Gardens of National Significance


We went to a reception at Government House in Auckland last week. I was going to make irreverent comments about Gummint House but even for closet republicans like us, there is a degree of dignity and respect surrounding the Governor General and Government House. Indeed we dusted off Mark’s suit and aired it so he did not smell of mothballs for the occasion. One could almost describe us a picture of sartorial elegance.

The occasion was the launch of the New Zealand Gardens Trust, under the auspices of the RNZIH (the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture). This project has been years in gestation – a framework to present New Zealand to the world as a gardening destination for tourists. With links to New Zealand Tourism Board and Qualmark rating, this is the first serious attempt to present a professional and credible garden product.

Now there is a home for those of us who see gardening as more than a hobby and there is a network and national standards set for open gardens. Tourism Board like the idea of a quality product they can market in the shoulder season for international tourists (the prime gardening time is spring which falls outside existing peak tourist times). And New Zealand has a quality product in its gardens. The magic combination of an equable climate, fast growth rates in plants, cheap and plentiful land by international standards and our do it yourself ethic has led to us being a nation of gardeners.

The philosophy behind it all, as expounded at the launch, was music to our ears. One of the corner stones is maintaining credibility – the under promise and over deliver approach to pleasing visitors. Promotion of individual gardens is externally vetted to make sure that claims are not inflated and descriptions are accurate.

Gardens are ranked by quality. This has been a very hot issue locally in the past, but the New Zealand Gardens Trust has no such qualms. Visitors are often here for a few days only,the launch was told. They want to know they are seeing the best and they want to know that the product will match up to the promises made.

The Trust aims to have a comprehensive listing of open gardens throughout the country. In due course all and any can come in at minimal cost and gain a basic listing of Open Garden. These gardens are not endorsed or inspected. But the energies are being put into Assessed Gardens. Professional assessors visit the garden and decide at what level it fits into a three tier system – assessed garden, garden of regional significance or garden of national significance.

Clearly it is the regionally and nationally significant gardens which will receive the lion’s share of promotion. But part of the process is also to offer constructive advice to the gardens individually and collectively on lifting standards.

Bureaucratisation of gardening? Probably. Initially we ran a mile from the whole scheme, being rabid individualists with a horror of control by the bureaucrats. It was only when we looked more closely at the individuals involved with the scheme that we decided to opt in. Most were people we knew well and trusted to put worthy objectives into practice.

Taranaki can hold its head up high. In the initial round of assessments of founder gardens, we ended up with four Gardens of National Significance – more than any other area in the country. With our history of open gardens in this province, it is to be hoped that other garden owners will take the plunge and chose to opt in to this scheme. Seize the chance now and we can really put this province on the international gardening map.

For the record, our four gardens in Taranaki are Pukeiti, Hollards, Pukekura Park and Tikorangi, the Jury Garden. Neighbouring us in Wanganui, Clive and Nicki Higgie’s special garden, Paloma, also made national significance standard.

Go online at if you want to know more.

On a different topic altogether, as we avoided Auckland’s motorways (funny city where all the locals tell you on no account to take a motorway during rush hour traffic!), we couldn’t help but note the pohutakawas around Mission Bay, Kohimarama and the next bays. With what are almost certainly million dollar waterside properties, the beaches are framed in the much maligned pohutakawa. Lots of them, both mature trees and recent plantings. These are limbed up so there is no undergrowth and there are clear views underneath the leafy canopy. This would be a bare and barren stretch of coastline without the trees.

What a shame that in coastal North Taranaki, bare and barren coastline is commonly valued more than a view framed by trees. We still have a lot to learn here.

Abbie and Mark Jury have a garden and nursery at Otaraoa Rd, Tikorangi.