As gardeners and landscape designers, plant selection is at the heart of what we do. There is something so innately satisfying about the deft and successful pairing of, what at first glance, may seem like dispirit plants. A visit to Pukeiti gardens earlier this year was a reminder of the magic in such combinations, namely the intermingling of New Zealand native plants and introduced species.
Central to our practice at XWD is creating diverse gardens rich with native plants. Using our beautiful native species has countless benefits, and really feels like the least we can do for our flora and fauna, given New Zealand’s sad colonial history of wide spread deforestation, with introduced monocultures and agriculture replacing so many unique ecologies.
Diversification of species in our gardens means exotics can also play a very important role. Uniquely New Zealand garden design can incorporate flowering perennials, tropicals, colourful shrubs and trees all found overseas, with the magnificent palette of NZ natives that can be so wonderfully utilised in gardens.
At Pukeiti in Taranaki, a collection of exotic plants set amongst a lush native rainforest, this garden is a stunning example of the marriage of the two, seamlessly blending our cherished wild bush experience, with the colonial idea of a plant collector's garden.
"Pukeiti was founded by William Douglas Cook, who had a vision to create a vast natural garden of rhododendrons. With help from Russell Matthews, original owner and developer of Tūpare in New Plymouth, he found a bush block on Upper Carrington Road for sale in March 1950. As Douglas walked through the 153.5-acre (65ha) block of bush, he was blown away by the filmy ferns and luscious landscape, as well as the views which included the surfbound coast, North Taranaki and Mt Ruapehu. He was also attracted to the clean and healthy looking rhododendrons which were still thriving despite being in an old and neglected garden. “One walk through is enough,” he said, and that night he located the owner and bought the property."
The History of Pukeiti, Taranaki Regional Council
Cook set about restoring the property which was donated to the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust, with the garden opened in 1951. Today the garden is run by the Taranaki Regional Council and is open to the public every day of the year. Over 70 years of gardening and the dream has been realised in a stunning landscape of majestic native trees with thriving understory, regenerating bush, epiphytic plants and the ornate foliage and seasonal flush of rhodos, hydrangeas and other exotic species.
"Boasting more than 10,000 rhododendrons and azaleas amongst lush native bush, ferns, mountain streams and a lively bird life, Pukeiti features drifts of primulas, hostas, bluebells and the world renowned vireya collection, to provide year-round interest."
There has always been something so simply beautiful to me about the renegade plants: a wild pink digitalis popping up through sedge and kiokio on a riverbank, the inky backdrop of native bush behind. A picture that exists in my minds eye; a guilty pleasure and not an ecologically correct one. In this way Pukeiti feels like a familiar dream or a distant memory.
This place presents these juxtapositions in a magical way; an exercise in both restraint and wild abandon. A vision that is free of cynicism, accepting the pure with the not so pure, a celebration of the practise of gardening as a means to protect and appreciate all elements of the natural world around us.