Sunny skies greeted us as we woke up and made our way to the charming garden of Valda Poletti. Located close to the center of New Plymouth, Te Kainga Marire is comprised purely of plants native to New Zealand and the surrounding islands.
We were surprised to learn that on purchasing the property in 1972, the first thing that Valda did was to design and implement the garden, never mind the house! The property was completely bare apart from some invasive gorse bushes and Valda has turned it into a native wonderland that still flourishes today. Highlights include a luxurious fern walk, a water garden and a dark tunnel, which is said to house glowworms at certain times of the year. Valda prides herself on having some rare native plants and they certainly are unlike anything we have seen in the United States. Two stunning examples are the blue-flowered Colensoa physaloides and the epiphytic Collospermum hastatum.
Birds are also encouraged in the garden and we were lucky enough to spot a Tui in the trees. This species is found only in New Zealand and until recently was absent from the valley adjacent to Valda’s garden.
Following our visit to Valda’s sanctuary, we then entered the Garden of Eden in the form of Pukekura Park. Within walking distance from New Plymouth, the Pukekura Park is comprised of native forest areas, botanical collections and open areas dedicated to parks and recreational activities.
We met with Christopher Connoley who has been the curator of the Park for the past seven years. Pukekura Park was established in 1876, and initially was comprised of Pinus radiata, which, coincidently, is a native of California. Only a few of the pines remain with some examples dating back 150 years. Even more impressive was a native tree estimated to be over 1000 years old. Chris guided us through a portion of the 52 hectares of parkland, while educating us on the collections, as well as park management and community involvement and support.
An unexpected highlight was the display houses, which contained flowering species from all over the world. Judging by the condition of the potted plants, the daily maintenance is expertly handled by the staff, leaving a lasting impression and a fitting end to the visit.
photos by Kevin Williams and Gary Shanks