Taranaki Garden Festival - A Treasure Trove of Gardens
1 November 2022
There is something about the soil in Taranaki: any plant or cutting I dig into the ground seems to flourish. From my office I look out over the top of a pūriri tree, rimu, karaka and a pair of tōtara but king of all is the kauri planted at the end of our driveway. These were small trees I planted into the earth during the late nineties that have now grown into towering trees and are home to an array of chattering native birds.
The volcanic soil surrounding Taranaki Maunga has provided life for forests, gardens, food and livestock in abundance. But it is not just the rich soil that creates the formula for success; temperate climate and generous rainfall on the west coast of New Zealand completes the growth circle. Early settlers in Taranaki both Māori and European were blessed with the ability to grow food easily and develop gardens. A number of notable private gardens have flourished over the years under the stewardship of several generations of gardeners, and three of these, now gifted to the people of Taranaki, are managed by the (TRC) Taranaki Regional Council: Tūpare, Pukeiti and Hollard Gardens, each open year round.
Every year starting at the last weekend of October, Taranaki gardeners open their gates to visitors for 10 days in the Taranaki Garden Festival (October 28–November 6 this year). In addition to the three TRC gardens, 40 lush private gardens around the mountain and 27 sustainable gardens are open to visit. A second festival called the Fringe Garden Festival is open at the same time, ‘Real Gardens for Real People’ adding another 50 gardens to the mix.
Even with the outbreak of Covid the Taranaki Garden Festival has been able to continue, offering a welcome respite for garden lovers during the upheavals of the last two years. As it is an outdoor event held in gardens around the province, with careful planning it has been possible to maintain social distancing protocol.
As the photographer for the festival I have the pleasure of visiting a group of gardens every year updating the images for the festival. The gardeners work incredibly hard, year round, to create these magical environments, each created in harmony with the will of the trees, flowers and plants they work with because as gardeners quickly learn, planting does not always go exactly to plan. The dedicated gardeners enjoy sharing ideas and conversations with visitors as they explore the gardens ranging from romantic country, colourful cottage, to formal, native and subtropical themes.
Gardens are like a painter’s canvas, each created differently by the artistry of the gardener. But it’s more like performance art, as the viewer is able to wander through a three-dimensional creation engaging all five senses – the wafting perfumes of flowers, birds chattering in the trees, maybe the chance to sample fruit, the touch of a soft fern and a visual feast of colour. When all senses are engaged the experience is memorable and maybe that’s why gardens can be so enchanting – refreshing our soul.
The oldest garden in the Regional Council garden group is Hollard Gardens established in 1927 by plantsman Bernie Hollard and his wife Rose. This horticultural oasis is in the heart of dairy country west of Stratford, on Bernie’s farm. He hired sharemilkers so he could devote time to the large garden, working from dawn until dusk, with Rose often having to search for Bernie to remind him to eat. Bernie was a regular contributor to gardening magazines and recognised by his peers for both his horticultural knowledge and his generosity in sharing it.
The garden features intimate gardens with wandering hidden paths opening out onto expansive lawns and down into a swamp garden. The events pavilion and children’s play area, barbeques and gazebo encourage locals to come to the gardens to play and picnic. Bernie’s Home Garden is a place to hone your gardening skills – different methods of growing food are explored such as a food forest, compost and worm farms, chickens and beehives.
Located on the outskirts of New Plymouth the historic Tūpare gardens wander down a hillside alongside the Chapman-Taylor designed homestead of Sir Russell Matthews, to the Waiwhakaiho River. Established in 1932 by Sir Russell and Lady Matthews the gardens remain true to their original design. The secluded garden rooms, elegant borders and majestic trees give this garden its soul.
The steep property was covered in blackberry, gorse and bracken when the Matthews bought it. Russell employed men during the depression to clear the wilderness and plant shelter trees starting with eucalypts, followed by maples and magnolias. As the garden progressed Russell used his engineering skills to create the contoured walkways and brick walls on the challenging property. The range of planting includes Mary’s favourite cottage garden plants and Russell’s choice of rhododendron hybrids and daises.
The delightful Chapman-Taylor house, built in the Arts and Crafts style during the thirties, took 12 years to complete. The Matthews hosted parties in the house, which often involved sing-alongs around the piano. Set among stately old trees and a romantic garden the house looks as if it could be on a grand English or American estate.
In the foothills of Mt Taranaki the rainforest garden of Pukeiti has one of the biggest rhododendron collections in the world and a new Rainforest Visitors Centre, along with an aerial walkway that overlooks garden and forest. It is easy to get lost for hours taking photographs in the tranquil gardens, among the colourful rhododendrons planted alongside native rimu and tōtara trees.
Pukeiti was founded by Douglas Cook, a Gisborne farmer who transformed his sheep property into a fine arboretum but found the climate was unsuitable for growing rhododendrons. He bought land at Pukeiti in Taranaki in 1950 to fulfil his dream of establishing a rhododendron garden. Cook inspired a group of like-minded people to work with him on the project, then he created a trust and donated the land to the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust. The group worked hard to clear gorse and blackberry along with culling feral goats and possums. Tracks were grassed, planting beds established/planted and a lodge was built. The woodland garden now has more than 2000 different specimens of rhododendrons, and a collection of subtropical vireyas in display houses, along with magnolia, camellia and daphne planted with a native forest backdrop.
Taranaki Garden Festival
With such an array of gardens to choose from during the festival it is always tricky to work out an itinerary. A good place to start is the festival programme which is online at https://www.gardenfestnz.co.nz or you can order a copy of the programme to be sent to you. Also there are a series of fun garden related events running each day of the festival – the event schedule is in the programme. I like to allow time to visit each garden without rushing so I can really enjoy the gardens, and find five to six gardens in one day enough, especially if they are large gardens.
Just north of New Plymouth at Tikorangi is the four-generation Jury Garden dating back to 1870, now run by Mark and Abbie. The garden’s historic elements have been retained while incorporating ideas from the new millennium. The original park is now a managed meadow, and the North Garden is an actively managed wild garden with beauty and sustainability in mind.
Back in New Plymouth choices include two outstanding country gardens on Carrington Road – The Yews and Hurworth Country Garden. At The Yews, expansive green lawns contrast with overflowing layers of flowers in symmetrical beds, bordered by trees and hedges. The large Victorian villa nestles into the garden with formal rose beds leading out from the verandah in a tapestry of colour, to the reflection pond. Up the road a little further is the graceful Hurworth Country Garden, layered beneath mature trees, circling the Worthington’s 110-year-old villa. For a change of style, a few miles further up Carrington Road is Tropical Treasures, a garden set within a subtropical plant nursery. This lush subtropical garden looks towards Mt Taranaki, not the location one would expect for tropical plants.
For an evening colour feast, visit Sequoia Steps, an inner city hideaway with soft maples wafting in the evening breeze as the sun sets in the western sky. A series of steps transport you up into the garden as colourful lights change the trees from dusky pink, to deep magenta creating a magical landscape.
Around the mountain, 10 minutes east of Stratford on the Forgotten World Highway is Cairnhill Garden. This peaceful garden is full of colour, with a collection of rhododendrons, hostas, roses and clematis under a canopy of established trees. June and Colin Lees’ enthusiasm for gardening is evident in this well-loved garden.
Near Hāwera the country garden of Puketarata, sits on a hilltop site with mountain and rural views. The garden is next to Puketarata Pā about which garden owner Ken Horner, an amateur historian, is well informed. Natives are skilfully blended with exotic plants and give a nice dimension to this well-designed garden. As in all the large gardens, there is plenty of space for picnics.
I like to stop at Gravetye in Hāwera for a change of pace. This is a formal garden, geometrical in design, which radiates out from the house. Hedges are used to define areas that contain topiaries, sculptures and beds of irises, roses and lavender. Other features include a grass sculpture, a laburnum arch and a reflection pool.
Continuing the circle of Mt Taranaki from Hāwera, one garden not to miss is Jenny Oakley’s Garden just past Manaia. This is Jenny’s 35th year in the festival, and her garden is always a pleasure to visit. It is a visual feast of cottage style planting, old fashioned roses, lush hanging baskets, enclosed and protected from the west coast winds by large shelter-belt hedges. Every corner of the garden is filled with scented flowers and foliage, while birds sing in the trees. It’s a lovely place for a coffee under the flowering cherry trees and a great place to pick up some new plants. Just down the highway is the Sanderson Garden, another beautiful country garden with a creative selection of garden rooms, set in spacious lawns and large established trees.
I highly recommend exploring the Taranaki Garden Festival as the gardens are world class, the owners are full of great ideas, and what better way to spend a spring day. If you are travelling in an RV, Taranaki has a range of RV parks and freedom camping areas dotted around Mt Taranaki just like the garden tour. There are sure to be some great ideas to take home along with a few plants, from the interesting array of gardens in Taranaki.
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