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Early Fruitgrowing in New Zealand

By Gerald Ward M. A.
Published by the author

Reviewed by Charlie Challenger

Perhaps it is a symptom of New Zealand's increasing maturity, that recent years have seen a much greater awareness of the early development of horticulture in this country. In 1984, Helen Leach wrote "1000 years of gardening in New Zealand" and Thelma Strongman, "The Gardens of Canterbury" whilst in 1985 the R.N.Z.I.H. initiated a Garden History workshop. Under the sponsorship of the Historic Places Trust, Matthew Bradbury edited the more broad-based 'A History of the Garden in New Zealand'. However, the origins of more utilitarian aspects of horticulture as opposed to aesthetic, have been largely undocumented until now.

It is therefore a pleasure to welcome Gerald Ward's contribution, dealing specifically with the history of fruit-growing in Canterbury. No-one could be more suited to the task, for he has been directly connected with the fruit-growing industry as a grower for 26 years, acted as Dominion President of the New Zealand Fruit-growers Federation for 4 years, and in 1983 was awarded a CBE for services to the industry. These wide connections have allowed him to draw upon an amazingly broad range of contacts, from the families of growers now long deceased, to scientists and academics concerned with the establishment of the industry.

Perhaps the limitations of coverage — Early Fruit-growing in Canterbury - may deter those seeking broader fields. There is no need, for despite an understandable regional emphasis — Ward worked and lives in Canterbury — the wide picture is not ignored. Two chapters in particular, which deal with the roles of central government and the contribution of the evolving scientific research establishments make fascinating reading. There is a strong feeling of 'deja vu' when one compares recent government attitudes to those of the past. A scientist needs to be bloody-minded as well as a good researcher to achieve his ends, and one admires for example the attainments of T. W. Kirk in the negative atmosphere of his time which Gerald Ward documents.

The bulk of the book is concerned with the fruit-growers themselves, their struggles against climate, soil, pest and disease, limited knowledge and resources, economic conditions, market problems, and their "bootstraps tenacity at overcoming difficulties". As well as discussing specific regions favoured by growers, a few families, who are still active after the third or fourth generation are discussed in detail. We gain a keen insight into their self-reliant approach to earning a living. Today, we are so accustomed to back-up of all sorts, that it is difficult to visualise an industry where even such fundamentals as sprays and sprayers had to be "home-grown", or where advice on pest and disease control was non-existent. Yet at the same time, growers were experimenting with exporting crops to Britain — and at their own expense!

Communal effort was essential to their progress, through, for example, the Canterbury Fruit-growers Association, founded in 1886. This helped growers directly, and in lobbying for Governmental assistance. Ward has documented all fruit growers throughout Canterbury from this era — roughly through to 1930 — and although I found a certain tediousness involved in the thoroughness of this coverage, the total resource of information is quite invaluable. As an example, he has collated all the fruit varieties — apples, pears, plums, peaches, nectarines and cherries, 11 pages in all — which were grown in Canterbury in these years, relating them back to their sources and the New Zealand nurserymen who grew them. A marvellous resource for some future research worker! Ward also draws parallels between the industries in New Zealand, Tasmania, America and Canada, and Britain, which show that despite our self-help approach we were far from being a poor relation. As an Englishman, who has worked in the apple orchards in Kent — one of the heartland areas of British fruit-growing — I was most interested to appreciate the almost parallel advancement of the two areas.

This must not be the end of the road — we need more studies of similar depth, covering other fruit-growing districts of New Zealand. From such accounts the essence can then be distilled, to provide a coherent account of the evolution of the valuable national resource which the New Zealand fruit-growing industry now represents.

New Zealand Garden Journal: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture 1996 1(4): 24

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