Landsendt has become a refuge for endangered and exotic plants, finds Meg Liptrot.
It was a special treat to walk around the grounds of Landsendt with Dick Endt and his daughter, Carolyn Melling on the eve of this Oratia property's 50th anniversary celebration. Landsendt is a garden and arboretum that is jaw-droppingly beautiful, but scratch the surface and there's a fascinating history to discover about a family committed to plant preservation over several generations.
I first met Carolyn, her brother Gerald, and father Dick over a decade ago while on work experience. At the time I was fascinated with edible subtropicals and was working on a project on the subject.
Now the property is even more glamorous, thanks to the design vision of Carolyn. Dick and his wife, Annemarie, purchased the former 8ha historic dairy farm in 1962 (then named Sunnydale) after admiring it as neighbours for years. The kauri homestead was built in 1860. Dick's parents also lived in Oratia and had a beautiful garden called Schuylenburg. His mother, Ann, was quite the plantsperson herself, working for famous rosarian Nancy Steen.
She had an amazing collection of heritage roses. Dick says his mother knew the technical side of rose propagation and the two women worked together on New Zealand heritage rose preservation.
A cerise rugosa rose, which grew as a seedling in Ann's garden, was named after her. Dick's father, Jan Willem Endt, worked for the DSIR after immigrating from Holland. They had a family orchard in the old country, but his main love was photography. He became chief photographer for the DSIR on plant pests and disease. Dick inherited this love for plants and science from his parents, and took up a position after study at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in Hastings as a technician.
In the 1960s and 70s, the Government was very enthusiastic about discovering new fruits to grow commercially and supported plant gathering missions to far off lands. Introducing new plants was much easier then than it is today. There were many plants, particularly from South America, introduced during that time, such as the tamarillo, feijoa, and babaco, the latter the Endts were first to grow commercially in this country at their second property on Great Barrier Island.
The Endts grew tamarillo, feijoa, kiwifruit, passionfruit, bananas and taro leaves for many years at Landsendt for the Auckland market. Son Gerald, who was heavily involved in the management of Landsendt, is now based at Great Barrier Island, growing subtropical fruit and veges for the local community under the name Okiwi Passion. I first tried babaco in the early 1980s while visiting Great Barrier Island as a child. That fragrant juicy fruit was likely to be produced by the Okiwi Babaco Fruit Company, then managed by Dick's sister Helly and her husband, Murray Mabey.
Dick's interest in the adventure and discovery of fascinating new plants, kindled by his colleagues, was initially to find out from the Equadorians how to grow babaco commercially, and then to collect new plants from Equador and other South American countries to bring home with wife Annemarie.
As a result, Landsendt now holds a collection of some very rare plants, and is seen as a repository for species endangered in their own country. A particular very rare Chilean palm, Juania australis, which is native to an offshore island (Isle Juan Ferndandez) is found in only two other places, a botanic garden in San Francisco and Landsendt. Dick feels a certain responsibility to keep this collection healthy in the interests of plant conservation, and calls it a "refuge of endangered species".
He says Auckland may be great at growing weeds, but it is also great at growing a broad range of plant life because of its mild climate. The collection is very well established now, with impressive examples of mature palms starting to fruit and produce seed for the first time and opening up the potential for propagation in the future.
The family introduced the Cococumbe Palm, Parajubaea cocoides, (which they renamed Mountain Coconut) to New Zealand. This is a palm which produces a small nut-like coconut and can tolerate a cooler temperate climate. The palm is extinct in the wild, but is found growing in town boulevards in Quito, capital of Equador.
Over the years at Landsendt they've battled heavy clay soil and a few plant diseases, but because the property is located in an inversion layer where cloud settles midway up the Waitakere ranges, it is frost free and climate extremes can be avoided. Collecting plants from mountainous and highland areas meant tropical plants could be grown in Auckland's slightly cooler climate, previously thought impossible.
In 2000, Dick and Annemarie retired, and the running of Landsendt was taken up by Gerald and Carolyn. Now Carolyn and husband Anthony Melling run the property.
Carolyn studied landscape design in an effort to make the most of the property. As making a living from the orchard side of the business was a challenge, she has - with the blessing of her parents - developed par of the grounds as a venue for special occasions, such as weddings. They also run a nursery and a landscape business, and hold workshops, music and film events. Various species of non-invasive bamboo including giant bamboo, Dendrocalamus latifolia, feature at Landsendt, and bamboo craftsman Mark Mortimer has built dramatic features in the garden including a chapel-like entrance archway to the grassy venue, which looks out to a thatched Samoan fale.
The lawn is bounded by what Carolyn calls a subtropical rendition of a cottage garden. A sweeping box hedge bounds a garden with hot pink Iresine, backed by Canna iridiflora with striking pink flowers.
For structure, there is a selection of NZ natives plus the endangered Three Kings Kaikomako, Pennantia baylisiana, combined with other exotics with striking foliage such as the Brazilian Fern Tree, Schizoloblum parahybum. Landsendt is now classed by the NZGA as a Garden of National Significance. If you get the chance to visit this place, you'll see why.
* Landsendt's annual open days for venue viewing is on Saturday, May 19, 11am-7pm and Sunday, May 20, 11am-5pm. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or ph (09) 818 6914 for a free invite.