Take a stroll over The Poet's Bridge in Pukekura Park. © Russell Street 

Taranaki's gardens: a sight to make the heart sing

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Where, asks an old song, have all the flowers gone?

Well, you’d be forgiven for thinking Taranaki had got the lot if you did a tour of the gardens of the region between spring and autumn.

New Plymouth hosts the annual Taranaki Garden Spectacular where it’s incredibly hard to miss the fact that these brilliantly coloured and widely varied shrubs have taken to the fertile, volcanic soils in the shadow of Mount Taranaki. One of the best places to see them in full, riotous bloom is the huge Pukeiti rhododendron garden just south of New Plymouth, set like a jewel in 320ha of rainforest. There are over 10,000 varieties to hand and they compete vigorously for visitors’ attention every year between July and Christmas.

The art of laying out and maintaining a traditional English garden has been perfected at Tikorangi, a property that has been carefully cultivated and tended by four generations of the Jury family. At the other extreme, Te Kāinga Mārire is one of New Zealand’s finest urban native gardens and it has been developed in such a way as to highlight the historical and cultural significance of the site.

In the heart of New Plymouth itself, a two-hour stroll through the large, informal public garden in Pukekura Park is one of the city’s highlights. Laid out in 1876, it features some spectacular, mature specimen trees, pathways meandering through thickets of native and exotic plantings and past ponds and fountains. The biennial WOMAD festival and annual summer concert series are held in Pukekura Park’s bowl – an earthen amphitheatre, as well as the TSB Festival of Lights, which takes place each summer.

A little further afield, there’s the Hollard Gardens at Kaponga, featuring a heritage plant collection. Ngāmamaku at Ōakura, at the very foot of Taranaki and on the border of Egmont National Park, is noted for the boardwalk that bears visitors into a fern- and nikau-filled valley. And for a fine collection of exotic deciduous, broadleaf and coniferous trees, you’ll want to drop in on Te Popo Gardens in Stratford.

All in all, there are about 50 gardens in the Taranaki area that are open to the public and many of these are considered to have international, national or regional significance. They’re a sight to make the heart sing – especially since you don’t have to do the weeding.

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