Despite winning the award six times in the space of 11 years, Rotorua has not won "Most Beautiful City" - because no one has nominated it for nearly 10 years.

The award, run by Keep New Zealand Beautiful, was conferred to the city in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2009 and 2010. In 2008, Rotorua was a runner-up to Dunedin.

A Keep New Zealand Beautiful spokeswoman said it was the responsibility of the council - or the wider community, including schools, businesses, community organisations and individuals - to nominate a city. If it wasn't nominated, it wasn't in the running.

Rotorua Lakes Council infrastructure manager Stavros Michael said the nominations for the award were previously submitted by Keep Rotorua Beautiful, a now-defunct trust. He said no submissions had been made by the council and it had no plans for any.

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"[The] council is not intending to make a nomination this year. The organisation is focused on delivering greater sustainability outcomes for the district and does not have a dedicated resource for award submissions."

From left, Keep Rotorua Beautiful coordinator Christine Findon, Keep New Zealand Beautiful president Tony Rush and mayor Kevin Winters with Rotorua's 2009 Most Beautiful City award. Photo / File
From left, Keep Rotorua Beautiful coordinator Christine Findon, Keep New Zealand Beautiful president Tony Rush and mayor Kevin Winters with Rotorua's 2009 Most Beautiful City award. Photo / File

Keep New Zealand Beautiful chief executive Heather Saunderson said numerous studies had shown the "great impact" beautification programmes such as murals and gardens had on the surrounding community, including increasing civic pride and reducing anti-social behaviour such as littering and graffiti.

"The Beautiful Awards' towns and cities category celebrates the communities around New Zealand who are working hard to reduce their environmental footprint, and implementing innovative and sustainable initiatives in beautification and environmental excellence."

Destination Rotorua chief executive Michelle Templer said there were lots of things the city could apply for but it was a "matter of priorities".

"We get a huge amount of feedback on how strong the gardens are, how well kept they are. We know it is a big part of supporting Rotorua as a vibrant place to visit."

She said Destination Rotorua, the economic development and tourism promotion agency, did not have any plans to nominate the city for the award but saw it as something that would "normally" be led by the council.

"It's not to say we wouldn't."

A council spokeswoman said the total budget for gardens and beautification work for the CBD - not including parks or reserves - was $360,522.

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That consisted of $245,522 for "day to day" work, such as regular maintenance and scheduled replanting. Another $115,000 went toward on-demand work "such as restoring a patch of garden that has been damaged by vandalism".

Rotorua's Infracore Nursery. Photo / Stephen Parker
Rotorua's Infracore Nursery. Photo / Stephen Parker

The actual spend would be reported to the council by Infracore at the end of the financial year, the spokeswoman said.

The figures referred specifically to gardens and beautification work in the CBD, but not parks and reserves such as Kuirau Park, the lakefront or Government Gardens.

Sport, recreation and environment manager Rob Pitkethley said the spend in the CBD could not "specifically" be compared to previous years due to a change in software and the council's contract with its horticultural services provider Infracore.

Horticultural services had previously been contracted on a district-wide basis and therefore it was difficult to extract that data.

Rotorua Festival of Gardens committee member Joan Bracken said the council sometimes did an "amazing job" on CBD gardens considering the climatic conditions in Rotorua, especially during the autumn and winter months.

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Rotorua Tulip Festival in 2017. Photo / File
Rotorua Tulip Festival in 2017. Photo / File

"Some seasons the gardens look really fabulous."

However, she believed sometimes the floral colour schemes were "a bit garish for some people".

She said some of the CBD's garden boxes weren't "that great" and she wasn't a fan of the use of marigolds.

"They're a bit blah."

She also believed some of the changes to the CBD, such as the replacement of City Focus with Te Manawa, weren't to the benefit of the overall feeling of the town centre.

A CITY NURSERY

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Pitkethley said Infracore's nursery, which had serviced Rotorua's gardens since 1987, was beneficial for the town for a number of reasons.

The council was unable to report how much the city saved due to the council-controlled organisation in dollar terms.

Pitkethley said it saved on freight and storage costs, as well as enabling the council to produce a higher standard of seedlings, which meant better value for money.

"It also means we have the plants on hand for when we need them and we are able to time planting better to suit the changing weather or swapping plants immediately - rather than having to wait for a delivery - if a particular garden is looking a little worse for wear."

According to the Infracore website, the nursery also sold and leased plants to the public.

A council spokesperson said flower gardens were replanted two times a year, in Spring and Autumn, and were designed according to Rotorua's climate, which allowed for the use of spring bulbs, in order with the area and the "palate" of well-performing plants, which was more diverse in Summertime.

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Shrub gardens ranged from formal to "semi-natural / informal". Formal gardens were replanted every five to 10 years, but informal shrub gardens might not be replanted for "some time".

CBD gardens had a variety of exotic and native plants.

In Tutanekai St, gardens had "more colour and interest" and black mulch was used instead of brown bark as in other areas. Rocks were also used in those gardens.

THE BEAUTIFUL AWARDS

Keep New Zealand Beautiful's annual 'Beautiful Awards' aim to "recognise and celebrate positive actions taken by communities in local and urban areas to protect and enhance their local environments", a spokeswoman said.

The Beautiful Awards have five categories: individuals, community, business, places, and towns and cities.

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"The 'Towns and Cities' category recognises and celebrates beautiful towns, cities and regions right across New Zealand.

"They acknowledge positive actions that have been taken by councils to protect and enhance their local environments."

In 2020, for the first time, the Most Beautiful Towns & Cities supreme award will win a mural painted in their town or city by a local artist, valued up to $10,000.