Taranaki Regional Gardens: Part 1. First published December 2004

THERE is great excitement around our place at the moment. This has come about because we finally got our hands on a copy of the report to the Taranaki Regional Council on the path ahead for the Trust Gardens — Tupare, Hollards and Pukeiti.

We had been waiting for a couple of years to see what was being mooted for these gardens and it was certainly worth waiting for. Silly us. There we had been thinking that the TRC might be looking cautiously at spending a hundred thousand dollars or two on the gardens, accepting that they were regional assets even if they were unlikely to ever pay their own way, in our lifetimes at least.

How wrong we were. No. The plans propose spending around $15 million, give or take, and all of that is on capital works with no allowance made for the management, ongoing maintenance and staffing of the gardens. Not that the $15 million dollars is necessarily all TRC money, but some of it is.

Naturally, we turned to the figures to see how many visitors they were expecting to these gardens. And you could have knocked us down with a feather. We were blown away by the visitor projections. Stunned would be understating our response.

This is such exciting news but we are ever so slightly miffed that all the other private-sector garden openers in the province have not been warned about the tidal wave of visitors about to hit us in the next two to three years. We have swung into emergency mode. Clearly we will need to buy the neighbour’s property to extend our carpark. Our existing facilities are woefully inadequate for visitor numbers confidently promised to rise by between 500% and 1000% by 2006 or 2007. We are going to need more toilets, let alone the fact that the paths around our garden are not adequate to cope with the projected numbers. Our excitement is tempered by panic at this hitherto unexpected surge in garden visitors to our province.

And what are the predicted numbers? Hollards is a fine garden that has rightly been accorded the status of Garden of National Significance but is dogged by both a difficult location some distance from the main road and by an unpredictable climate. The predicted visitor numbers are quite conservative for Hollards — a mere 500% or so increase over the next two years to 12,000.

Tupare was once a fine garden but has declined considerably over recent years and didn’t even make the cut as one of the best 23 gardens in the province in the Blue Ribbon days. It has a wonderful location in the city but a difficult terrain for garden visitors. No matter, the report to the TRC confidently predicts that by 2006 (that is only next year), visitor numbers can be 24,000. Tupare’s current visitor numbers are stated with wonderful imprecision as between 2000 and 4000 per annum. Our best guess, based on 17 years of opening our own garden, is that 2500, maybe 3000 max, would be about right.

And Pukeiti? The garden destined to need the lion’s share of the money if the recommendations are endorsed? Again dogged by a difficult climate and a difficult location, but these problems are clearly not going to hold people back.

The report confidently asserts that visitor numbers to Pukeiti will climb to 34,000 by 2007 and that figure does not include visits by members of Pukeiti. Possibly add another 3000 for members’ visits. That is starting from a current base of around 8000 people each year.

We are assuming that there will be a spin-off for us and for all other garden openers in the province. Naturally we don’t expect millions of dollars of outside funding to be spent here, so we can’t expect the astronomical increase in visitor numbers that the three trust gardens are planning for. We will settle for a mere 300% increase in visitor numbers in two years, thank you. That will still mean we will get considerably fewer than even Hollards expect, but it will pay for the new gardener we confidently plan to appoint in anticipation.

A brave new world of garden visiting apparently awaits us all. After all, Business and Economic Research Ltd (Berl) and the TAG group that prepared the reports for the regional council have predicted it and they must know what they are talking about.

How else could they justify advocating spending close to $1.7 million on Tupare over the next few years? That $1.7 million excludes GST, operational and management costs and costs associated with the plant collection. Add another few hundred grand per annum to cover running costs.

Hollards is clearly a bargain. It is only going to take just over $1.3 million (plus GST and ongoing operational and management costs) to lift this garden into its new, heady space. This includes removing the house (Bernie and Rose Hollards’ home may be older than the house at Tupare but it is not grand enough, dear) and replacing it with a “modest” visitor pavilion. A modest visitor pavilion where the house used to stand, costing a modest $581,500 (including the fit-out but excluding GST).

The big bikkies are reserved for Pukeiti, as befits the premier destination expecting the largest visitor numbers. More than $10 million dollars is all that is needed to take this garden beyond what any of us currently know and respect. That figure of course excludes GST, management and operational costs and it also does not include the development of water-supply systems and effluent management systems required in that sensitive environment to cope with the massive increase in visitor numbers.

There we were, thinking that when the regional council took over Tupare and Hollards and took Pukeiti under its wing it would help fund skilled labour to keep these gardens as regional treasures, accepting that in doing so they would be in direct competition with the private-sector ratepayers who pay for their own gardens.

But what would we know about all this? We are just humble ratepayers and gardeners who open our own garden to the public.