Gardena Gardener of the Year

Bay of Plenty Tree Society volunteers are finalists in the Gardena Gardener of the Year competition run by NZ Gardener magazine. Unlike the earlier competitions, this year’s finalists are not representative of all of New Zealand with two from Auckland, one from Thames, the Tauranga area group and one from Balclutha.

Read the magazine’s profile of the BOP Tree Society, published this month and written by yours truly. At the bottom of the page is the online voting form (and/or you can clip one from the magazine).

For the past 52 years the society has been responsible for the collection of rare and unusual trees at McLaren Falls Park in the Kaimai foothills, a park enjoyed by tens of thousands of people each year.

Suddenly, autumn

It seems like the trees have changed colour almost overnight – the middle of the day is  still surprisingly warm but evenings and mornings are definitely colder. One of the best places to see autumn colour in the Tauranga area is McLaren Falls Park.

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A planting of liquidambers set off by the evergreens that surround them. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“We’re going to have to stop calling it a hidden jewel,” says park ranger Gary Borman. “People have woken up to how neat it is out here.”

Tree planting in the 190ha park began in 1965  and members of the Bay of Plenty Tree Society still gather there every Monday afternoon to work. The arboretum features some rare and unusual trees and Gary is trying to bring more colour into the park.

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The colours of Acer rufinerve, the snake-bark maple. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“I want people to see a good dose of colour in autumn when they get to the vista at the top of the lake. The volunteers will continue with rare and unusual trees and I will aim plantings at flowers and foliage.”

The park is home to what is believed to be the only tree of its kind in New Zealand – an Emmenopterys henryi, native to southern China. “It doesn’t look much,” Gary says, “but it’s very special.”

The swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum) planted beside and in the lake are one of the few deciduous conifers, the needles turning rust-orange before falling, and the park is also home to several dawn redwoods, another deciduous conifer.

Department of Corrections workers also work at the park and over the past couple of years have been linking existing tracks so visitors can walk from Cherry Bay along the lakeside to Top Flat up to the lookout at Pine Tree Knoll back down on a new track to the Ponga Grove and Nikau tracks, across to the Waterfall track and back to Cherry Bay without having to double back.

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The sorrel (Oxydendrum arboreum), native to the eastern United States, holds its white flowers even while the leaves are changing. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Although it’s hard to pick a peak moment for autumn colour – some trees turn and shed earlier than others and weather plays a part too – Gary reckons the weekends in the middle of May are some of the prime days to enjoy the show.

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If you go to McLaren Falls Park on Mother’s Day look out for environmental art, something of a tradition by two local families. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Here & there

Been out to McLaren Falls Park this morning, beautiful blue sky, sunshine and gorgeous autumn colours. Now it’s clouded over and feeling like there’s rain in the air.

Autumn seems to have sneaked up on me this year – the still-hot days are confusing, but the trees know what they’re doing and the colours are stunning. Some trees have already turned and shed, others have yet to colour up. The red maple beside the lake at Cherry Bay, a favourite of photographers, isn’t quite at its peak yet, but it’s only a matter of days.

I glimpsed a burst of colour up on Pin-oak Flat when I stopped to look at a claret ash (dashed hard to photograph those trees) so followed a sheep track and went closer. A Liquidamber that was a real picture, and low enough for me to photograph.

Park ranger Gary Borman says it’s a “magic” tree and despite the fact that it’s partly fallen over he’s kept it because of its colour.

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The photogenic Liquidamber. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Sorry that you didn’t go to the Melbourne Garden Show this year? Well, Sydney is staging its first major garden show – just announced and taking place in early September so they haven’t given themselves much time.

The Australian Garden Show Sydney (shades of the  New Zealand Garden and Artfest, held in Tauranga) will be in Centennial Park “less than 5km from the city centre”. Wny do people have to give their events such grandiose names? Everyone will call it the Sydney Garden Show so why not go with that from the start?