A glimpse into the past – remembering the original New Zealand garden

September 10th, 2013 by UWBG Communication Staff

by Dr. John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

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Sign for original 1993 New Zealand High Country garden.

In mid-September, 2013, we will dedicate the “The New Zealand Forest”, the largest-ever built garden in the Washington Park Arboretum. It is one of the new gardens in the ever growing “Pacific Connections” area.  On November 21, 1993, which was a rainy blustery Sunday afternoon, we dedicated “The New Zealand High Country”, the first Arboretum garden of New Zealand natives. The Honorable Denis McLean, New Zealand ambassador to the United States, and Mrs. McLean, along with many Kiwis were present. It was followed with a party in the Graham Visitors Center hosted by the Seattle-Christchurch Sister City Committee, one of the garden’s sponsors. It was the beginning of a dream, now being manifested, by Dr. H. John Bollard, New Zealand Consulate and also Garden contributor and his supportive wife Eve. Eve made cucumber sandwiches for the event and we lavished on New Zealand wines and cheeses.

The planting was designed to mimic the appearance of a subalpine tussock grassland, complete with a trail meandering through a small “pass” created by boulders. It was planted with 93 individual plants, representing 29 taxa. Patterned after an idea from Timothy Hohn, curator, from his collecting trip to New Zealand, and Lynda Ransley, Edcuation Coordinator, the actual garden was implemented by Christina Pfeiffer, horticulturalist ; Tracy Omar, recorder;  and Barbara Selemon, propagator;  and assisted by Ian Robertson, landscape architect.

The Garden was built entirely by the UW Grounds staff. On that November Sunday, the high temperature  was 50 degrees F, falling to 27 degrees F that night. Twenty-one mm of rain (24.5 mm = 1 in) fell that night, and on Monday, the high was 28 degrees F, and low, 22 degrees F. The staff rushed to wrap up all the plants like burlap holiday presents. The week ahead was unseasonably cold. This was the beginning of hardiness testing for New Zealand plants.

The idea of eco-geographic collections in the Arboretum began with discussions between Clement Hamilton, Center for Urban Horticulture director and associate professor of taxonomy, and Timothy Hohn, curator. It later became one of the foci in the Master Plan, approved in 2001. I specifically remember Dr. Harold Tukey, founding  CUH director, in a earlier visit of New Zealand dignitaries whom John Bollard often proudly led through the Arboretum, waving his hand over an area in the south central part of the Arboretum and enthusiastically saying “this is where the eventual New Zealand Garden will be.” Although not in that exact location, it certainly will become a destination for future generations to enjoy.

The New Zealand Forest contains a reconstructed and expanded version of the Bollard-sponsored garden, a continuing living tribute to a man who never gave up his dream. Although now dimmed by the infirmities of age, hopefully he will still feel his legacy. We do! Don’t miss any of the celebratory activities for this new Garden in September!

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The program to the 1993 dedication of the New Zealand High Country garden at the Washington Park Arboretum.


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