History - Gardening in early Mangawhai

By: Bev Ross

Thinking of gardening and landscaping in the days of our early settlers brought to mind the many difficulties they had to face. For a start, most of our new arrivals had the task of cutting down thick bush that covered their allotments. Having supported huge trees, such as kauri and rimu, over the previous millennia, soils were starved of nutrients required for the raising of herbs and vegetables. But with patience and perseverance, our pioneers persisted by coaxing food of leafy goodness to thrive amid the wilderness of mid-northern New Zealand.  

Mr Braddock’s whale bone gate posts.
Mr Braddock’s whale bone gate posts.

Mr Robert Brown, of Te Arai, advertised himself as a Nursery and Seedsman. After a couple of years since taking up his acres of land in the early 1860s, he had grown and cultivated a variety of vegetables and fruit trees, which he sold to anyone who needed the plants. He grew enough to take to markets at Port Albert, which meant a walk of 16 to 18 miles through bush and scrub, over creeks and gullies, dragging his produce behind him.

Of course, after the market he had to make the return walk back to Te Arai. This was a man who had a large family to support, and he used his talents to earn cash enough to continue toward a dream of success in this area of unknown outcomes.

Newspaper reports speak of agricultural shows that were held annually and where prizes were issued for the best produce in numerous categories. It was an incentive to enjoy competition and for people to show their neighbours their achievements. Shows were also a chance for all to get together to share their common interests.  It was certainly a time in their lives when having good neighbourhood relationships was needed for reasons of survival. Flowers always featured in the gardens of our pioneers, which has continued via their descendants until the present day.

As years passed, improvements were made as gardeners, orchardist, farmers and wine growers excelled in their pursuits.  By the 1940s, Mr Braddock, a well-known resident of Mangawhai Heads, had an orchard that included peach and tamarillo trees, then known as tree tomatoes. He also had an unusual decoration installed over and around his entrance gateway.  It was a pair of whale bones from an unfortunate creature that had beached at the  inner Mangawhai harbour during the 1930s. The “gateposts” were a garden attraction visible to all who sailed into the harbour for many years thereafter.

Bev Ross, Mangawhai Museum


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