Tag Archives: Taranaki Regional gardens

Taranaki Regional Gardens: Part 2. First published 19/1/05

Our bubble has burst. There we were, when I wrote my last column, terribly excited at the prospect of a huge leap in the garden visitor market. But we hadn’t read the fine print of the Concept Development Plan recently tabled with Regional Council.

The new carpark is fine as long as it is in the neighbour’s. And we can take on the new gardener. But everything else is governed by the Florence Charter. This is like the Kyoto Protocol of the gardening world. Nobody seems to know if our government is actually a signatory to the Florence Charter but no matter. The report uses the Florence Charter as its guiding principle and this important document, which nobody in this country had apparently heard of until a national landscape consultant raised it, is to govern all management of historic gardens. Well, almost all aspects as regards Hollards and Tupare. Some aspects, perhaps.

Certainly the Florence Charter is to be applied to all plant material in the garden so no plants which are recent introductions or developments are to be in these gardens. They must be replanted and maintained with material which was available when the Matthews and the Hollards were gardening. This will see the burgundy loropetalums and the precious Michelia alba ripped out of Tupare along with most of the more recent plantings.

And the Florence Charter is to be slavishly applied to the house at Tupare. Gone is the ensuite bathroom which was installed upstairs, probably at great expense. And the new kitchen is to go, along with any other modifications to the house. Attention to detail is such that even the doorbell is mentioned at least twice in the report. And there is to be a 1951 Bentley parked in the garage along with a 1940s Vauxhall. These were apparently driven by Sir Russell and Lady Matthews at some point in their lives (presumably in the days when they were just Russell and Mary).

The house at Hollards, although older than the house at Tupare, is for some curious reason exempt from the Florence Charter, so it is to be removed. Of course the house is not as cute as Tupare so perhaps that is why it is expendable despite the Florence Charter. And indeed the garden itself is exempt. Only the plants must be frozen in times past. The Project Advisory Group will have the skills, apparently, to improve on Bernie and Rose Hollard’s landscaping abilities and there will be three new buildings dropped into the garden too. History does not apparently record what vehicle Bernie Hollard drove, so we don’t need to emulate that in 2005.

Mark and I are the current owners of a large garden and home which is contemporary to Hollards and Tupare. Possibly it is the last surviving garden of that vintage in private ownership. At the time there were others. Les Jury had a fine garden called Sunnybank which he used to open to the public in the 1950s and which was acclaimed in its day. Fred Parker had a notable garden. Grant Maxwell and Griff Williams are other Taranaki gardening names from the past.

But now we are concerned lest we be contravening the Florence Charter with our extensions to the garden and our alterations to the house. I am really too scared to ring our brickie and tell him that our fine brick wall, of which we are terribly proud of and on which we spent many dollars, will, alas, have to be demolished. It is not original. We had our official opening a few weeks ago. The demolition party may not be so happy.

We are going to have to get the diggers in to reinstate the park how it was. Gone will be our ponds, our meandering stream, bridges and growing herbaceous borders. In its heyday, under the stewardship of Felix and Mimosa, the park was inclined to flood every time it rained and always boggy. And it followed the style of gardening espoused by the New Zealand Rhododendron Association of the time which saw trees and shrubs in splendid isolation surrounded by long grass. Somewhat like parts of Tupare were at the time too. It will save lawn mowing. We can just put sheep back in and shut the gate. As long as they are the right type of sheep.

Our home is a little more modern than that at Tupare and although architecturally designed, it was not by Chapman Taylor. But it is quite a fine example of a solid five bed roomed home built in 1949 but designed to look timeless so rather redolent of the 1920s art deco English style. And there is a lot of history in it.

To my shame, I had not realised that the concrete laundry tubs and the farmer’s shower in the laundry were important historical features. I have been enjoying a modernised laundry which doesn’t get mouldy. And a modern shower located in the bathroom with underfloor heating and an extractor fan had been bringing me pleasure too, until I realised the crime we had committed in altering the original design. Mark is just relieved that we have discovered the folly of our ways before we started to renovate the original kitchen. We will both miss the efficient woodburner which stopped the house being an icebox in winter, but of course we must go back to the open fires.

But the problem that is really taxing us is what vehicle we must buy and restore to park in the garage. Tupare is to have a Bentley and a Vauxhall. I think the Humber Super Snipe which Felix and Mimosa drove in the fifties would look better than the more modest Singer Vogue which they changed to in the mid sixties. Or can we find an old Packard which predated the Humber Super Snipe? Our Toyotas just don’t cut the mustard in this new era of historical accuracy. We may have to park them in the visitors’ carpark.

But we mustn’t be grumpy. Thank goodness we have saved the 100 year old totara hedge, and the rimus, pines and gums which were now over 125 years old, planted by the original Jury here. These are older than any of the plants at Hollards and Tupare. And if those gardens are to be frozen in time, then the same fate must be waiting for our garden.

Is it any wonder that I made my pronouncement to our three children over Christmas dinner: “When Dad and I die, under no circumstances whatsoever are you to allow the garden to pass into public ownership.” And that was before the ramifications of the Florence Charter had sunk in on us.

And part 3 of Taranaki Regional Gardens. Date of original publication uncertain but around 2005

Cut to the quick, we were, dear Reader by the accusation in last Saturday’s paper that we were being negative and acting out of vested interests. That came from the Wellington consultant in charge of the Regional Gardens Project. After several weeks of intensive work analysing and discussing the proposals, a group of us tabled a common sense alternative plan with the Council. Well, we thought it was based on common sense and lots of experience. Alas the project group appeared to have made up its mind already that we were being negative, unhelpful and driven by self interest.

So what did we propose? Mindful of the fact that every owner of a large garden knows that gardens and property are bottomless pits which will absorb all the money you throw in and more, we urged caution. These are ratepayer dollars we are talking about and we will all end up contributing.

The Regional Council took over Hollard Gardens near Kaponga and Tupare in New Plymouth. We urged Council to understand that while these gardens are publicly owned, they are domestic gardens which are very different to public parks. By their very nature, domestic gardens start life as family gardens created with the skill, vision and the personal money of their owners. They are individual, personal and intimate. That is what makes them so different to public parks and gardens. The challenge for Council is to retain that individuality when they are in the public domain and to avoid the tendency to treat them like public parks and contract out management and centralise services. Such a move, we cautioned, would turn these two gardens into mini urban parks, except that one is in a relatively remote location and the other has a very steep terrain.

Both Hollards and Tupare have suffered for years from chronic underfunding and understaffing. Despite that, Hollards has retained its premier position and is independently rated as a Garden of National Significance. Tupare has not fared anywhere near as well and is a shadow of its former glory under the Matthews’ family management. We advocated learning from what has worked. Hollards has a resident garden manager who loves the garden, was trained in part by the Hollards themselves and who has kept standard high.

Give Tupare the same, we suggested. A resident garden manager who can give the garden the love and skill it needs.

Keep the gardens autonomous, we urged. Of course it makes sense to centralise marketing and administration, but the day to day management of the gardens is best done by a skilled head gardener. That way the personal nature and the individuality is retained.

Staff the gardens adequately. Spend more money on staff and less on management and operations. Hollards needs three gardening staff (it is very labour intensive) while Tupare, after an initial huge injection of funds and labour to get it right again, should be able to be maintained by two fulltime gardeners. Have people working in the gardens to talk to visitors rather than relying on storytelling devices like storyboards and handouts. These gardens must be better than any other garden all year round – showpiece gardens – so make sure they have sufficient skilled people to achieve this.

Start an apprenticeship scheme in the gardens to train quality gardeners and put Taranaki on the map. There is a growing demand for trained gardeners and a desperate shortage. Give Taranaki people another career choice and enhance the future of the gardens.

Get the gardens right and prove a demand exists before spending megabucks on capital works. Council took over gardens to manage and this should be done well first. In recognition that Tupare has the potential to become a heritage house and garden, place a moratorium on further structural alterations to the house and the original landscaping. Keep up the maintenance but stop pouring money into the buildings and facilities and concentrate on the garden.

Record the special values of each property and set in place a really simple low cost or no cost monitoring strategy to ensure that a wayward and determined head gardener can not wreak havoc on the place. Cut out other unnecessary layers of management.

When we tabled to Council last week, we noted that around $250 000 had been spent already on consultant reports but not one extra hour of labour or one extra plant had gone into the gardens. In fact more up to date figures show that it is now over $297 000 spent so far and still climbing. (Maybe it was negative to point that out?)

Get back to basics. Learn from what has worked. The gardens are individual. Keep them that way. One size does not fit all. Steer away from the institutional model and keep it simple.

We advocated for some discussion on potential cost recovery on the gardens (charging entry, in simple terms). As the plans stand, most of the money flow is one way – out from Council coffers. Sure council parks are always free, but we tried to stress that these gardens are not the same as council parks. These domestic gardens are considerably more expensive to run than a council park on a per square metre basis. At least talk about charging issues with the gardens and weigh up the options.

I am a little ashamed to admit that we failed in our presentation to grasp the importance of The Vision. We had thought that valuing the heritage of Tupare and Hollards, making them fine assets for both locals and tourists, setting the standard in open gardens and leading the way in putting Taranaki on the map as a garden visitor destination was a justifiable vision. But of course if you are going to spend nearly $300 000 (and still rising), clearly you want a Grand Vision – with a grand budget of several million dollars to match. And apparently you can’t have strategy without vision. We criticised the plans on the table for discussion at the moment as being long on vision and short on reality. Our alternatives, I fear, are actually long on strategy but apparently narrow in vision. C’est la vie.

And we applauded the resolve of the Council to make these two gardens excellent and to resolve past difficulties in managing them well.

If that, dear Reader, and much more detail, smacks of self interest and negativity to you, then we stand guilty as charged.