Arthur Fryer: The pioneer settlers were gardeners all
Taranaki soil and climate has long delighted people coming to the province, the very first settlers in the early 1840s found that the plants they had brought with them from England flourished so much so that some of their vegetables and fruit trees produced more than they and their neighbours could eat.
It was the same when colonists came to South Taranaki in the 1870s, the soil was rich, the climate mild and there was rainfall all year round. Not only did wheat and grass flourish but so did the settler's gardens with trees and shrubs to remind them of England.
Other unfamiliar trees and shrubs from South Africa and Australia were planted too, truly a horticulturist's dream.
The Normanby Horticultural Society first met in 1883 to promote best practise and new species under the enthusiasm of James Livingston who farmed Waipapa, a property at Ohawe, and other keen gardeners. The forming of the Hawera Horticultural Society led by Charles Goodson was more evidence of the strong interest South Taranaki people had in the growing of trees, shrubs, decorative flowers and fine vegetables.
The shows of the Horticultural Societies brought visitors and nurserymen from all over the country to see the grand displays of fruit, vegetables and indoor plants.
A result of this horticultural activity encouraged some people to develop special interests and expertise that went well beyond the borders of Taranaki. Charles Goodson who imported quality roses and daffodils developed a fine garden around his home in High St and Cameron St. Daffodils he bred were still in the English catalogues until recently.
A physician, Dr Thomson, also bred daffodils, the most famous being the miniature 'Narcissi hawera'. Mrs EJ Lovell specialised in ferns and after building a fernery in her garden was commissioned to design a fernery for Pukekura Park in New Plymouth and another in Hawera's King Edward Park.
A fine garden was designed for Mrs Pease at her home, 'Rossall' in Manawapou Road by a Canterbury firm that is believed to have also designed the beautiful gardens at the 1928 Public Hospital, and both gardens were at their best in the 1930s and '40s.
A Taranaki schools science instructor, a man of many interests, Rod Syme, best known for the establishment of Boy's and Girl's Calf Clubs, shared his strong passion for trees, both native and exotic, with the schools, horticultural societies and farmers.
Two young lawyers from Otago became involved in Hawera gardening both having an influence that would outlive them. James Edmonston, from Moeraki, a keen gardener, was a Hawera Borough Councillor who influenced the choice of the subject of a bronze Wendy statue in King Edward Park that was presented by Mrs Campbell, widow of a mayor who had been keen to improve the parks of Hawera.
John Houston, of Dunedin, came to Hawera in 1923 to join a law firm of Welsh McCarthy and became fascinated by his new home; he started a life-long study of pre-European Maori life in Taranaki publishing his researches in books and a series of articles in the Hawera Star He had a deep interest in horticulture with special regard to home gardeners of New Zealand and was elected Dominion President of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture for his work promoting horticulture in the region. He was also instrumental in a series of shows that became the Taranaki Floral Festival.
Hawera has had a reputation as a town of very good private gardens and a fine public park, King Edward Park, now a garden of national significance, that has been fostered by both professional and amateur gardeners.