Exotic trees have been growing in Queen Elizabeth Park for 140 years. GARETH WINTER from the Wairarapa Archive looks at the range of trees on display within the park.
When Masterton was first settled by pakeha in 1854, a section of land was set aside as a ‘publick’ reserve. In the 1870s, after public pressure, the land was designated as a public park, and the Masterton Park Trust formed to administer it.
The development of the park coincided with the arrival of the vigorous nurseryman William McCardle, and with the explosion of interest in North American conifers, it is hardly surprising that McCardle’s plans for the park should include so many evergreens.
The most prominent are the scattered giant redwoods, Sequoiadendron giganteum, found naturally in quite small areas of California, although in ancient history they were once widespread, including, somewhat remarkably, New Zealand. These giants, with their deeply fissured red bark, are a prominent feature of the park, planted along many of the boundaries and contribute much to the character of the park.
Along the old main pathway, leading from the Soldiers’ Memorial to the cemetery, are other large conifers, including another Californian, Douglas Fir, its common name derived from the great plant explorer, David Douglas. It is a vigorous grower and has been planted by the thousands in the South Island, where it has jumped the fence and become a weed. The park’s trees include handsome, mature specimens.
Other trees from the same part of the world are also present in the park. A giant macracarpa, Cupressus macracarpa, stands at the northern end of the oval. Probably planted in the early 1880s, it is now heavily pruned, as it was starting to decline, but its heavy buttressing, a response to wind movement, is clearly evident.
In the area bound by the lake, the oval and the Coronation Hall are a number of interesting trees, including a Himalayan member of the pine family, Pinus wallichiana. From Asia and sometimes called the Bhutan Pine, this tree has long hanging needles with a blueish tone, and remarkable long cones, erect at first, then hanging.
Closer to the lake is another large Asian conifer, although most people would not recognise it as such – it is the maidenhair tree, Ginkgo biloba, unusual for being deciduous and having most unconifer-like foliage, the leaves being light green and fan-shaped, with two lobes, as the name suggests. It is worth a walk in the park just to see this tree in autumn when it is covered with delicious butter-yellow leaves. Fortunately, this specimen is a male as female cultivars carry interesting fruits – health-giving nuts covered with fleshy fruit that have a particularly foul scent.
This particular tree has an interesting history, as it was shifted from Doctor Hosking’s garden in Church Street. Since then it has only made moderate growth.
Along the pathway to the lake from the croquet green stands the remains of a 1940s attempt to make Masterton the flowering apple capital of New Zealand. The Beautifying Society planted crabs in some of Masterton’s streets – Macara Street and Cambridge Terrace bear the remnants of those plantings, while an avenue was planted in the park. Unless you knew the history, you would not recognise it as such, but there is a pleasant batch of flowers through there in spring.
`The park is filled with wondrous trees. Behind the grandstand are two of the largest deciduous trees in Masterton. A large London Plane shows off its remarkably mottled bark as it exfoliates, the bark being multi-coloured. Alongside it is a towering Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus alitissima.
One of my favourite views is from the oval, where there is a 360 degree sweep around a range of colour and form that is breath-taking.
A walk through the park will allow you to find a native celery pine, a white-flowered Campbell’s magnolia, an evergreen oak (complete with tiny acorns) elms, oaks, limes, cherries, rhododendrons, camellias – trees galore in fact. Fortunately for the curious, the Friends of the Park have started on a programme to add labels to the most interesting trees.