‘New Zealand farms are, in general, so bereft of ornamental trees that it could be suitable to start by planting as much as possible for as long as possible,’ 1 wrote George Stockley in 1973, lamenting the bleak landscape in much of rural New Zealand. Although few farmers plant trees all over their property solely for aesthetic reasons, most have a few ornamental trees around their homesteads and farm entrances.
The early settlers brought northern hemisphere trees with them to enhance their surroundings and remind them of their homelands. They particularly planted broadleaved deciduous trees such as oaks, elms, birches, poplars and willows for their autumn and spring displays of foliage. These trees were in contrast to the evergreen appearance of the native forests or the tawny tussock. Deciduous plantings around the lakes and townships of Central Otago are well-known, as their intense leaf colours in autumn are a photographer’s delight.
English oaks (Quercus robur) were first planted in the 1820s in the Bay of Islands, and have been grown throughout the country. They thrive in fertile soils with year-round moisture, but do not grow well in windy environments. Although occasionally grown as shade trees in paddocks, they are more commonly planted along farm driveways.
Trees feature strongly on the small rural holdings that have sprung up on the edges of towns and cities since the 1980s. Known as lifestyle blocks, these properties are owned by people who do not derive their main income from farm activities. Many grow timber trees, or various types of tree crop such as walnuts, chestnuts, hazels, figs or olives, to supplement their income. Others have been active in protecting and restoring stands of native vegetation on their block.
Some of the country’s largest collections of trees are found on farms. The standout collection is at Eastwoodhill, Ngatapa, north-east of Gisborne. It contains the largest collection of northern hemisphere trees in the southern hemisphere, and was started in 1918 by Douglas Cook – a farmer more interested in growing trees than raising sheep. The 150 hectares of tree plantings are now managed by a charitable trust. New Zealand’s largest collection of oak species is nearby at Hackfall’s arboretum, on a sheep station at Tinorito.
Over 300 conifer species grow on the steep hillsides near Rangiwāhia, north of Palmerston North. Planted by farmer Ian McKean, the collection has been covenanted to the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust. Another collection of over 300 types of conifers is found in the Harry Hart Arboretum on the slopes above Lake Coleridge, in the Canterbury high country.
Jolendale Park Woodland arboretum on the outskirts of Alexandra, Central Otago, showcases tree species that are adapted to semi-arid conditions.