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Explore Kemp House garden at your own pace

News: 11 December 2014

Visitors to Kerikeri’s Kemp House and Stone Store can now explore its Garden of National Significance at their own pace.

A new self-guided garden tour of the Kerikeri Mission Station has been launched in anticipation of the upcoming summer tourist season.

“We’re proud to offer visitors the option of taking a tour of our amazing gardens and enjoying some of the stories that are associated with this extraordinary site – including some of New Zealand’s oldest fruit trees planted during the missionary era of the 1820s, and even artefacts like historic mill stones that the Kemp family used as part of their garden,” says the Manager of the Kerikeri Mission Station, Liz Bigwood.

“The garden tour is a fascinating blend of botanic delights with stories of people that have been associated with gardening here over the decades – including the first missionary at Kerikeri, Rev John Butler, and ‘Tutu’ who lived in a little cottage behind Kemp House, and gardened for three generations of the Kemp family.

In addition to plants, trees and flowers, visitors are also likely to encounter the odd archaeological site, including the site of the original Church Missionary Society chapel, which also doubled as the school.

According to Liz, one of the best things of the tour is the flexibility it offers visitors.

“People can buy the beautifully produced souvenir guide book for $10 and then head off and explore this extraordinary garden at their own pace. They can also come back and revisit the garden and discover new elements whenever they want – and as often as they want – as our grounds are always open for the public to enjoy,” says Liz.

“In the course of their tour they’ll even find out the unlikely – but true – reason why our hydrangeas are so dazzlingly pink.”

The guide book also shares information on a wealth of other plants and flowers from England that were planted by the missionary families – including Verbascum, which were dipped in tallow and used as torches during Roman times.

“Verbascum was also known as ‘Hag’s Taper’ because of a supposed association with night-roaming witches,” says Liz.

“Other plants in the guide include Monkshood – ‘used as a poison for thousands of years both for hunting and to murder’ – as well as a wonderful selection of more genteel plants like our heritage roses. We even have a lemon tree that was replanted from an original tree which was established with the first missionary settlement at Hohi.”

Garden tourists follow a series of ingeniously placed numbered tags that relate back to the guide book commentary. Liz is also currently organising a series of brass plaques that children can use to do brass rubbings.

Contenders for brass immortality include a honey bee – representative of some of the earliest honey produced in New Zealand at the Mission – and Skipper the cat, the beloved pet of Charlotte and Gertrude, both of whom lived in the house from the 1870s through to the early 1950s.

“This area has an extraordinary agricultural heritage. It was cultivated by Māori long before the missionaries arrived in 1819, Samuel Marsden commenting on the potatoes growing here when they passed through in 1815 with Hongi Hika on their way inland. Indeed it was Hongi Hika’s brother, Kaingaroa, who had established potato cultivation here,” says Liz.

“It also has strong links to some of the earliest European agricultural activity that took place in New Zealand – including Rev John Butler’s first-ever use of the plough in New Zealand. The Garden Tour pulls all these threads together and tells a series of fascinating stories, in what has to be one of the most beautiful outdoor spaces in the country.”

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Updated on 23rd July 2015