McLaren Falls Park is home to more than 1600 species of trees, with many of them planted by volunteers over a span of 52 years.
It has been dirty, back-breaking work, but immensely pleasurable for the members of the Bay of Plenty Tree Society who say they are “thrilled” to be named as finalists in the annual Gardener of the Year awards run by NZ Gardener magazine.
President Dave Kershaw, a retired forest biologist, has been involved with the group for the past 15 years and, despite having a stroke two years ago, still loves getting his hands in the soil.
The society approached Tauranga City Council about planting on a piece of land near Lake McLaren more than 50 years ago and, up until around five years ago, funded the planting through its own membership fees, fundraising and community grants.
McLaren Falls Park is now 190ha of parkland and a popular local spot for camping, fishing, kayaking, a disc golf course, wedding photos, bush walks and summertime concerts.
Dave describes the park as “one of the best arboretums in the country”.
“We're still planting unique trees,” he says. “There isn't anything unusual that we haven't got. It can be anything from magnolias to cherries and oak.”
The society keeps a database which has recorded each of the species planted in the park, mainly exotics, but some natives that were planted as memorial trees and an area of native trees for education purposes.
The society's planting season runs from June to September, with about 120 trees planted this season. Over the summer the trees are labelled and recorded in the database.
“Until recently, the whole park was open to sheep for grazing so we had to protect the trees with a cage around them,” says Dave.
“Now, about half the park is closed off to sheep so we can get away with a tube band on trees in those areas.”
Society members meet at the park on Monday afternoons, usually about 10 at a time. The society has a current membership of 26 retirees, with most having some experience with trees and forestry, but is open to anyone with “an open air desire”.
“Just come along if you're interested in planting trees and we can help you,” adds Dave.
People interested in joining the society can call Tauranga City Council on: 07 577 7000 and ask for the McLaren Falls ranger.
Voting for the Gardener of the Year awards continues online until November 1 at: www.nzgardener.co.nz