12 December 2018 News

Robert Berry, 1916 – 2018

Eastwoodhill is very sad to report the passing of our friend Bob Berry, a long-time supporter of Eastwoodhill who was integral to Eastwoodhill’s success and preservation.

Robert (Bob) Berry died on August 2 at 102 years old. He was the founder of Hackfalls Arboretum which has the most comprehensive collection of Quercus (oaks) in the Southern Hemisphere. Hackfalls is based in Tiniroto in Gisborne and is approximately 50 hectares with approximately 3,500 rare and exotic species of trees and shrubs. 

Bob was born on June 11, 1916 in Gisborne, the year his family bought land named Abbotsford off a Scottish immigrant family, the first European settlers in the area of Tiniroto, who had acquired the land in 1889.

Bob grew up to be a farmer and inherited Abbotsford around 1950. He developed a real appreciation and fondness for trees and began planting the land and creating the arboretum located on the Station.

“During those busy years as a hard-working livestock farmer at Tiniroto, Bob always found time to plant trees. In those early days it was mostly poplars and willows for shade and erosion control, but within a few years he had established a collection of over 220 poplar cultivars, each catalogued and labelled, still one of the most complete poplar collections in the country. He also started to enhance the natural beauty of the lakes that are such a feature of Hackfalls. Some Nyssa sylvatica planted in 1956 and Nyssa sinensis planted a few years later continue to provide some of the most striking autumn colours in the district” (Rodney Faulkner).

Bob originally wanted maples to be the staple of the collection at Hackfalls but he soon realised the land was better suited to growing oaks. There are about 90 maples at the arboretum and about 45 species of Mexican oaks plus several forms and hybrids. There are now about 150 taxa as the collection has grown to include oak specimens from other regions.

Bob’s interest in trees was strongly influenced by William Douglas Cook, the founder of Eastwoodhill Arboretum. Bob met Douglas Cook in 1953 when, as a member of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture, he took part in a trip to Eastwoodhill Arboretum. He became a frequent visitor of Eastwoodhill and Douglas offered advice and support to Bob concerning the arboretum at Abbotsford Station.

After Douglas Cook’s death in 1967, Bob was instrumental in advising Mr HB Williams on the property and its value when it was bought from Douglas Cook.  it was decided that Eastwoodhill be established as a Trust and after considerable work by HB Williams and Bob, a private members bill was put to parliament. Bob then started the immense job of making a catalogue of all the trees of Eastwoodhill. With the help of Bill Crooks, he located and identified every plant and plotted them on a grid laid over an aerial map. The first catalogue was published in 1972 naming over 3000 plant species and varieties, and with it the proof that Eastwoodhill was worth preserving. In 1975 the Eastwoodhill Trust Act was passed and the Eastwoodhill Trust Board formed.  The first list of trees and shrubs of Abbotsford Station was also published in 1972. Bob continued to update the catalogue of Eastwoodhill until 1986.

In 1977, a group of members of the International Dendrology Society (IDS) visited Abbotsford for the first time. Bob joined the IDS, and in October 1981 joined a tour to Mexico. Bob’s interest in Mexican oaks was piqued when he visited Mexico, which has more native oak species growing in its mountainous regions than any other country. He propagated some oak varieties on his return and then gave the seedlings to people around the country. This initial trip was followed by several others to Mexico to collect acorns. Biosecurity regulations today would prohibit importation of further oak species.

Bob remained in charge of Abbotsford Station until 1984, when his niece, Diane, and her husband Kevin Playle took over the management of the farm which allowed Bob to spend more time with his trees. The name of the station was then changed to Hackfalls Station which was the property where the Berry Family originated from in England (Hackfall Wood). which was sold to purchase Abbortsford.

In 1990, Bob welcomed another group of IDS members to Hackfalls Arboretum, led by Lady Anne Palmer, the founder of Rosemoor Garden in North Devon, England. Later the same year Bob married Lady Anne. She played an important role in the development of the homestead garden at Hackfalls Station, being an eminent plantswoman in her own right. Rosemoor was first opened as a public garden in 1967 and Lady Anne ran the garden until she gifted it to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) who later added to Anne’s original garden. Rosemoor was voted People’s Choice Award about three years ago and welcomes over 200,000 visitors annually.

Bob was a long-time member of the IDS and won many awards over the years including the Ron Flook Award for outstanding service to the care of trees and the arboriculture industry. He also won a lifetime service award from the International Oak Society in 2012 and was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Veitch Memorial Medal for “outstanding contributions to the advancement of the science of horticulture” in 2015.

In 2006, Bob and Lady Anne left Hackfalls and moved into Gisborne town and Diane Playle continued the management of Hackfalls.

In 2016 the NZ IDS conference was held in Gisborne to celebrate Bob’s 100th birthday with 80 members attending the three-day event.

‘Bob Berry will be remembered by so many, not only in New Zealand but throughout the wider plant world, because of his encyclopedic knowledge of trees and shrubs. He often remarked that “planting trees is an incentive to live longer as you always want to watch them grow.” Hackfalls Arboretum will remain the wonderful legacy he has left us all and for those who come after we have long gone.’ Rodney Faulkner

Eastwoodhill farewells our close and loyal friend and acknowledges the huge contribution Bob made to this arboretum, to Hackfalls and to the horticultural world as a whole. We wish his wife Lady Anne Berry our condolences.

Hackfalls Station is holding a memorial for Bob on the 6th October 2018 from 11am – 3pm. All welcome. Please RSVP by 30 Sept. to Diane on email hackfalls.station@xtra.co.nz for catering purposes.

Here at Eastwoodhill we have a seedling tree from the Quercus insignis grown from an acorn from Hackfalls that we will plant in his honour here at Eastwoodhill. There will be a small ceremony held to celebrate Bob’s accomplishments and contribution to Eastwoodhill in the near future.

(Information sourced from the book A Man’s Tall Dream by Bob Berry, and articles from the Gisborne Herald and Wikipedia and Rodney Faulkner).