Tag Archives: Hollard Gardens

“A garden is really the gardener”

The woman on the left looked a little underwhelmed by Sissinghurst too

I have always felt I needed to whisper rather than shout that, while we enjoyed our one and only visit to Sissinghurst, it did not inspire us to return. Considering the huge influence this English garden has had throughout both the UK and, more surprisingly, little ol’ New Zealand, I have wondered if we were being overly critical, maybe “gardened-out” when we visited it.

The thyme lawn was not a crowning glory when we visited Sissinghurst

It seems not. I was just going to share the link to English landscape designer Dan Pearson’s latest blog  on our garden Facebook page  but then I thought there is a bigger context for this interesting post of his. Pearson is writing about his advisory work with the head gardener at Sissinghurst to re-personalise that famous garden, restoring some of the energy and also the intimacy of what started out as a very personal garden. Over time, Pearson observes, “The way the garden became was ultimately driven by the need to provide for increasing numbers of visitors and, in so doing, the intimate sense of place was slowly and gradually altered.”

And there is the conundrum when a private garden enters the public domain following the deaths of its creators. If it is successful and well-resourced, the expectations of the visiting public play an ever-larger role in determining how the garden will be presented and maintained.

… but the Sissinghurst tower did not disappoint. However, it is structural and therefore a permanent feature

I had been reading some debate about this in the book by Tim Richardson, “You Should Have Been Here Last Week”. As far back as 2004, he was sounding the alarm bells about Sissinghurst. Writing for the Garden Design Journal, he said: “Every day, coachloads of people turn up at Sissinghurst to experience Vita Sackville-West’s garden, yet what they get bears no relation to the original in terms of content or atmosphere”. Further on in the book is his 2015 update, welcoming the appointment of Troy Scott Smith as new head gardener with Dan Pearson in an advisory role.

We have watched with interest the developments of the “regional gardens” in Taranaki – the ratepayer funded gardens of Tupare and Hollards (both created as very personal visions with owners long dead now) and Pukeiti. When the takeover was first being promoted by the regional council, I wrote several strong pieces for the local paper (see below), frankly alarmed at what was being proposed, let alone the budget. In the years since, we have backed off expressing our views publicly about what is happening in these gardens. All I can say is that in my last visit to Hollards, I felt that the originators, Bernard and Rose Hollard, had pretty much disappeared, bar some faded photographic display cut-outs of Bernie.

The faded life-size cut-out of Bernard Hollard is a little poignant

I don’t think these gardens are a victim so much of their own success – we simply don’t get enough garden visitors to Taranaki to put extreme pressure on gardens. I think they are a victim of the drive to attract numbers of general visitors to justify the expenditure. If that means sacrificing the original ambience and character of these gardens, then so be it.

Matched by faded information boards, purportedly written in the first person. Was the term “food forest” even heard of when Bernard Hollard was still alive?

Mark knew Bernie, as he was known to his family and friends, personally and is adamant that he would never have grown yams in an old tractor tyre and indeed his tidy vegetable garden was hidden away from public view

Pearson captures it in a nutshell, when he writes: “Even when the blueprint is strong, gardens can easily assume a different character, for a garden is really the gardener.”

Hollards’ modest home was demolished to make way for a visitor centre, designed in the style I call “Utility Department of Conservation”

Earlier published columns on the topic of regional gardens:

1) A letter from a ratepayer. Published July 2010 I am not sure I would be brave enough to publish this piece in the newspaper these days. I must have been more fearless back then.
2) A tale of Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust and ratepayer funding Published March 2010.
3) Taranaki Regional Gardens Part 1 – first published late 2004
4) Taranaki Regional Gardens Part 2 – first published, apparently January 2005 – the best piece of writing for those who can’t be bothered wading through the lot.
5) And Taranaki Regional Gardens Part 3 – which rather tells about the treatment of an unsolicited submission. (first published 2005). When in doubt, levy accusations of self interest.

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The high cost of “regional gardens”

The Taranaki Regional Council’s summary of their annual report arrived as an inclusion in our free community newspaper. “Duty of Leadership”, it heads itself with a wonderful air of importance. The section that interested us was the one on the regional gardens which had around $2,100,000 spent on them in the last financial year.

Just to clarify, the regional gardens do not include the likes of Pukekura Park and King Edward Park which remain with District Councils. The regional gardens are a different kettle of fish entirely to the highly valued urban spaces that city parks and gardens provide. They are comprised of Tupare and Hollards (both former private gardens of a similar size and age to our own garden) and Pukeiti (formerly a private trust garden).

When Regional Council took over these gardens, in their wisdom they decided to give free entry. Except nothing is free. It just means the entry charges have been replaced by ratepayer funding despite the fact that many of the bona fide garden visitors are tourists. So ratepayers are paying for the free entry of people from beyond the region.

The same report this week claims close to 20,000 visitors to Pukeiti last year. We wonder how entries are counted for all the gardens, given that people just walk in. Without electronic counters, there is no way of knowing how many people actually visit and I can’t say I have noticed electronic counters on Tupare’s entrances. As far as we know, Council are claiming combined visitor numbers in the vicinity of 50,000 people. That sounds great – until you divide the $2mill and find it is costing ratepayers around $40 per head for every person that sets foot in those gardens.

We question how many of those 50,000 claimed attendances are actually to see the gardens. A fair proportion are there simply because the gardens are being used as a ratepayer subsidised venue. People who go to Farmers Markets, Fun Runs (there’s an oxymoron for you), an Antiques Fair and weddings are NOT garden visitors. The gardens are merely an incidental backdrop.

Our educated guess is that the number of bona fide garden visitors who go specifically to look at lovely gardens would be less than half that figure. There just aren’t that many garden visitors around. So even if they attract 25 000 genuine garden visitors, that ratepayer subsidy leaps to $80 for every man, woman and child who sets foot in the gate.

The decision to waive all entry fees and place the full costs of these gardens on the ratepayer is one which immediately put Regional Council in direct competition with the private sector. I am still stunned at the naivety of one councillor who said to me recently, “Have you had no positive spin-off?” Well no, because Council set the value of a garden visit at a big fat zero. We see garden tours come in to the province whose itineraries include all or most of the free Council gardens and one or two small town gardens. The much vaunted cruise ship last summer is only one case in point. Of course tour participants pay an all-inclusive price so any extra profit from concentrating on the free gardens goes straight into the pockets of the tour operators.

I quote an email received by friends with a large private garden: “We plan to bring a group down to New Plymouth for 4days early Nov.& have had your gardens recommended to visit. Even though we have brought other groups to New Plymouth we have not come out to Oakura. We are looking at coming to your place either the 5th or 6th Nov. depending on the weather. Are your gardens open all year?, & is it a free council one?

In fact Council have made it much harder for the private gardens which suddenly look very expensive at a $10 per adult gate charge. But to say so publicly (as I am here), is to open oneself to accusations of self interest and sour grapes. Of course we are more interested in our own garden. What couldn’t we do with half a million dollars of public money a year? In fact the annual garden festival (the Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular) is the event that makes opening a private garden viable here, not the provision of very expensive regional gardens with free entry.

The Taranaki Regional Gardens have a whiff of empire building about them. Add in the rugby stadium in New Plymouth, as the Taranaki Regional Council has, and the empire expands. Bring on local body reform.

Today’s column is but the latest in a series over recent years. Earlier columns on this topic include:
1) Taranaki Regional Gardens Part 1 – first published late 2004
2) Taranaki Regional Gardens Part 2 – first published, apparently January 2005. A satirical take on the situation.
3) And Taranaki Regional Gardens Part 3 – which tells about the treatment of an unsolicited submission. When in doubt, levy accusations of self interest. This may explain why we no longer bother trying to follow the “official” channels (read: hoops to jump through) set up by Council.
4) A tale of Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust and ratepayer funding Published March 2010.
5) A letter from a ratepayer My satirical letter to the chair of the Taranaki Regional Council from July, 2010. (He never replied, of course.)