National Rhododendron Park in Bush Setting
Promising Start in Promoting Wonderful Scenic Reserve near New Plymouth, New Zealand
Throughout the ages, in all the old lands of the earth, men have striven to express their craving for beauty in terms of growing things. Some succeeded in translating their dreams into such living reality that the story of the gardens they created has lived on in the pages of history.
There were the lovely gardens of ancient Persia, the fabulous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the gardens of Kashmir, immortalized in song and story. Nearer our own time and race, there were the lovely landscape effects created by "Capability Brown" around the stately homes of England in the 18th century.
Even in our own modern prosaic work-a-day world the long record of endeavor is irradiated now and then by the story of a garden born of sheer genius. In a book about the gardens of America, Marion Cran tells of one such - Magnolia Gardens, at Charleston, South Carolina, where one John Drayton, born of old English stock, planted white and rose and red and orange azaleas in great glowing masses against the mournful splendor of towering forest trees hung with trails of grey and green Spanish mosses and climbing roses, and created a garden of such unearthly enchantment that visitors from far and wide make pilgrimage to see it at the witching hour of sunset.
Now, here in this little New Zealand of ours where, garden-conscious though we are, we have not yet created anything at once national and distinctively our own, one man at least has dreamed a similar dream which bids fair soon to become a lovely reality-the dream of a vast national garden of rhododendrons planted against the background of our own beautiful native bush. That man is Mr. Douglas Cook, of "Eastwoodhill," Gisborne, and the scheme which he inaugurated is the Pukeiti Rhododendron Park now in the process of being established within 16 miles of New Plymouth Post Office.
Search for the Ideal Site
The choice of rhododendrons was no accident; nor was the selection of a suitable site any haphazard affair. Overseas authorities on rhododendrons are agreed that New Zealand is one of the three best places in the world in which to grow these lovely things to perfection, and Mr. Cook, himself a keen horticulturist and an ardent lover of rhododendrons, conceived the idea of a native national park devoted mainly to their culture as long as three years ago. But the first essential was to find a site which would not only provide the plants with the altitude, the amount of humidity, cloud and mist, the acid soil and ample rainfall necessary for their vigorous growth, but would also be convenient of access for the public.
The first was comparatively easy of fulfillment. Rhododendrons, of which there are some 3000 varieties, flourish in their native habitats in such places as the Himalayas, Assam, the south west provinces of China, Tibet and Upper Burma, and similarly suitable conditions are to be found in the more elevated fringes of the virgin bush almost anywhere on the west coast of New Zealand. But the second requirement, easy accessibility, was much more elusive. Having interested a number of enthusiasts in his scheme and enlisted their co-operation in finding the right place, Mr. Cook himself therefore set out on a tour of investigation throughout New Zealand late in 1950.
But always the spots ideal for rhododendron culture were too far from civilization to make them desirable as the site of a national park, and the little group of enthusiasts had almost given up hope when one of their number, Mr. Russell Matthews, of New Plymouth, chanced to meet a friend in the street and mentioned the problem to him. The friend, Mr. E. P. Alderman, M. P., said thoughtfully, "Why don't you try the Upper Carrington Road here in New Plymouth? There is a block of bush up there which I should say would be just what you want, and I think it would be available for sale."
As Mr. Cook was in New Plymouth at the time, he and Mr. Matthews set out forthwith to inspect the area, and realized at once their quest was over. The block of bush they sought was on Pukeiti ("Little Hill"), 1600 feet above sea-level at its highest point, but protected on each side by the higher summits of the Kaitake and Pouakai Ranges north-west of Mt. Egmont. It had an abundant rainfall, and the soft clouds that rhododendrons love often drifted across it. It was well-drained; its soil was acid and rich; it commanded magnificent views, and it was within easy reach of New Plymouth by a road which, though only metalled for part of the distance, was at least easily negotiable and capable of great improvement.
Purchase of Pukeiti
Mr. Cook did not hesitate. He promptly bought 153 acres of the bush and a few months later, at the annual conference of the New Zealand Rhododendron Association at Massey College, offered it to the association if that body could find enough funds to maintain it adequately. Unfortunately, the association was not sufficiently financial to accept this generous offer, and some other solution of the problem had to be found. Contact was made with various well-known plant-lovers in different parts of the country and Mr. Cook offered to hand over the property to any group of not fewer than 20 persons who would each be prepared to subscribe £50 a year for a minimum period of five years to form a substantial nucleus of membership for a trust.
The response was more than promising. Replies poured in from far more than the required number in both North and South Islands, and in October, 1951, this initial group of foundation members, known as the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust, was duly incorporated. It consisted of men and women living not only in various parts of Taranaki, but in Marton, Taihape, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, and as far away as Nelson, Christchurch, Timaru and Oamaru. Since then, two other groups have been formed, one consisting of Associate Members willing to contribute £20 per annum and a much larger group of Ordinary Members pledged to contribute two guineas per annum.
Gift of Second Block
Nor was this all. Early in 1952, an anonymous donor, familiar with the area and passionately interested in the whole project, presented an even more valuable adjacent block of 163 acres to the trust, bringing its holding up to 316 acres. In addition, through the good offices of the Minister of Lands, Mr. Corbett, a Government reserve has been declared on each side of the property, further ensuring shelter and protection. Years ago, the area ryas milled over and many of the heaviest trees were removed, but much of the lovely bush remains and there has also been a great deal of natural regeneration. The trust aims not only to plant rhododendrons in the natural dells and in the clearings already made in the past, but to preserve and add to the native flora still existing and to provide sanctuary for all bird life.
Meantime, rimus and totaras, nikaus, hinaus, matais, tawas and many other varieties abound, and the addition of other natives will make the area truly representative. trailing mosses and lichens, enormous ratas, giant pongas and numerous other ferns make the place like a tropical forest. Lovely streams and creeks of clear sparkling water flowing over brown stones add their own beauty, and everywhere in springtime the trees are hung with great trails of starry clematis and white bush daisies. When, amid all this loveliness, the natural clearings and little open spaces are adorned with the blazing glory of the rhododendrons and the waxen beauty of magnolias planted against the somber background of the forest trees, the place will be a Paradise indeed.
Already excellent progress has been made. Disturbing the bush as little as possible, a broad path has been bulldozed to the top, where from a little open plateau may be obtained a glorious view of the mountain, the bush and farmlands of Taranaki, the open sea, Cape Egmont and the lighthouse, and on a clear day, the volcanoes and the distant hills of Kawhia. A parking area at the road entrance has been cleared and metalled, fencing has been done, bush tracks have been cleared and widened, and clearings made ready for planting. A nursery of young rhododendrons is flourishing; the famous New Plymouth nurserymen, Duncan and Davies, hold many more plants in readiness, and about £1000 worth are on order from England. Besides the quick-growing species, many slower-growing and other choice varieties never before seen here will be imported.
Dream of the Future
Now steps are being taken to erect a house for a caretaker-gardener so that planting and maintenance can be started in earnest. It was hoped to begin building early this year, the site chosen being a little knoll in an open clearing commanding a lovely uninterrupted view of the surrounding bush and hills. Here, too, the planners visualize a wide, low-roofed house which will one day arise-a house with brown creosoted walls to merge gently into the landscape, a comfortable roomy house with a big lounge where tea will be served, and a balcony and broad windows from which visitors from far and wide will be able to enjoy the views. Later, there will even be a few bedrooms which several members have generously promised to build.
The widespread interest taken in the project and the help which has already been given or offered by people in all walks of life from all parts of the Dominion have, in fact, formed one of the most pleasing and encouraging aspects of the whole affair. A great deal of the clearing, fencing, bush-felling, bulldozing, surveying and other work has been done by voluntary labour. Others have provided gifts of rare plants, donated 100 rhododendrons, paid registration fees, printed and prepared brochures free of cost. The most recent gift consisted of 14,000 feet of heart of rimu in logs ready for milling.
Auckland Lags Behind
As for subscriptions, besides the generous sums paid by the Foundation and Sustaining Members, the list of those people who have undertaken to contribute two, or in the case of Associate Members, £20 a year is already too long to be mentioned in detail. But these "Ordinary Members" come from as far afield as Darfield and Whangarei, Ruatoria and Little River, Whakatane and Geraldine, Hicks Bay and Greymouth, Ohaupo and Ashburton, Martinborough and Waimate. Many in all three groups have given large cash donations in addition to their subscriptions. "In fact," said Mr. Russell Matthews in a recent letter, "it is amazing how many public-spirited people there are in this country."
In all this inspiring story of human faith, generosity and endeavor, one sad fact remains to be recorded-Auckland alone, the biggest city in the Dominion, has to date only one member subscribing to the trust! It must, however, be admitted in extenuation that probably few people in Auckland have been aware of this great national scheme. Auckland has its full share both of garden lovers and of public spirited citizens, and it cannot be supposed that this will remain the position for long. At the recent annual conference of the trust, attended by about 70 members from all over the country, Mr. R. K. Ireland, of Oamaru, pointed out that there were no privileges for the £50 members. "We are all in together," he said. "No one is going to get anything out of it, and that goes for all of us. Just something of cultural value for New Zealand." Auckland will not want to be left out of this wonderful united effort.