On the road: Osmanthus Garden

On a recent visit to Hastings I spied “Chinese garden” on a driving tour pamphlet and so made a point of seeking it out.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

The garden is a tangible reminder of the sister-city link between Hastings and Guilin in China – the first such link in New Zealand.

The garden project began in 1989 when the Hawkes Bay Chinese Association raised $14,000 for the building of a Chinese pavilion in Cornwall Park. This pavilion later became an integral piece of the Osmanthus Garden designed by Zhao Jian of the Guangxi Institute of Botany, who spent a year in Hastings on the project.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

The garden, which opened in 1996, features many plants traditional to Chinese gardens, including bamboo, camellia, maples, ornamental blossom trees and the Osmanthus fragrans trees the garden is named after. There are water features (including the sound of water), a full moon gate that leads into the garden from the main road (typically, we approached it through the back entry), a zig-zag bridge and a rock that has come from Taihu Lake near Shanghai.

The garden is lit at night during an autumn festival in March that has run for the past five years, and features lanterns especially imported from Guilin.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

The sister-city link was initiated by fruit crop research scientist Dr Don McKenzie who visited Guilin in 1977 and established professional links with the Guangxi Institute of Botany. After the respective mayors had visited each other’s cities, the formal sister-city agreement was signed in 1981.

Dr Don, as he was known, also re-established the Hawke’s Bay branch of the New Zealand-China Friendship Society (and was founding president) in 1985, as well as setting up a horticulture technician placement scheme. After his death in a car crash in 1988, the Guilin Ribao newspaper described him as a “friendship messenger”. He was hailed nationally and internationally as a leader in pipfruit research – in 1965 he had named the Gala apple variety (although the natural cross had been known since 1934 it didn’t have an official name).