Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 13, May 1970
By A.C. Hanlen
Within fifty years much can be accomplished, especially on the land, and evidence of this is clearly seen on the property of Mr. and Mrs. T.J. Gordon in Pukekauri Road, Waihi.
In 1919 Mr. James R. Gordon took up a block of unbroken land to farm, and was succeeded by his son Tom, the present owner, who, although a carpenter by trade, returned to the farm in 1934.
Through the farm ran a small creek which dissipated itself in a patch of swamp just below where the present house stands. To get rid of this unsightly patch in the middle of the farm Mr. Gordon tried to work up and sow down this wet patch in grass, but without success. Working on the premise that "if you cant beat them, join them", he excavated the wet patch, built up the low side of it into a stop bank with a bulldozer, roughly flattened the bottom with the exception of one high knoll, and the basis of Gordon's Lily Garden, the lake, complete with an island, was formed.
The gardens grew around the lake and originally consisted of one cabbage tree, but the first tree planted, in 1946, was a liquid amber. These two trees, one native and one exotic, set the pattern of the gardens. At a glance the gardens would appear to be haphazardly planted but this is far from being the case, as the native and exotic trees are in separate groups, and the whole aspect has been planned so that although it appears to be the work of nature it is actually man made; a far cry from what is often the case in these days!
The original cabbage tree now has the company of Pungas, Tanekaha, Kauri, Totara, Rimu, Miro, Matai, plus the deciduous trees, and all of these together have attracted birds that were not to be found there before. Tuis, Pigeons and Warblers are there, while the lake provides a home for the White Heron, Blue Heron, Pied. Stilt, Teal, Bittern, Grey Duck and even Shags, which help to control the eels in the lake.
The six acre garden has half a mile of paths meandering around the two acre lake, which averages five chains across, and is of varying depth, but with a maximum of twelve feet. Each season the flower beds are replanted with 2500 - 3000 annual flower plants, and together with the water lily ponds the care of the garden is obviously a full time job, almost unbelievably done by Mr. and Mrs. Gordon with only one helper.
As the farm progressed Mr. Gordon was able to employ a sharemilker, and in 1943 opened a florist shop in Waihi, so expanding his interest in horticulture in a different direction. Yet another avenue was explored, after the florists business was sold, and this latest interest was to grow into that for which the gardens are perhaps best known - water lilies.
Mr. and Mrs. Gordon imported their first water lilies from Australia in 1950 in order to add variety to the garden, and these lilies occupied one pond. Now, twenty years later, there are 20 pools and 35 troughs filled with over 70 different named varieties, and Mr. and Mrs. Gordon are experts in all aspects of water lily culture and lore - who else could tell that the bulbs are eaten in China, or that on a cold night the tropical lilies will bend their stalks so that the blooms can shelter in the comparative warmth of the water, but with the return of the sun stand erect again, albeit with a somewhat kinked stalk.
Water lilies are divided into two kinds, Hardy and. Tropical. The Hardy lilies flower from October to March, while the Tropicals belie their name and flower from the end of December until June or July. During this period from October to July water lily blooms are sent throughout the North Island and South Island, being used for floral decorations. With the right treatment they will last for seven days in February and up to three weeks in the colder months. The two varieties are distinguishable by the fact that the Hardy lily sits on the surface of the water while the Tropical type has a stalk of up to 15 inches above the water. Understandably both water lilies love rain, and for some strange reason, thunderstorms, so that when these conditions prevail the blooms are seen at their best. Lilies multiply slowly, and varieties change as do women's fashions, and to keep up to date Mr. and Mrs. Gordon import bulbs from the U.S.A., though the Dept. of Agriculture insists that these bulbs must be held in quarantine for twelve months. This means that the bulbs must be placed in troughs and not planted in the ponds for that period, during which time the bulbs are inspected at regular intervals by the Dept. of Agriculture inspectors.
From 1950 onwards, after the sale of the florists business, and with more time available, the gardens were developed more rapidly, and in 1954 Mr. and Mrs. Gordon decided to make the beauty and serenity of the gardens available to others as well as to their personal friends. Because the gardens were at their best in February it was decided that each Tuesday in this month would be the most opportune for visitors, and it was also decided that the whole of the Waihi community should benefit, not only from the priviledge of seeing the gardens but in other ways. To this end various organisations undertook to staff the gardens, man stalls and supply afternoon tea. The profits from these activities were to be given to nominated societies such as the Waihi Beach Surf Club, the Plunket Society, Play-centre, Intellectually Handicapped Children, The Women's Division, The Waihi Museum and the Waihi Hospital Comforts Fund. These organisations, as well as many others, have benefited to a total of hundreds of dollars.
Obviously Mr. and Mrs. Gordon get their pleasure from creating beauty and sharing pleasure, as this venture, far from being profitable to them, has created problems that have been costly to solve. After all, a thousand odd people plus several hundred cars and buses arriving to spend a few hours in a comparatively small area require far more in the way of facilities than can reasonably be expected in a private garden.
The visitors' book bears witness to the number of overseas visitors who have made the trip to the gardens and, who cannot but have been favourably impressed by this facet of New Zealand life, appreciated by all who have seen it, and willingly shared by the owners for the benefit of other members of their home town.
OUR CONTRIBUTOR : MR. A.C. (Hank) HANLEN is the son of a Karangahake pioneer. He was educated in Auckland and joined the Relieving Teaching Staff but in 1947 came to live at Waihi Beach and was appointed to Waihi South School. Later he was Headmaster at Waihi Beach School until 1965 when he resigned to take up farming, but returned to teaching in 1969. Now the popular and capable President of Waihi Historical Society, he and his wife and family are greatly valued in the district and help in all community efforts.