Asked what advice they give to other couples on maintaining such a successful union, Valerie said it was keeping a sense of humour, compromising when needed and never going to sleep without clearing up an argument.

"Mind you, not everyone is married to Gerry so that has definitely helped me stay married, although I am not too sure what did it for him," she said.

Throughout their marriage the couple have done an enormous number of things and many of them together; from working together in various jobs through to continuing with their horticultural interests.

They have worked in nurseries together, on a sheep station in the early years of their marriage, although one of the most remarkable was running their own guest house in a country town for over three years.

"It was rather interesting as we had nine men boarders, our baby daughter and ourselves to cook, clean and wash for" said Valerie.

In the last 10 years of his working life Gerry became the manager of the South Australian Nurseryman's Co-operative which included writing a bi-monthly, full colour, 32-page gardening magazine.

This was something Gerry continued well into his retirement, running an avocado farm in Flaxton at the same time.

Through their time in the hinterland the couple continued their love of volunteering both together and individually.

Gerry said he would describe Mapleton as the capital of the nation for volunteers running all of their different not-for-profit organisations that provide so much for small towns.

"We consider by far the best thing that has ever happened to us apart from family was when I joined the Apex Club and learned to be altruistic," he said.

"That is when our volunteer life began and would you believe it, we still can't say no."

Now living in Nambour, Gerry and Valerie continue to share their love of all things horticulture with audiences of their Sunshine Coast Daily joint gardening column which was started in 2004 and they still write today.

Despite only having one daughter of their own, family is extremely important to them.

They spend time with nieces, nephews, their offspring and many more generations so are never lonely.

Family from Darwin, Adelaide and Melbourne all came together to help them celebrate their incredible milestone with a dinner at the Forest Sanctuary Function Venue.

The next day they enjoyed a lively luncheon party for everyone including friends in the community centre where they now live in the Sanctuary Park Retirement Village.

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