- Maryana Garcia Waikato Times / Stuff
New Zealand's only traditional Maaori productive garden has reached a milestone anniversary.
Ten years after Te Parapara garden's completion, Wiremu Puke last week reflected on why the seeds were planted.
“It’s the equivalent of an ancient school of learning, a whare wānanga,” the Ngaati Wairere historian told Stuff. His late father, Hare Puke, was principal patron of the project.
Puke said Te Parapara was designed with the intention of providing the Hamilton Gardens’ visitors with a multi-sensory learning experience. Walking through the garden people can see, touch, hear, and taste local history.
“If there’s anything Covid-19 has taught us, it’s that we need to return to our roots, to understand them, and to celebrate them.”
Named for an ancient paa once located on the site of Hamilton Gardens, Te Parapara is a celebrated attraction. The garden won an international award for cultural excellence in 2012 at the annual Parks Forum Awards. Hamilton Gardens receives an estimated one million visitors annually.
Even taking into account loss of tourism brought about by Covid-19, Puke said the audience reached by Te Parapara presented rich opportunities.
“The garden is a taonga, a treasure. We want to inspire a revival of gardening traditions, and stories.
"Te Parapara could be a venue for performing traditional arts, or source material for robust academic research. The possibilities are endless.”
But Puke said Hamilton Gardens will not reap the full benefits of Te Parapara, without more involvement of local hapū.
“We need to have a management plan that ensures the integrity of the garden. We want to ensure that there is a process of engagement that comes with a maintenance budget. Then Te Parapara will live up to its potential.”
The Te Parapara Garden Trust worked for eight years to bring the project to completion in 2010. Members of the original Trust included Hare Puke, Mavora Hamilton, Heke Iterangi Broadhurst, Anaru Thompson, Dave Samuels, Margaret Evans, and John Gallagher.
Puke says he will always remember with gratitude the experience of working with the Trust.
“When I reflect upon the garden, it brought many people together. For me, it brought compassion and empathy. It’s about the willingness of people to come together regardless of their background.”
Kuumara grown in Te Parapara is donated to causes such as the Women’s Refuge, and can also be gifted to elders or visiting dignitaries.