Still rocking after 21 years

It’s Tuesday morning at Te Puna Quarry Park, near Tauranga, and 91-year-old Shirley Sparks is organising and motivating the work day volunteers, just as she has done for the past 25 years.

And it’s thanks to Shirley’s vision and tenacity that what was once an old, overgrown quarry is now a beautiful public park. Her dream for the 32ha site was kickstarted in 1992 when she heard the local council might re-open the quarry, which had closed in 1979 after almost 70 years of use. “We didn’t want the incessant blasting and all the heavy traffic back,” says Shirley, who has lived in Te Puna for 67 years. “I thought there was something better that could be done with the land.”

Jo Dawkins (left) and Shirley Sparks. Photo: Sandra Simpson

She rallied enough like-minded people that in 1993 the Te Puna Quarry Park Society was formed. The first newsletter went out in 1996 and a year after that the first work day took place – almost 30 people turned up to clear gorse, wattle, buddleia and hakea and plenty of dumped rubbish from what is now the visitor carpark. Te Puna Quarry Park was officially opened 21 years ago on March 18 by Governor-General Sir Michael Hardie Boyes.

“I didn’t envisage what we have now,” says Shirley, who was awarded a QSM in 2005 and is now patron of the Quarry Park Society. “It’s taken on a life of its own in a very positive way. When we started a lot of people said we were mad trying to create something on such hellish land, but there were enough who said, ‘let’s give it a go’.”

The heritage rose garden is a flower-lover’s dream. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One of those optimists was her neighbour Jo Dawkins, a former nursery woman and past-president of the International Plant Propagators Society, who has also been with the project from the start. Her energy is legendary and at 84 Jo shows no signs of slowing down, working at least 2 days at the park every week.

“In the beginning we had no money so everything was donated – plants, gear, time,” Jo says. “The first tree we planted was the pohutukawa beside the carpark. It was a symbol that we’d started.

“This isn’t a botanic park, so visitors shouldn’t expect plants to be labelled, but we have done our best to make it botanically interesting.”

Volunteer Ray Alderson enjoys his work. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One of the society’s first steps was to commission a master plan, which still largely guides work. It divides the park, which climbs several rocky terraces and essentially has no top soil, into ‘rooms’, including a heritage rose garden, butterfly garden, sensory garden, herb garden, and grouped plantings including orchids, bromeliads, fuchsias, Japanese maples, nikau, cabbage trees (featuring more than 10 varieties), magnolias, New Zealand, South African and Australian native plants.

A large, steep area on the eastern side of the park has over the past 13 years been cleared of pines and replanted with natives. Volunteers have put in tracks and signs and try to stay ahead of weeds, including wild kiwifruit, Taiwanese cherry and asparagus fern, as the regenerating bush grows.

As well as pest plants, volunteers have also battled rats, possums, mustelids, rabbits and feral goats. Unfortunately, rabbits have made a comeback and gardeners have resorted to wire mesh cages to protect plants until numbers are reduced.

On the positive side, bird life has flourished and tui, kereru, fantails, waxeyes, grey warblers and California quail are regularly sighted.

The 2.5m-high kuwaha gateway was carved by Morris Wharekawa and references the site’s natural beginnings and its colonial and industrial past. Photo: Sandra Simpson

As well as the garden trails, the park also has many artworks – from a large stone dragon to musical chimes made from recycled materials, from a mosaic life-size couple to wooden carvings by local Māori. “My catchphrase is that the park is a community project in the environmental arts,” Shirley says, “and the sculpture has been a big part of that.”

The park committee, which includes some long-serving members, keeps busy and recent projects include a building which is hired out for functions, terraced seating for the amphitheatre, irrigation systems using a water supply in the park, and new tracks and signs.

Shirley says the greatest pleasure of the project has been the way volunteers just keep turning up – and all ages are welcome. “Sometimes people come with skills, sometimes not. It’s the being willing that counts. And it keeps us fit. It’s our gym and we’re achieving something worthwhile at the same time.”

Lois Houston tends to the park’s friendly dragon. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Te Puna Quarry Park is open every day during daylight hours, free admission but donations welcome. It is signposted off SH2, 15km north of Tauranga.

To find out more about Tuesday morning or Thursday afternoon work days phone Jo Dawkins, 07 579 1233. She would also like to hear from people who can volunteer at  weekends.

This article was first published in NZ Gardener and appears here with permission.

Forest of Memories

Pukeora near Waipukurau in Central Hawke’s Bay has two notable places of interest very near one another – the old Pukeora Estate on top of the hill, and the Forest of Memories that clambers up one side of the 200m-high hill.

The name Pukeora translates as ‘hill of good health’ so it’s fitting that the estate began life as a sanatorium for soldiers returning from World War I with respiratory illnesses, particularly mustard gas injuries. Soon afterwards, the sanatorium became a treatment centre for anyone with tuberculosis and over about 60 years, some 7,000 patients were treated for Tb.

From 1958, the complex was redeveloped as a home for the disabled and physically handicapped, caring for up to 80 long-term residents and more latterly for head-injury patients.

‘Pukeora’ was put on the market in 1998 when ‘care in the community’ became the mantra and in 2000 passed into private ownership and is today a vineyard, boutique winery and function venue, although activities haves downscaled while the property is back on the market.

Soldier poppies flower in an area where an annual Anzac service is held, just down the hill from where many returned servicemen were nursed after World War 1. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Forest of Memories is a 10ha Waipukurau Rotary Club project that dates from 1993 and combines several good initiatives – planting trees for loved ones, creating an arboretum of interest to tree lovers and creating somewhere special for residents of CHB.

Clipping blades and combs identify this willow as a memorial to a local shearer. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Work is ongoing and as well as planting, weeding and tending trees by a dedicated team, also includes putting in walking tracks and installing seats (welcomed by those doing the walk from bottom to top, believe me) with some great views, including over the Tuki Tuki River valley and Waipukurau township.

Each time of the year has its own attractions and, at the beginning of November, we saw some beautiful rhododendrons and azaleas in flower, as well as fresh spring growth on the trees.

A flowering Cistus, or rock rose, made a splash of colour on a damp day. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I was so grateful to the local who took me there as I likely wouldn’t have known about it otherwise. As well as volunteering in the arboretum as a weeder and carer of trees, she is planning to donate a family seat in a spot with a magnificent view. I intend to return and enjoy it.

Flowering now: Clematis paniculata

Falls of white flowers caught my eye this past week as we were travelling through the Central Plateau, the blooms generally standing out because the vine had scrambled through an evergreen native tree.

Clematis paniculata is one of nine species of clematis native to New Zealand, all evergreen, and by far the most common – as well as being endemic to the three main islands, it has also become naturalised on the Chatham Islands.

Its Maori name, puawananga, means ‘flower of the skies’ with the blooms being a traditional sign that spring had arrived and that it was time to start harvesting eels. According to Elsdon Best, Urewera Maori regarded this plant as one of the three first-born children of Rehua (the star Antares) and Puanga (the star Rigel), with the offsprings’ duty being to indicate the coming of spring. Read about some of the plant’s medicinal uses.

Clematis paniculata. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Like many other New Zealand plants it has distinct juvenile and adult stages. In the wild it is mostly found growing in forests, spreading into tree tops where it produces masses of pure white male flowers (5-10cm) in spring. The smaller female flowers are produced on separate plants. Fluffy seed-heads are produced in late summer/autumn on female plants.

Clematis paniculata is a popular garden plant in New Zealand but Margaret Barker of Larnach Castle notes that it doesn’t like wire or metal supports so needs to go up through a tree or scramble along a wooden fence or trellis – none of the New Zealand clematis are vigorous enough to smother their host trees.

The vine’s roots need to be in a shaded, cool spot that doesn’t dry out over summer nor become water-logged in winter, hence seeing plenty of examples flowering in the free-draining pumice soils of the Central Plateau (where it survives a winter freeze). Good air movement will prevent powdery mildew, which can arise in humid conditions.

The plant was first noted for Western science in 1773 in Queen Charlotte Sound by Johann Reinhold Forster, botanist on Cook’s second expedition to New Zealand.