A Hawke's Bay daffodil garden that has raised thousands for Plunket
The 19th-century poet William Wordsworth famously wrote about coming across "a host of golden daffodils", ten thousand of them, planted beneath trees and beside a lake, tossing their heads in the wind.
If he were still around today and could visit Taniwha Station in the springtime he might want to revise his verse, because here there are hundreds of thousands of daffodils in shades ranging from whites to delicate lemons, bright yellows, bold pinks and reds.
Almost all of a 25-acre paddock is filled with the flowers thanks to years of dedicated planting by Railene Mabin. It's a stunning sight, but the daffodils are not only there to look good.
Railene and her husband, Barrie, bought Taniwha Station in the late 1960s. Near Waipukurau in Hawke's Bay, it was a large family property, originally purchased by Barrie's grandfather, and they set about raising their family there. "It was a terrific thing for us as it was four times bigger than the farm we'd had, with a huge, creaking house," she recalls.
Over the years Taniwha has been a sheep station and a Hereford stud. The Mabins farmed deer at first then moved on to bulls.
When Railene had a baby boy Dougald, she became involved with the local Plunket in Takapau. There was a fund-raising drive and the other women were all baking treats for the cake stall. But Railene Mabin was too busy for that, so she came up with another idea.
"I walked up the drive and looked at the daffodils one of the aunties had planted back in the 1920s," she recalls. "Then I got the two older children, Angus and Heather, and put them out on the road with buckets of them. In those days there wasn't so much traffic but they sold them in no time. When I went to the next Plunket meeting I had far more money than the others: $30, which was a lot back then."
Railene was a keen gardener but had been discouraged by Taniwha's stony soil, the harsh, frosty winters and dry, hot summers. "I thought this was not a good place to garden," she recalls.
However, the daffodils had survived well enough without any help and now she had discovered a way they might be useful. So she began putting in more, first transplanting from other people's gardens, and later buying bulbs to increase the variety of blooms.
"We sold them at the gate with an honesty box," she recalls. "Then one day the family suggested I let people come in and pick their own. I was nervous but I needn't have worried because you know who comes to pick flowers? Nice people!"
At her peak Mabin planted 17,000 daffodils in one year. That's now been reduced to around 3000 a year. "This year we've had a drought in the Hawke's Bay so I planted up a new area very late and I'm a little bit nervous about whether they will flower," she says.
Mabin reckons she has over 2000 different varieties and is always on the look out for more. Her favourite supplier is Pleasant Valley Daffodils in Canterbury. She's had some special daffodils gifted to her by retired growers and spends lots of time poring over bulb catalogues, marking out new releases and waiting for them to come down to a more affordable price.
"It's my hobby so sometimes I do treat myself but usually I don't buy until they get to $12 for a bulb," she says. "That can take six or seven years so it's been a long game."
Once they are in the ground, her bulbs don't get special treatment. They are fertilised once a year along with the rest of the property and in late November the whole paddock is mowed.
"They grow incredibly well and people are amazed because we rarely have any problems. The main issue with daffodils is the narcissus fly, which can attack the bulbs, and of course slugs can be a problem but the ducks keep them under control."
The only other issue is that the stems of the showier double flowers aren't always sturdy enough to support them. "They'd be fine in a sheltered garden but not out in the paddock," says Mabin.
What began with a roadside stall has now turned into a far bigger operation. Last year the Mabin family sold enough flowers to donate $15,000 to Central Hawke's Bay Plunket and still had enough profits left over to cover expenses such as paper and ribbons for wrapping the bunches.
They open all day long for the whole of September and also sell coffee and sweet treats from their shed, with volunteers from Plunket helping out on weekends. "I get up early in the morning and pick the first 20 to 30 bunches and pre-wrap them ready for sale," says Mabin. "I wrap them all myself. People have the choice of buying those or picking their own and having them wrapped."
Often visitors aren't interested in picking flowers; they come simply to enjoy the peace and beauty of the daffodil garden, which includes two lakes, complete with swans and ducks. "We get lots of young mums and there is plenty of space for their children to run around while they have coffee with their friends," says Mabin.
She has learnt a few lessons over the years. To begin with she planted large beds of daffodils but found that children would run right though the middle so now there is a network of mown paths weaving through. "Half the fun for kids is running up and down them," she says.
Originally she planted lots of the early-flowering jonquils and paperwhites, which she loves for their fragrance. But usually they are finished flowering by the time Taniwha Station opens for sales, and besides Railene has discovered that the bigger, bolder blooms are more popular with visitors.
"Now we have lots of double daffodils and a great deal of pink and red because the public love those bright flowers," she says. "'Copper Blaze' is always a winner, it's an unusual bronze colour. 'Precocious' is one everybody likes – it has flat white petals and a salmon rose crown. There is a pink double called 'Replete' that people go for and a New Zealand one called 'Colin's Joy' that has a beautiful scarlet rim."
As her interest in daffodils grew, Railene made an effort to learn everything she possibly could about them and she's been to world conventions and international shows.
"I've seen the best of what they do and there's no doubt about it, New Zealand is right up there," she says. "We have exceptional breeders who are devoted to producing beautiful flowers and because we grow outdoors, the petals have real texture – you can see right through the petals of the indoor-grown flowers."
At 81 she is showing no sign of slowing, although she admits that by the time September is over she needs a good cup of tea and a sit-down.
"I'm tired by the end of the month but I do like to be a busy person and this is very satisfying and a whole lot of fun," she says.
Taniwha Daffodils is at 3440 State Highway 2, Waipukurau. It's open daylight hours 7 days a week from 1 to 30 September. Entry is free but please book for large groups.
- NZ Gardener