Blooming spectacular Taranaki garden festival to celebrate 30 years of growth

Taranaki's long-running garden festival is heading towards a spectacular milestone - its 30-year anniversary.

Taranaki’s long-running garden festival is heading towards a spectacular milestone – its 30-year anniversary.

From a community rhododendron event to a fully-fledged festival, the Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular attracts a passionate following of local and international visitors, with up to 70% from outside Taranaki in 2016.

Last year, the festival generated $2.8 million in GDP in Taranaki, including 16,130 visitor nights in accommodation and 52,491 visits to festival gardens.

Now it’s time to celebrate and this year’s festival, which runs from October 27 to November 5, will feature 47 gardens, the Mitre 10 Frida Floral Fiesta at the White Hart Hotel and a new section highlighting art in gardens, says festival manager Leigh Gatward-Cook.

“There will be a lot of amazing painters and sculptors, from Marianne Muggeridge to Terry Stringer.”

The full events calendar will include entertainment, house and garden and Chapman-Taylor tours and the Gardena garden speaker series. There is also a floral art show, a sustainable backyard event and the landscape design project. 

This year’s design project is Radiant Garden by acclaimed digital artist Tim Gruchy. Inspired by the lush landscapes of Taranaki, his work will be projected on to the TAFT building on Brougham St each evening during the festival.

But the stars of the 10-day festival are the glorious gardens Taranaki has to offer, Gatward-Cook said.

With deep roots, the festival began 30 years ago as a community garden event and has bloomed, according to Elaine Gill, who was the driving force behind the first “rhododendron festival” in 1987. 

At its height, there were about 100 open gardens and trains brought people down from Auckland for the festival. 

For the first 12 years, the festival was run by Tourism Taranaki, but was later taken over by a trust and then Taranaki Arts Festival Trust (TAFT). Under TAFT, the festival became more professional. Garden assessments began to ensure all those included were of the highest standard possible and there was a move to start charging for entry. 

“It was vital to keep the gardens up to scratch – you are not going to fly in from Sydney to see a garden that’s not outstanding. Because you have to pay, you expect the quality to be there,” Gill says.

Long-time assessor Jenny Oakley, renowned for her hanging basket demonstrations, has opened up her Manaia garden for the festival since the beginning. ”I think there have been small tweaks to the festival each year to improve the visitor experience because that’s what it’s all about – we want people in Taranaki,” she says.

TAFT CEO Suzanne Porter says the festival is all about stunning gardens and welcoming committed gardeners. She says the festival is unique to Taranaki, offering a world-class experience that brings in new audiences every year. “Nowhere else in the world can you have this experience with the combination of gardens, flora and fauna and the gardeners.”