North­land

Take one dilapidated quarry. Sow it with the seed of one man's vi­sion. In­vest thou­sands of hours from plant-mad lo­cals.

NZ Gardener - - Contents - For more info, whangareigar­dens.org.nz.

Wendy Lau­ren­son vis­its the gor­geous Whangarei Quarry Gar­dens.

Bake amongst rock for­ma­tions for 20 years, and keep moist with free-flow­ing wa­ter. The re­sult: the Whangarei Quarry Gar­dens, a tran­quil, beau­ti­ful mid-city oa­sis.

The 25-hectare site in­cludes sub­trop­i­cal gar­dens, a lake, na­tive bush, sev­eral themed gar­dens, a water­fall, walk­ing tracks, a visi­tors cen­tre and café, and the re­cently com­pleted Te Wai U O Te Atakura by Kerik­eri-based en­vi­ron­men­tal sculp­tor Chris Booth.

What stands out about this project is that it was born al­most en­tirely of lo­cal com­mu­nity ef­fort and do­na­tions. For ex­am­ple, in 2005 ar­son at­tacks had de­stroyed some parts of the na­tive for­est within the gar­dens, but 250 gritty lo­cals ral­lied and put in 10,000 plants in one day to re-veg­e­tate the hill­sides.

The gar­dens are open seven days a week. En­try is by koha as they are run by a not­for-profit trust that pays a low-cost lease to the Whangarei District Coun­cil.

There are some amaz­ing sub­trop­i­cal stars:

ele­phant’s ear fig ( Fi­cus rox­burghii) bear­ing flow­ers and huge fig fruit on its woody trunks; Puya venusta, a bromeliad na­tive to Chile with strik­ing sil­ver-grey fo­liage and vivid blue blooms; ma­ture din­ner plate figs ( Fi­cus dammarop­sis)

with mas­sive pleated leaves; silk floss trees ( Ceiba speciosa) with their spinecov­ered trunks; bur­rawang ( Macroza­mia

com­mu­nis) of an­cient Juras­sic an­ces­try; and blue gin­ger ( Di­cho­risan­dra thyr­si­flora), ac­tu­ally a trop­i­cal herb from Brazil.

Plant se­lec­tion is gov­erned by the over-arch­ing em­pha­sis on sub­trop­i­cals. North­land’s nat­u­ral cli­matic con­di­tions are am­pli­fied by the shel­ter and heatra­di­at­ing prop­er­ties of the stone quarry, pro­vid­ing an ideal mi­cro­cli­mate for most ex­otic sub­trop­i­cals.

There are three other spe­cial­ist gar­dens.

A Gar­den of the Five Senses stim­u­lates each of our senses and is cur­rently be­ing re­mod­elled.

The dra­matic Arid Gar­den, which boasts ar­chi­tec­tural-scale cacti, was in­sti­gated by lo­cal cacti en­thu­si­asts and is in the sun­ni­est, dri­est part of the gar­dens where sum­mer tem­per­a­tures are of­ten more than 40oC.

In the Bromeliad Gar­den, di­verse spec­i­mens strut their stuff on a sem­ishaded slope.

Other es­tab­lished plant­ings in the gar­dens in­clude valu­able do­na­tions by pro­fes­sional plants­peo­ple.

For ex­am­ple, lo­cal camel­lia breed­ers Jim Fin­lay and Os Blumhardt’s plants are the ba­sis of the site’s Scented Camel­lia Gar­den which is now the largest col­lec­tion of scented camel­lias in the south­ern hemi­sphere.

Land­scape ar­chi­tect and gen­eral man­ager David McDermott is the only full-time em­ployee and came on board five years ago. “The pre­vi­ous man­ager had been here for 11 years, but prior to that, the whole project had been com­mu­nity driven and cre­ated around Laughton King’s orig­i­nal vi­sion over 20 years ago,” he ex­plains. While work in those early years in­cluded clear­ing away car bod­ies and rem­nants of the quarry op­er­a­tions, the work­ing bees grad­u­ally pro­gressed to the more re­ward­ing tasks of cre­at­ing and plant­ing gar­dens un­der the di­rec­tion of a Board of Trus­tees and a flex­i­ble mas­ter plan.

David now works with a team of about 30 vol­un­teers, with part-time as­sis­tance from mar­ket­ing and events man­ager Kerry Marinkovich.

He is also aware that in the 20 years since the in­cep­tion of the gar­den, there has been a gen­er­a­tional shift. “Peo­ple are now less avail­able for vol­un­teer work and part of my job is to move with the times and to see where cur­rent op­por­tu­ni­ties lie. We have a re­plen­ish­ing stream of peo­ple in their 60s com­ing on­board and I work closely with a hand­ful of com­mit­ted vol­un­teers who love plants and this place,” he says. “But I also no­tice the younger gen­er­a­tion tends to be avail­able more for one-off sin­gle-pur­pose projects, and Whangarei is rapidly chang­ing with the in­flux of new ar­rivals.

”Our café and visi­tors cen­tre was built in 2015 and brings a more cur­rent vibe to the gar­dens, at­tract­ing a dif­fer­ent vis­i­tor de­mo­graphic, and Chris Booth’s re­cently com­pleted sculp­ture adds a pow­er­ful lo­cal cre­ative com­po­nent with a global con­text.”

David now has his eyes fixed firmly on the fu­ture. “We will be­come one of the defin­ing gar­dens of the sub­trop­i­cal north. I’m keen to make the most of this di­verse land­scape, and we’re al­ready plan­ning more events and in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ments. We would also like the Gar­dens to some day be a place for for­mal train­ing of hor­ti­cul­tural ap­pren­tices.”

Mas­sive chal­lenges re­main, espe­cially around is­sues of main­te­nance and weed­ing in in­ac­ces­si­ble ar­eas.

“The long-term vi­sion of the Trust is to cre­ate a sus­tain­able busi­ness model that al­lows for a more di­verse team to tackle these chal­lenges,” says David. “The heart of our team will al­ways be our vol­un­teers, but in time we would like to see a larger paid staff and op­por­tu­ni­ties for bud­ding pro­fes­sion­als to train here.”

Te Wai U O Te Atakura by Chris Booth.

Pony­tail palms ( Beau­carnea re­cur­vata) by the lake.

Silk floss trees guard the track.

Ber­ge­nia cordi­fo­lia.

Lake­side track.

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