Christopher (Chris) Laurence John Ryan & Linda Mary Ryan Interview
Today is the 22nd of September 2016. I’m interviewing Chris and Linda Ryan. Chris is a retired plant scientist and his current interest is as a trustee and plant scientist working with the Guthrie-Smith Trust at Tutira. Chris would you like to tell us something about the times of your family?
Well I was brought up in England in a place called Addlestone in Surrey which is in the southeast of England. My parents went there just before the war because people were moving all around Britain at that time to find new work in new areas. And my father worked as a planning engineer I think he was called, in in Vickers Armstrong who at that time were involved in aircraft manufacture mainly. And ultimately he was involved in work on the Concord so he had some pretty interesting … They were all in the heavy engineering industry, my uncles. My mother was brought up in the Fen Country which is north of Cambridgeshire, and they like many other young couples, you know, came to new areas all over Britain and established … which in hindsight was a great thing … they were all new to the district, and so we had this sort of great community spirit – you know, we had street parties and bus trips and a cricket team and all those sorts of things in a relatively small community of people who’d come from Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales – and that’s what I was brought up in. With an interesting mix of parents of my friends.
So you went to school in ..?
I went to school … well I think my mother got fed up with me when I was about four years old and sent me off to a local convent [chuckle] because there were two or three older girls who went to this convent. So they took me with them to the convent and so I had a nun as a teacher, you know, two or three years before I was then sent off somewhere else, because they didn’t want boys really at their school. And I didn’t like that place because it involved a bus trip and took some time to get there. And in those days the schools provided lunches – you know, sit down dinners – and that was the most appalling food I can ever remember in my life. And I hate fat meat, and I can distinctly now remember sitting refusing to eat this stuff and they refused to let me get up. So I was sitting there until three o’clock in the afternoon before I was allowed to leave the table, still with the meat on the plate. [Chuckle] So I told my mother, “I’m not going back to that school”. So then I went to the primary school at the other end of Addlestone before finally making it to the local grammar school which was the … you know, where your parents always wanted you to go to.
And were the lunches any better there?
They were, yes – they were better. [Chuckle] But I guess we were lucky – at least we had a bottle of milk in the mornings, I remember – cold milk, and yeah, we were fed reasonably well.
Did you play any sports at the school?
Yes, I played anything that involved a round ball. Yeah – no, sport was a very important part of my life I guess. So I did, I played – well all you could, which was cricket, soccer and hockey. My father was a tennis player so he taught me to play tennis. So yes, that was it.
Brothers and sisters?
I had a younger brother who’s stayed in England. He was very different to me but we got on. He was far more practical in terms of being able to fix bits of machinery and repair my bike, ‘cause he thought I was pretty useless in terms of practical things [chuckle] at that stage. He was several years younger than me so we sort of went different ways.
So then when you left high school you went to university?
Yes, I was a bit of a late starter because my last year at grammar school I hit in the eye with a cricket ball the day before the exam started. I was totally incapable of taking any exams so I had to stay in school another year. So I was nineteen I think when I left grammar school, ‘cause I was doing scholarship exams and you know, trying to get some money, and stayed on another year as well.
So yes – I decided I wanted to do biology, but our school at that time didn’t teach biology but it was the subject I wanted to take. So my headmaster agreed to teach a friend of mine who wanted to become a dentist and myself biology, in private lessons. We didn’t pay for these but you know, they were out of school hours and we both managed to get through our biology subjects, which meant you know, I was okay for progressing into university.
And so then from university, did you start working in England?
Well I studied biology in Imperial College in London, then I did some post-grad work at Cambridge which involved agricultural science because that was leading me into a practical application for biology. My first job I applied for was with a tobacco company in Rhodesia, so I thought this sounded very exotic and exciting. Then I thought ‘what the hell am I wanting to work in the …’ ‘cause I couldn’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke or even smoking, so I decided no, I shouldn’t really do that.
I applied for various jobs in UK and got one with the – as it was then, National Advisory Service, in Agriculture, which dealt with anything to do with agriculture and horticulture, as a trainee plant pathologist. In a lot of the horticulture areas in UK they had small offices with a couple of laboratories, and you had a specialist soil scientist, and an entomologist, and the plant pathologist and a horticulture adviser, so you were a small team. And they were fantastic sort of learning centres for people like me, so I had all these other people I could ask about anything and somebody would know.
So we examined specimens from anything, from a wheat plant, to a turnip, to a … you know, so we were doing a lot of that sort of identification work. We were doing field trials which we would evaluated – I remember doing trials on black spot control in a [an] orchard in Worcestershire. So we had a very you know, wide background, and we almost covered every plant or animal, so that was a great grounding period for me.
I was involved in that work I started off in Newcastle-on-Tyne which is by chance where Linda happened to be living in the local … well, she wasn’t living in the local library, but I was living in local library [chuckle] at one point – she was working there. But then I was moved because I was a single man and they moved the single people around, so I was shot off next to Evesham which is the equivalent of Hawke’s Bay’s fruit-growing bowl, so that was a really good area to work in. And I you know, got involved in the local you know, senior soccer league there and played a lot of soccer. Because at one point I was sort of tinkering about becoming a professional, you see and I played with some ex-professionals and they wanted me to go for trials and things like that. But in those days they were only being paid peanuts compared to what they are now, so I thought ‘no, I’ll stay with what I’m doing and play amateur’.
So I again added another range of crops, particularly fruit in Evesham – plums, pears, peaches – just like a mini Hawke’s Bay. And then I was sent to Jersey in the Channel Isles, so I had an amazing range of places in Britain with all these different crops. In Jersey we grew early potatoes, carnations, glasshouse tomatoes, so that almost completed the picture in terms of horticulture and crops that I dealt with. I was getting towards thirty then, and I was wondering where my next move was going to be, and I got a hint that it might be two places that I didn’t really want to go to. One was Wolverhampton and another was Aberystwyth, and they weren’t what you’d call high class [chuckle] horticulture areas. So I thought ‘well’, you know – ‘we’ll give the world a go’, and applied for a job in New Zealand. And the only one available was teaching – Linda and I had just got married at that time. She trained as a teacher and she was keen to see what New Zealand had to offer. We chose New Zealand in preference to Canada or Australia ‘cause we thought New Zealanders sounded a much you know, more interesting people and a nicer place to live.
Well at this stage would you like to give Linda a call?
Linda: My parents were born in Gourock which is on the River Clyde. They knew each other from quite a young age because it’s a smallish place. And my father worked at the Admiralty, at the torpedo factory in Greenock – this was pre-war – and he got offered a job in Bath in Somerset in ’38. And so they moved – they got married, and they moved down there, and he worked in Bristol and they lived in Bath, and that’s where I was born. I have an older brother. They were lucky, they were together – they were lucky because they weren’t as badly affected by bombings and things like that.
But when I was two my father decided he wanted security and we moved up to the northeast of England and he worked for the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, as an auditor I think. But the Scottish link was very … still quite strong because of their accents, and every summer we’d go back up to Gourock and stay with my grandmother and had a really great summer holiday every year.
I’ve got a younger sister. I went to primary school and passed Eleven Plus and went to grammar school which is as Chris was saying, is a big thing in the family. Unfortunately I didn’t do terribly well in my O Levels so I left school at sixteen and by some luck again I got a job in the local library as an assistant, and we did varied jobs and I loved it. I loved it, but I could see there wasn’t any future in it and I didn’t want to stay in the northeast all my life, so I applied for a primary teaching course diploma and went to Ponteland which is in Northumberland, and did three years’ training as a primary school teacher. And Chris and I met when I was working at the library.
Yes, he said he use to spend a lot of time at the library. Just coming back – did you play any sports during your education?
I played hockey and tennis. And I swam a lot. I went swimming – not competitive.
Just whereabouts was the city you grew up in?
Newcastle, just north … it’s in the Northeast … Newcastle-on-Tyne. But Newcastle University has changed a lot since I’ve lived there.
So you got married and got on the Northern Star [chuckle] and started a whole new adventure?
Yes, it was July 1968 and we arrived in New Zealand September 3rd. Yes, we were going to Stratford in Taranaki – we had a position there. Chris had a position at the high school, and I taught at the primary school.
After a year in Stratford we came over to Hawke’s Bay so Chris could work with MAF. Again, I was a primary school teacher. And we started our family – Amanda was born in ‘71 and Penny in ’75.
And are they still in New Zealand?
We’re lucky, Amanda’s in Tauranga and Penny’s in Gisborne.
We’ve got two in Tauranga and three in Gisborne.
None of them are too far away are they?
Well no, they know us, which is quite nice.
So in the period of your children growing up did you go back to teaching?
I tried to – between children I tried to do some relief teaching and even when Penny was quite small, but it was very difficult in those days because of the child care issue. So I didn’t do that, and I worked on the orchard when … by that time we were on the orchard, and I worked in apple season in the packing shed, and making cartons and things like that. But we gradually got into the nursery industry, trying to make more money to restructure the orchard. So I got entwined into that. And then after, it just gradually … more and more, we suddenly topped trees and – I’ve got a full time position doing various jobs, but mainly in the office.
You became a budding horticulturist.
[Chuckle] We had a nursery with many plants and I did the catalogue, and so that kind of knowledge is quite [a] benefit.
So at this stage then I will go back to Chris, and then we can pick up the threads if we need to. Thanks Linda.
[The recorder was paused and a small part of the next section did not record]
Chris: Not exactly what you would call a good voyage, [chuckle] ‘cause halfway across the Indian ocean the stabilisers failed to function [chuckle] so we were rolling across this ocean at very slow speed from Cape Town to Perth, which is rather a long way. It took days and days and days, locked in this prison. And fortunately we’d been on the boat then a week or two, so we weren’t affected by sea sickness like most of the people who boarded on Cape Town had a dreadful journey, so there was no lying around the swimming pool or anything like that. [Chuckle]
So then you started your teaching appointments in Taranaki?
Yes. Now that was somewhat of an eye-opener, [chuckle] not having any idea. I was given an idea of what maybe I should read before I went to Taranaki, and I had you know, about one text book but I had no idea who I would be teaching or how I would be teaching. At that time science teachers were at a premium. We had three new science teachers plus the two others who were already there – Science was being pushed in a big way. And we had a man from California, and myself and another one from South Africa I think – we were all new to teaching. [Chuckle] So our Head of Department had quite a handful of these … [chuckle] and we were all supposed to be teaching science in its broadest sense – chemistry, biology, physics. ‘Course I thought any kid would know more than I did about some aspects of physics.
I really wanted to do chemistry and biology, so I managed to do that. And we were given free rein really, because what I understood with the previous science teachers – all they did was write on the board information that you had to copy down. Now I thought this was an appalling way of trying to teach anybody, so the Californian and myself decided that we’d use the school grounds and an adjacent small patch of forest to take the biology lessons in. And when it wasn’t raining, [chuckle] as it often is in Taranaki, it became quite a new thing in school. But the kids loved it, and I discovered quite a lot about the New Zealand forest and some of these wonderful indigenous animals like peripatus, which is a very rare creature like a large centipede. And we found all sorts of things that none of the other teachers knew existed.
So we had you know – we had quite a ball, but it was very demanding in that I was teaching virtually every period in the day – I had no time really to catch up and try and think what the hell I was going to teach next. Every night was reading through what you might have to do the next day so it was very demanding, but I found teaching very rewarding because most of these children had a very limited background. They were mainly from dairy farms and the whole of their life was geared to the milking, so your timetable doing anything was completely different to anything I’d experienced. They were keen, and they were very well behaved, there was [were] no troublesome kids. The Californian … I remember saying, “well, they’re just like a lot of dairy cows these kids. They’re dead easy to manipulate”. [Chuckle]
But I didn’t see myself as a teacher although the holidays were pleasant for us at that time. We managed to explore quite a bit of New Zealand. So I decided I’d try and get back into the horticultural, agricultural area and applied to the Ministry of Ag [Agriculture]. And they said “well, we need sort of specialist advisers, and with your plant pathology background you could be useful”. And so I ended up here which was of course a great choice, bearing in mind there were people like Noel Congdon and all these great guys – Clary Napier in Unilever and Bob June in Wattie’s. So yes I just went from there.
And so you worked for the Department of Agriculture as it was known in those days – how long did you stay with the Department?
I think it was about eight years, in which … in those days of course, growers didn’t have to pay for services from private consultants. And the Ministry of Ag and the field officers with the companies such as Wattie’s were all out there trying to help you know, progress with new techniques and helping growers. And all of this was free, but the best part of it to me was that everybody cooperated – everybody talked to one another. There was no sort of great secrets – people shared information. I thought it made for an ideal sort of working relationship between growers and scientists and District Council staff which we have lost, you know – seriously lost in recent years.
So after – now again, it’s the same story after eight years. I was sort of the Senior Adviser, below Noel Congdon at that time. And they were thinking of moving me to Wellington I believed, and I thought ‘no, I don’t [chuckle] want to go to Wellington – what are the options?’ And I thought ‘well, I’d quite like to extend my practical work rather than go into a head office sort of job’, which I did not want to do, so we started looking for you know, something that we could afford, and eventually ended up on a small modern orchard which we bought. And then that extended into the nursery industry as a side issue to sort of help pay the mortgage on the orchard. But by luck more than judgement that happened to be a very good time in the apple industry so we had good production and good markets, and again very good cooperation – the Apple and Pear Board I thought was a great institution at the time for where we all were, for marketing our fruit as a you know, newly developing apple country.
Was that the start of Top Trees Nurseries?
Just whereabouts was this?
Top Trees Nursery was in Clive, the home base. We had nine acres there, and again the reason we started that was because I’d become very interested in growing a wider range of plants other than fruit trees. We grew our own fruit trees on the orchard and we had a small block growing fruit trees. So the story behind that was that Judge Rodney Gallen, who was a well-known figure here for many years, was a very keen plants man – they quite a range of interesting plants on his home block. He came into the nursery one day and said “do you think you’d be able to propagate this tree for me?” He’d imported two trees from Hillier’s, a great nursery in the UK, and he’d lost one of them which had died. And I said “well I’ll give it a go”, so I bought some root stock off a tilia, which is a linden or lime tree, and managed to graft some of the wood from his existing tree onto these. That was the start of our ornamental tree industry. One species from Rodney Gallen. And nobody was doing that in New Zealand in a serious way – growing rare plants or unusual plants – and that became our sort of hallmark really, growing unusual trees. That was right up my street ‘cause I’d got this background in you know, plants from a young person, ‘cause my whole family were plants people.
I knew Rodney very well, he was a real gentleman.
Yes he was. So you know, when the nursery became [our] major interest and it was getting harder in the pip fruit industry to maintain standards – you know, we had a small packhouse and packed for our neighbours. But then the big packhouse complex came into being and you had to have extremely high-powered gear and be very hygienic, and you know, we could see it was going to be beyond us as individuals to fund what was being required and the day of the small packhouse was doomed. And so we decided to sell the orchard while orcharding was on top, and we did that and started to expand the nursery industry by leasing further land around Clive.
And Linda worked with you?
Yes – yeah, Linda was very key to that, ‘cause we started… instead of a foolscap sheet of black and white print we thought ‘well, eventually we’ll aim for a coloured catalogue of all our new plants’, which we got to after a few years.
And we started to then to expand into the mail order business and supplying some of the bigger nursery chains like Palmer’s and others. So we sorted diversified into all sorts of angles. And that’s when I … well, we both did … got to know a lot of people in the nursery industry who were doing all sorts of unusual things.
The 1990s was a sort of key I think, in the nursery industry because we had a sudden interest in gardening. There was the Maggie Barry Garden Show, and I did a few sessions with her talking about plants on telly, and that was a bit of you know … advertising for us – people all over New Zealand importing plants then, which we can’t do now. In hindsight this is again … was a key thing – the fact that we had so many people bringing in bulbs and rhododendrons, all sorts of things into the country. And we are now going back to some of those plants which we’re finding are very good bee tree fodder … bee feed. And we’re now starting to propagate more of those trees which were brought in over twenty-five years ago, which we couldn’t bring in now because of our regulations.
So how long did you carry the nursery on?
We finished the nursery in 2001, so we’d been running the nursery probably fifteen years I would think. So we’d gone through the whole gamut of plants.
So does the nursery still exist?
No. When we had two or three employees and our major … we had a partner, there was Linda, myself and Tim Barker, who was our partner, and we all sort of decided because our main man was turning sixty-five and Tim wanted to move on and do other things, we decided well – maybe we’ll try and close it down. It’s impossible to sell a nursery – it’s all built up on what you are and what you’re doing. And then the land was being re-zoned at Clive for residential, so that fitted in to our timeframe. So we were able to sell the land for building eventually. And we now know a few people who are living … we can say “well, exactly … that was where the water used to pond, [chuckle] where your house now is. And that’s where the shed was”. So, yeah – that all sort of slotted into place again. We sold at the right time.
So at that point then were you in semi-retirement?
No, I was never in semi-retirement. I sort of got involved in bigger schemes helping other people to establish plantings, and not knowing quite what I really wanted to do other than sort of have a larger property to grow the plants on and develop my interest there.
That didn’t happen but we ended up here and so I was approached by John Nott who is the Chairperson of the Guthrie-Smith Trust in about the year 2001, soon after the nursery finished. And he said “are you interested in coming to see what we’re doing up at Tutira, ‘cause we want some ideas”. He’d approached other people in the tree world, the nursery world and we all went up and sort of had to you know, think about what they could do in terms of improving the property, ‘cause it’s ninety or a hundred hectares. And at that stage all they’d done was clear some of the jungle of blackberry and pine trees and willows, and were starting to plant a few isolated trees because it’d been an education centre. So yeah, I sort of wrote down a few ideas, and then I was asked to join the Board and sort of progress some of these ideas that I had.
Yes, I can see you’ve certainly had a wonderful training and base to go in as an adviser in that situation.
Yeah, it’s just amazing really – I mean when I was a small boy I was collecting plants. I mean, my friends thought I was a total lunatic, but I’d go out there with one of these plant collectors’ tins – they call them vasculums. They were like large copper zinc suitcases in miniature, which you put your plant specimens in. Then you’d come home, press them, which meant you know, using large sheets of paper and putting your plants … and then putting it under the carpet -it got squashed and dried. My mother got used to this after a while [chuckle] – used to see bumps in the carpet all over the house.
I mean, traditionally Britain had a lot of eccentrics, and a lot of people interested in the natural world and collectors who you know, trotted off around the world and brought stuff back. I often wish I had been born a hundred years earlier so I could have gone [chuckle] out you know, to China or wherever, collecting stuff. But anyway I’ve been able to do a lot of there here. I’ve been on plant collecting expeditions from here to various countries, and been involved in introducing quite a lot of plants into New Zealand.
Coming back to the arboretum … you called yourself a plant scientist and you’re an adviser to the Trust, plus you’re a Trustee. So do you do major plantings or development of plants up there?
Yes, that’s been my main role in the last twelve – thirteen years now. We started off with … it’s a wonderful landscape in terms of topography, looking down on the lake opposite the Tutira Regional Council part. It’s a wonderful area for growing trees in that it’s got about thirteen hundred to fourteen hundreds millimetres of rain, and it’s got a lot of free draining soil. But unfortunately it’s very prone to slips, as a lot as this east coast is. And so it was an interesting challenge in that you had cold wet faces, south faces, north dry faces … so one of the major parts of the Arboretum planting is what we call biomes or geographical areas where we’ve got collections of plants from various areas such as Australia, or Mexico, or North America, or Europe. So we’ve got whole inner acres … many acres devoted to trees from particular parts of the world, which has been an interesting research in itself, finding the trees and putting them into sort of a landscape system that is sort of semi-natural, and utilising this land so that people such as farmers and livestock people can look at it and get ideas of what that could or should be planting on their own properties. We’ve had virtually none of that. We’ve had very much a monoculture of pine trees and willows and poplars and macrocarpa. Now with the numbers of species we’ve now got in the country, we’ve got a lot more choice but we’re not using that to date. So this is one of my main objectives, is to create something that will be an asset and a valuable asset in terms of what you can see and adapt to your own property.
What percentage of the area is planted?
Percentage? Oh, that is a difficult one, because we’ve done it … as I say we’ve been planting now for twelve – thirteen years. I was aware initially that we shouldn’t just go and plant wholesale, èn masse – we need to think about this. And fortunately, you know – being flexible has been the key because there’s all sorts of things change, and particularly in recent years. We’d never heard of climate change ten years ago; we weren’t aware of the change in climate, the heavy rainfalls, the lack of frosts. It’s a whole new ball game now to when I started planting, so we’ve been adapting as we go along in what we’re planting and what we’re going to use the property for.
And I suppose most of it is hand work – you probably don’t have bulldozers and tractors up there?
No, the initial tracking was mainly there but we’ve done a minimum amount of tracking. But we found up that country, making tracks across the slopes of those hills is the worst thing you can do. And unfortunately, some of the neighbouring blocks have had access to putting in future logging tracks and they have really created problems with slips which we’ve had to try and repair. And it’s very difficult planting on that country, and it’s really only long-term thing is forestry using the flat protected areas for you know, a bit of stocking.
You do have some pines in the areas, I guess?
We haven’t planted pines but we’re surrounded by pines which were planted by one of the forestry companies thirty … twenty-five years ago. Some of those are on our land now and they will stay there as wind breaks, and ultimately they will provide some income for the Trust. But we don’t have to make a call on what we will plant there. And this is a big issue I think with monoculture, in any country.
How do you fund the Trust?
How do we fund it? Well originally the land owned by Guthrie-Smith was a very large holding. He leased a lot of it but he also owned a lot of it, and he used to own all the land around the lake and far to the north as well. It gradually got sold off, much of it to people back from the wars. And after he died which is 1940, the Trust tried to carry on with a committee, but it was obvious after a while that that was not going to work. And at that time there was big problems with pollution in Lake Tutira. Now a lot of that was due to land clearance and sediment running into the lake. And of course there was a lot of top dressing phosphates all around on the hills, and all that was running into the lake, so we’ve now got a concentration of you know, fertiliser in the water and we’re faced with a huge problem. And the Guthrie-Smith Trust decided to sell the land on the other side of the lake to the Regional Council who wanted to try and do something about erosion and stopping more silt getting in, and to develop a wetland at the north end, to filter the water running down. Unfortunately a lot of that work was never done despite numerous plans made almost fifty years ago, so I’m particularly interested in water quality and New Zealand is at the moment. We’re faced with huge problems everywhere with water quality and we’ve seriously got to do something about it instead of promising, ‘cause nature doesn’t wait for anybody.
We’ve always bypassed Tutira – we’ve seen it deteriorate over time – it’s really just a stagnant pool because the water doesn’t run through it … why on earth they don’t open the end up and let her go …
Exactly. Now how long we have talked about this issue?
[Speaking together] And it’s self-cleaning.
Yeah – it’s got to have a proper outlet, instead of the inlet and the outlet being in almost the same place.
But … some difficulties bringing everything together to resolve the problem of the pollution.
Yes. I mean I’m involved with various environmental groups and know a lot of the people who are involved, you know, in EIT and DOC and so on, and most of us feel the same way – that we’ve got to take a much more holistic approach to rectifying some of the mistakes made in the past. And a lot of this can only be done by gradually planting areas that need to be planted, and seriously sorting out the nutrition problems in rivers, and physically doing something about areas like Lake Tutira, because Lake Tutira sits in a beautiful area of the country which could become a National Park – we haven’t got a National Park on the east coast of New Zealand. This would be the ideal situation, is we’ve got what we’re doing; we’ve got what DOC are doing, the …. stream and we’ve got the Lake Opouahi where the kiwi work is going on; we’ve got the whole of the Tutira Park; we’ve got the whole of Guthrie-Smith; we’ve got White Pine Bush – we’ve got a lot of potential for tourism, education and so on. And it’s very difficult making progress with anything like this – we’re all trying to do our bit to increase the asset value of what we’re doing up there.
How many people are involved actively?
Actively … we have George Christison and Kirsty, his wife, who are the curators and manage the education and everything that goes on there. There are two or three people like me and a couple of others who do a lot of the planning, and physical marking out, and weed spraying and tying up and practical development side. George and of course the manager does a lot of the planting. We help with planting, and we use some of the school … we’ve got a lot of schools of course coming up now, and some of the children do some planting. So we haven’t got enough people to do all the work that’s really necessary. We’re lucky in that with the experience we’ve got, we know what we should be doing now rather than waiting – for example, pruning trees. We’re making sure we’re pruning the trees to shape relatively young when you can reach them off the ground, instead of having to – as they do in older arboretums – having to do a lot of serious tree surgery when the trees are forty … fifty years old, so we’re trying to anticipate problems. But we need more volunteers, especially as we want to become open full time. That’s our ultimate aim. At the moment it’s only like, a day a week, but we need to get a steady stream of people going through to help fund it, other than the schools. We’re practically booked out with school people now, which has developed hugely in the last two or three years. Now we’ve got something for schools to see and do. But there is a lot more work in – you know, the next few years, which is what I’m really keen on doing.
So the management group, who are they?
The Trustees. Basically we have a few groups which function on particular things such as investment … an investment group; there’s a general marketing, communication group; building group; and the planning group, which I’m mainly involved in. So we’ve got individuals who focus on different specifics, but that’s all – doesn’t involve actually going there, doing things. It’s really behind the scenes, which is crucial. And I mean a big recent one is health and safety – you know, it’s incredibly laborious and expensive.
Who’s the Chairman?
Chair currently is David Allen, who was a farm cadet probably forty years ago now, when they had a farm cadet school at Tutira. So that would have been 1960 … the dates are not exact, but probably fifty years ago they had farm cadets, ‘cause that was what the committee then decided, because they had people from say the MAF on the committee, and others. So they built like a small cow shed, and pig farrowing crate. There’s a lot there – we’ve still got all that historically.
Yes, well as one of our visions is to create, you know … I wouldn’t say a more modern habitat, but a habitat to encourage as many of the birds and other animals that we’ve got in New Zealand, and we’re achieving that within – say the period of the last twelve years – I think amazingly well, with the numbers of native and exotic birds coming in. We’ve seen a flock of over one hundred tuis and forty pigeons at various times when they do flock. And there are plenty of the other birds coming in, and we’re gradually finding what we’ve got. We have seen green geckos which are becoming very rare in most places. We’re developing our New Zealand section to include a lot of the plants that were here, but you know, have since have been destroyed over the years. So we’re developing a repository really, for a lot of New Zealand plants. New Zealand plants are not really given much credence in their role – I mean we’re all very excited about tuis and what I call the flash creatures, the obvious big creatures, the kiwi and so on – but they cannot exist without all the native plants. But it’s not just native plants of course, because New Zealand now has got so many exotic plants – probably half the plants in New Zealand now are exotic compared with half of them are native, and that’s not going to change. So … I mean it’s my personal attitude really … is that I feel you know, they both have a role, and it’s very important that we don’t lose more New Zealand species. It’s also important we recognize which of the exotics are really adding, and a lot of the exotics like in this garden here, most of these birds – the tuis and the bellbirds – we’ve attracted to here with the planting mainly of exotics, ‘cause we don’t have the range of New Zealand plants that will feed them through the seasons.
The exotics fill up the gaps.
They fill up all the very big gaps now, which the natives cannot supply.
Do you have a timeline for the development up there? I know this is a very hard question, but obviously the people that are working there would probably like to see something completed.
No, I don’t know whether that is ever possible with a living sort of organism in the broadest sense, that things have a limited life and so there’s going to be a gap in due course when something else will come in there. But we don’t – in the normal sense of a timeline – I don’t think we have, but what we would like to achieve is to get to where we can make enough money to keep the place going, which means developing the commercial side which is basically encouraging people to go there or to use it as a centre that is supported by the Councils or somebody, ‘cause we cannot support it ourselves. We would like to maybe have a centre there. Going back to the National Park or regional park – if we had a centre in Tutira area, which probably should be at Guthrie-Smith – it’s the logical centre – we could then develop more money-making streams with tourism and so on. But it’s difficult one because there’s not much government or regional funding. The system now seems to be to encourage big business to salve their conscious by investing in the environment.
I know over time we’ve made many trips to Eastwoodhill to have a look, and of course that’s probably about fifty years ahead of yours, and you get some picture of what it can be like. Some of the trees there are quite mature, aren’t they?
Oh, very. They’re at the difficult stage where they got to be removing and redeveloping, whereas we have the ability to learn from other people’s experience in terms of how much space to fill for example, how many gaps to use, how many viewing areas you need, and what people like. It’s a different approach to an arboretum with the type of stuff we’re planting. I mean another small … as well as trees for beauty and bees and birds, we’re having some collections of … well this year for example, we’re starting to plant a repository of all the pecan species. Pecan is not a tree known to many people. It’s the North American nut, equivalent to walnut – beautiful tree, and we’ve got an ideal site for growing them. So this is where we’re involved with the Tree Crops Association in some of these sort of projects. We’ve got a fellow who’s propagating for the trees and over three years hopefully we’ll have fifty different pecans, which he imported into the country originally. We’ve got things like that that a lot of people don’t know about that need saving. And we were recently given a collection of fifteen different Kowhai – very, very different trees. The nursery industry has been pretty good giving us stuff.
Well I suppose it’s in their interest too, to maintain some specimens somewhere.
How much time do you spend with the arboretum?
Well, at the arboretum it would be one day a week and there is probably another two to three days thinking about it, sourcing material, growing material, doing other things involved in it. But certainly one day a week actually up there. At the moment we’re marking out tree sites for the trees we’ve got and sorting out the nursery, you know bagging up new trees – we grow a lot of our own trees to cut the cost.
You made a comment before about the rainfall – Tutira came through a very dry period which must put a bit of pressure on places like an arboretum, or is there enough moisture in the soil for them to survive?
Tutira is not as dry as Hastings in dry periods. You’ll get low cloud and mist up there and it gets rain. Any wind coming from the east, it will produce rain at Tutira which you won’t see when you come down to Napier. So it’s a more even rainfall. It’s well sheltered so the wind is not drying the soil as much and part of the thing is planting the trees that will suit the aspect. So we’ve got dry-tolerant trees in [the] mainly Australian section facing due north. And we know they’ll tolerate dry anyway, so it really is suiting the areas for the trees we’ve got and vice versa, ‘cause we don’t water … don’t irrigate anything once we’ve planted it, apart from the very rare or special thing that might have got planted late. And we get good root systems in that soil.
There’s no pan or anything …
No, no pan, which is a problem here.
So what other notes do have there?
Oh, I haven’t got that far – I’ve only got to [chuckle] before we came to New Zealand.
Yes – we’re really now at the stage where we’ve done a lot of planting. We’ve probably got … I don’t know how many … twenty-five thousand trees in the ground, and I don’t know how many species but there is a very big number of species, some of which are very unusual. And we wouldn’t necessarily have to plant a lot more, but we need to plant sort of more intensively. It’s basically trees and some shrubs at the moment but there could be ornamentals or bulbs or grasses and other things which we’re gradually introducing. Some of our wetland areas we’ve planted some of the grasses and sedges and things like that, so we’ve got a lot of different habitats all in one space which is quite unique. We’ve got huge variety.
But we’re now talking about what do we need next, and it’s some mundane things like toilets for the public, or bigger car park, or a building, or somewhere people could have barbecues – all those sorts of things, and this is where we sort of tend to disagree on what’s important, and how big a vision we should have. Well I … sort of a feeling my vision might be slightly bigger than some other members [chuckle] of the Trust, because I’m so much involved with this thing and I know we [are] on the right track now – things are growing well, we can prove that we’re getting somewhere.
It’s just time.
And money to sustain the …
Because as it develops as you said, you need some structure, toilets, parking, shelters – it all comes eventually, and it’s nothing to do with the arboretum.
No. See, we’ve had the education centre where schools have been going for forty years probably, which is still the original building, and now – do we spend a lot of money on that … upgrading it … which we haven’t got? And the house where George and Kirsty live – that is an old house which really needs money spending on it, but how far do we go with that? It’s all these outside issues which have become more pressing.
So what have you forgotten to tell me?
I don’t know, there’ll be lots of things probably, but they’re probably all minor. But I think the… what we’re tending to do more now is establish some more meaningful field trial observation areas – one is the … which we’re planting now … is the trees for bees, ‘cause this is a big issue in connection with the manuka boom, where there’s obvious problems looming. The bees are going to need feeding for a lot longer than most people think, ’cause manuka’s not a great bee food and there’s a very limited period of time. And then a lot of the main manuka areas – there’s not much else. And we’ve got competition for space with the bees – we’ve already got bee hives being planted all over the place ‘cause anybody can just go and do it. And so we’re developing this area where we’ll have as many of the good plants as I can think of, fit in, you know, in groups. We’ll have those. That’s sort of one demonstration, we’ve got them … what I call the wood lots area where we’ve got different areas with different trees … trying to get away from the pinus radiata which of course was a great tree in its site, but there are all these others which we haven’t really considered – the hardwoods – all sorts of things that we’re doing.
Have you got any David Crenwall’s oaks?
We’ve got a few, but I mean to be honest it’s not my favourite tree. The Mexican oaks are far superior as an ornamental tree in their habit. The Himalayan oak is not a good … what I call a forester’s tree … it tends to develop bad shape and it’s rather prone to certain diseases, but I won’t tell David that.
I went up through the Waipoua forest and around Trounson Park. You will have seen Trounson Park, I’m sure?
No, I know the name, but I don’t even know where it is.
It’s on the road from Kaikohe to Kerikeri – Trounson Park is an area that they kept with all these young kauri. But it’s pure, there’s no other trees, they’re all kauri, and they must have seeded there, and it’s beautiful.
Is that a regional council national park?
It is a National Park, so DOC administer it.
No, we’ve not been to Northland.
Well, I went up there for ten days and it rained for nine. So what else can you think of to complete ..?
Well, yeah – I’m just hoping that you know, we can progress this vision and make it a more important feature in Hawke’s Bay really.
Do you have a nursery on site?
George looks after … he was a coast-to-coast man.
No, he’s still doing the odd long-distance race. No, George has really nothing much to do with the nursery other than turning water on. His wife and now sons, are more involved in planting out, but mainly it’s myself and one or two others that keep an eye on that, and find the stuff, and graft and do all those sorts of things – you know, we buy in root stock and graft, so all those old skills are being used.
The old nursery skills of budding, and some of the budders that used to bud roses and apple trees – the numbers that they used to bud a day!
Oh yes. Yes – we used to employ probably the best guy. He used to do a lot of contract work around the district. Thousands a day – he’d sit there in the winter bench grafting in the shed for about six weeks.
Well they used to move around, didn’t they? Contract grafters. Some of them came from Ireland and England.
Yeah, they still do. John Vanning who used to work round here, moved to Australia. Well he started off doing contract work over there, and now he’s been living there for many years.
Well okay, I think we’ve almost come to a conclusion. But here you both sit looking out on this wonderful sight of trees … all sorts of trees … exotics, you’ve got a bird feeding station here, tui dropping in … must be hard to ever leave the place to go and look at someone else’s trees.
Chris, thank you very much for giving us a picture of your lives, and your work currently with the Guthrie-Smith Trust at Tutira.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper