20 February 2015

The Old and the New

One of the delightfully quirky features of Douglas Cook’s plantings at Eastwoodhill is the “Cathedral” at the bottom of Cabin Park. This area in 1935 was the old horse paddock and it grew little more than poor grass and bracken. Douglas started planting groups of conifers to form the nucleus of the area that he was to call “Cabin Park”.  In 1936 he and his wife Claire took a trip to Britain and it could well have been during this time he planned his very own Tree Cathedral, inspired possibly by the form of the great English cathedrals they would have seen on their travels.

On his return he levelled a small ridge and planted trees in the form of a simple cross. Eucalyptus Regnans form the pillars and Cupressus Lawsoniana form the walls and, what has only recently become recognisable, the chapter-house; a circle of trees to the side of the main planting. The space between the great towering columns of eucalyptus is what gives this area an almost spiritual atmosphere, even today when some of the original trees are showing signs of deterioration.

Many who visit the “Cathedral” comment on the atmosphere that is created by a space within the planted forest, even more so when they discern the form of the cross that is still evident. Over the years numerous little ceremonies have been held in this special place; marriage proposals, weddings, christenings, and quiet reflective meditations. However, many of the trees are in a state of gradual decline and it is time to consider and plan for a new Tree Cathedral and so continue the vision Douglas Cook initiated 75 years ago.

The new Tree Cathedral will be located on a large flat space some distance along the Hihiroroa road and overlooked by the Curators house. The small stream flows moat like around three sides and will eventually be bridged to allow walking access from the arboretum tracks. This project is part of the Master plan that was developed by Nelson Byrd Woltz, the internationally renowned landscape architects from the U.S.A., and is the first of a number of developments that will take Eastwoodhill forward into its second century.

Work on the site started between Christmas and New Year 2014. It has been cleared and ground work is well underway to provide for a raised, smooth and well drained space where the trees that will form the Cathedral design will be planted. The dimensions are exactly the same as Westminster Abbey, 170 m. long and 70 m. wide at the widest point and this is a perfect fit for the site

Selecting the most appropriate tree species is the next step; these will be planted in double rows either side of a 12m. Wide central aisle. Their trunks, high pruned as they age, will replicate the massive pillars of a cathedral and their interlinking branches, the vaulting of the roof. Several species will be used to provide contrasting textures and to ensure the design survives in the unfortunate event that some as yet unknown disease affects one of the chosen species. Rodney Faulkner