There’s a reason why waterlilies and lotus are used as symbols of enlightenment in so many cultures, Bevan McDuff says. “They grow from mud into the light and produce an exquisite flower.”
Bevan and his partner Alix Gamble bought the 6ha Waihi Waterlily Gardens in 2004 in partnership with Alix’s son Sam and his partner, Olivia Thorn.
Sam and Olivia ran the property until part-way through 2012 when they took a South Island sabbatical with their young children, with Bevan taking over management of the gardens.
Development of the water-lily garden began 70 years ago thanks to retired farmers Tom and Mabel Gordon and celebrated 60 years of opening to the public in 2011. “The gardens were first open to the public for four Tuesdays in February 1941,” Bevan says. “And apparently they had thousands of people through.”
Sam and Olivia closed the property for three years after they bought it, working with Alix and Bevan to clear, clean and tidy the site, and add two new accommodation cottages. During their tenure Sam restocked the waterlily ponds while Olivia added to the land plantings.
This past year Bevan has moved to refocus the property as a wedding venue and has bookings throughout this summer with some already in place for 2015. The gardens remain open to the public but there is no longer a café on site. Instead, visitors are welcome to bring a picnic.
Twenty stream-fed ponds, including the 0.8ha lake, are home to 70 varieties of water lily – including hardy and tropical types – and lotus plants (read more about how to grow lotus plants here; links to video guides on waterlilies are at the end of this article).
“We knew zilch about water lilies when we took the place on,” Sam recalls. “But we quickly had lots of physical interaction – we had hundreds of thousands of rhizomes pass through our hands.”
The lake was particularly problematic, says Bevan, a retired music teacher. “The lake was so choked when we took it over that you’d have thought it was dry land. The dog kept trying to walk across it and falling in.”
Sam says even experienced gardeners feel anxious about trying water lilies, although they shouldn’t.
“It’s amazing what a psychological obstacle the water is,” he says. “People think you’ve got to be specially set up, but the hardy varieties are really hardy and you can grow them in tubs, planters and wine barrels – water lilies are just like pot plants except there is a layer of water between you and the soil.”
- Waihi Waterlily Gardens are at 441 Pukekauri Rd (take the Old Tauranga Rd from the north end of Athenree Gorge and follow the signs, or from Victoria St in Waihi), near Waihi. They are open daily, 11am-3pm. Admission $8.50 (adults), $7.50 (seniors), $25 (families) and $6.50 for groups of 10 or more. For more information see the website or phone (07) 863-8267.
- Choosing the right pot for a hardy waterlily
- Planting a hardy waterlily
- Dealing with an overgrown hardy waterlily (dividing and repotting)
- Planting a tropical waterlily.
More reading at the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society (membership is free).