It's easy to forget how many different climates Taranaki experiences.
That was never more evident than in a recent drive to Hollard Gardens at Kaponga where we found their rhododendrons in full bloom. This was a bit of a shock as most of ours at home are way past their peak.
The flowers at Hollards are delayed by the coolness of their proximity to the mountain. So that gives you the chance to extend your personal rhododendron season and make a journey to see this garden in all its glory.
As soon as you enter the garden, rhododendrons seem to dominate, both for their flowers and structure. Some have amazing trunks and others interesting leaves but it's hard to look beyond the flowers when they're out in such profusion. Clipped azaleas are also a special feature of the garden; some clipped into hedges and others into interesting mounds and shapes.
As you probably know, the garden was created by Bernie and Rose Hollard from the 1940s and is now under the care of Taranaki Regional Council.
The garden has two main routes, the blue Rose trail and the red Bernie trail. I decided to follow Bernie. Signposting along the way tells the story first-hand, bringing the garden to life.
Gail and I spent many a happy hour walking round this garden with Bernie and Rose, as he was keen to pass the baton of plant knowledge on to someone younger. Bernie always had a story to go with each plant, where it came from and who gave it to him. Eyeing one plant he said: "I got this from young Goodwin."
I scratched my head and then it dawned on me: He meant 70-plus John Goodwin, long since retired from the parks. But as he was 10 years younger than Bernie, that made him young Goodwin. Age is a relative thing.
At the start of the trail is an Edgeworthia gardneri, with scented pompom flowers, and a good reminder of how Bernie always wanted to acquire rare plants. Immediately to the right is another rare shrub with little red bells, Illicium henryi, named after an Irishman based in China 100 years ago called Augustine Henry. Many of our garden plants are named after him.
To prove the point, you'll see a blue- flowered, upright rhododendron a short way down the track named R. augustinii taken from his christian name.
Going up rabbit ridge, rhododendron 'Gwilt King' is a superb New Zealand hybrid with rich red flowers and splendid textured leaves. At the top of the slope is a small bush with red and yellow flowers called Jacobinia pauciflora. Everyone should find room for one of these yummy plants in their garden as it's evergreen, compact, will grow in sun or shade and what's more, the cute flowers attract waxeyes who lust after the nectar. Because the bush is tiny they can feed to their heart's content without being harassed by tui and bellbirds who are reluctant to be seen too close to the ground.
Where the paths diverge, the right track goes under a ginormous yellow radiata pine, the biggest you'll ever see. And on your left, is rhododendron 'Noyo Chief' with glossy bullate leaves and rich red blooms. Around the corner, as you enter the new garden, is a yellow leaf acanthus 'Hollard's Gold', a chance seedling discovered and named by Bernie. He also bred, selected and named many rhododendrons, the most famous of which is called 'Kaponga', an early season upright red.
In the bed on your left is an enkianthus bush in flower. The tiny pinky red bells are so dainty and delightful. It's not a plant most people would buy, so they're not common, but to see this in full bloom is as exciting as any blowsy azalea. With a more open airy feel, this newer part of the garden features many perennials.
At the gazebo is a beautiful blue sweet pea , and beneath that an Ilex crenata 'Helleri' which is not often seen but really is a terrific garden shrub. This holly could easily replace the clipped box hedges because it forms a tight dense evergreen mound and can be clipped to any shape you want. On the other side is a climbing Hydrangea petiolaris just coming into flower with white lacecaps. For reasons I can't fathom, they're rare in New Zealand but, in Europe and America, you see them growing on walls in the busiest of cities. Under the hydrangea is a low creeping shrub, Cotoneaster apiculatus, with tiny little flowers humming with bees busily gathering nectar. They absolutely love this bush.
Stop at the far end of the lawn to admire and enjoy the heavenly scent of the purple red rose 'Roseraie de l'Hay' on the right before heading right down the blue trail to the deciduous beds. Bernie was unusual for a Taranaki gardener in that he enjoyed deciduous plants, and there are many rare plants here.
Entering the north garden, you're now in an older part first planted in the 1950s and I had to take the right- hand path to pay homage to the unusual Rhododendron genesterianum with tiny purple black flowers and peeling trunks. I know this was one of Bernie's favourites and mine too.
Where the paths converge are two huge trees, a macrocarpa and a gum tree. Bernie told me these were the first two trees he planted back in 1940. When I saw these enormous trees, I realised you could plant a garden and see it to fruition in your own lifetime. In most parts of the world, people plant trees for their grandchildren. In a way that was the inspiration for us planting a four-hectare (10-acre) garden at home in Oakura.
Before you head home, you should wander along the bush walk to the swamp to enjoy the bog primulas. Luxuriant drifts of orange, pink, mauve and magenta primulas will make your head spin. Again the cool climate here suits them perfectly, and it's possibly the best display of them in the province.
- Taranaki Daily News
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