Page 1: Biography
Davies, Victor Caddy
This biography, written by Arthur Fryer, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Victor Caddy Davies was born in New Plymouth on 3 May 1887, the fifth child of William Bolland Davies, a farmer and seedsman, and his Canadian-born wife, Arabella Belinda James. He left Frankley Road School at 14 and was apprenticed to James Duncan, a local nurseryman who grew hedging, fruit trees and popular shrubs. Because Duncan had become deaf, Victor was required to attend to visitors at exhibitions and to customers at the nursery.
The business thrived and in 1910 Davies was made a partner; when Duncan died four years later he took over the firm. A keen territorial soldier, he served as a sergeant in the 3rd New Zealand (Rifles) Brigade in France in 1918 and was a warrant officer with the army of occupation in Germany, where he lectured to the troops on horticulture. Davies returned home in 1919 to build up an export business in both indigenous and exotic plants. Duncan and Davies Limited soon began exporting large consignments of seeds and plants, including a 3½-ton consignment of Pinus radiata seeds and a train-load of Phormium tenax (flax) roots, to botanical gardens and merchants in Britain and Europe.
On 21 February 1922, at St Mary's Church, New Plymouth, Davies married Dorothy Ella Ruebe, the daughter of a Prussian father and an Irish mother. They were to have three daughters and two sons; both boys followed their father into the firm. A staunch Anglican, Davies had a close association with St Mary's: his paternal grandparents, who had arrived in New Plymouth in 1841, were buried in the churchyard, and Victor supervised the maintenance and planting of trees in its grounds.
Victor Davies was responsible for selecting many of the best cultivars of New Zealand indigenous flora, including the yellow pōhutukawa and Chelsea Flower Show-winning Leptospermums. He was a founding member of the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust (1951), and through his membership of the Barrett Domain Board, the Rotary Club of New Plymouth and the Taranaki Scenic Board he encouraged the planting of shrubs and trees throughout the New Plymouth district. Among the most notable plantings was that of 200 redwoods at Lucys Gully, near Ōakura. In 1936 he arranged for every school in Taranaki to plant a kauri to mark Arbor Day. Three times president of the New Zealand Horticultural Trades Association, Davies also belonged to the Californian Nurserymen's Association and the Saratoga Horticultural Foundation.
Davies received a number of honours during his lifetime: he was made an OBE in 1954 and was awarded life memberships of the New Zealand Rhododendron Association and the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture. In 1966 he received the Veitch Memorial Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society, London, and in 1968 he was awarded the Loder Cup for his work in protecting and cultivating New Zealand native flora. Duncan and Davies had been the inaugural winner of this award in 1929 for an exhibition of 500 New Zealand plants named and labelled with their appropriate growing conditions.
Davies retired in 1964 but remained governing director of the firm. By 1973 it had over 170 employees working on 240 acres and growing 2½ million plants, and had become the largest exporter and importer of shrubs in Australia and New Zealand. Davies was made a Knight Bachelor in 1977 but did not live to receive the accolade. He died in New Plymouth on 26 March 1977, survived by his wife and children. In November that year the Sir Victor Davies Foundation for Research into Ornamental Horticulture was established at Massey University to further the work of the horticultural industry. In New Plymouth he is commemorated by Sir Victor Davies Park in the middle of the city, a gesture instigated by local Rotary clubs.
Victor Davies was New Zealand's foremost nurseryman and authority on trees and shrubs of his era, and his influence on tree growing and horticulture was considerable. Horticulturists trained by his firm adopted his methods and attitudes, especially his commitment to quality production, when they began their own enterprises.