A heritage garden featuring a pavilion as its stunning centrepiece is on track to become another drawcard to Tauranga's historic gem, The Elms.

The Elms Foundation has raised nearly three-quarters of the money for the garden and pavilion planned to go on the site of the old house being removed on the corner of Mission St.

The Elms manager Andrew Gregg told the council's community and culture committee this week that the pavilion would provide a sheltered space for visitors to gain a richer understanding of Tauranga's history.

He said the pavilion was conceived as a contemporary timber structure that reflected the early raupo whare located on the site in the nineteenth century.


Maori design components would feature at the entrance including a pou, interpretation panels and carvings that reflected the coming together of two religious cultures under one god.

Mr Gregg said the pavilion would be surrounded by 160sq m of garden beds containing plants of economic, cultural and decorative importance on Te Papa Peninsula.

"The garden will be a dynamic space, with plantings changing fairly regularly to display different specimens including old English varieties."

Designing the garden had taken 12 months and it would become a catalyst for engaging the community in Tauranga's history and the importance of The Elms in that history. The new garden should be completed early next year if the remaining funds were found.

Tauranga Historical Society president Stephanie Smith told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend that it was a fantastic project and would make The Elms an even bigger drawcard for visitors.

The purchase of the house and a neighbouring property in 2012 meant The Elms had regained some of its original grounds lost when parcels of land were sold to help fund maintenance of the original mission house by its family owner.

Ms Smith said gardening was one of the primary functions of the mission station, both for food and as a training tool for Maori converts to Christianity.

She said the gardens were also a source of comfort to homesick missionaries. "They were really important."

The Elms' little library was full of practical manuals on how to grow crops of various kinds. "Basically they were on their own," she said of the early days of the mission.

Mr Gregg also told councillors how the 2015 decision by the council to provide an annual grant of $150,000 (+GST) had enhanced their operation. Since then, the foundation had employed a fulltime manager, a fulltime executive administrator, a fulltime head grounds custodian and a part time grounds custodian.

"The team has put a lot of effort into growing our visitor numbers and this has brought some exciting results."

Visitors were up 80 per cent over the last 12 months compared with 2016 - reaching nearly 12,900 people.

School visits had risen from 362 in 2016 to 1285 as part of increases across all categories of visitors. It included another 2100 cruise ship passengers and another 380 community groups.

Mr Gregg also highlighted the success of events held at The Elms like the classic car show and Night Owl Cinema's screening of The Sound of Music.

"Over the coming 12 months, we intend to collaborate with Tauranga Art Gallery and other organisations to provide further public engagement opportunities at The Elms."

Importance of The Elms planned heritage garden
- Raise awareness of The Elms and provide deeper awareness of the site's history.
- Encourage cross-cultural conversations about the role of the place in forming identity.
- Increase community engagement in the guardianship of The Elms.