On 22 April 2023 the newly refurbished New Zealand Garden within Valley Gardens in Harrogate was formally re-opened.
A New Zealand Garden was first created on this site in 1953, to honour the 23 New Zealand aircrew buried at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Stonefall in Harrogate. Plants were gifted and grown in Wellington, New Zealand and shipped over to England. In 2010, the New Zealand garden was refurbished by the Friends of Valley Gardens, again with plants donated from New Zealand, and the splendid Māori Pou Whenua carving was brought from New Zealand and blessed in a Māori service with a local choir. Over the years, time started to take its toll on planting and some wooden sculptures, and so for 2023, the New Zealand garden has again been refurbished.
This latest refurbishment has included a newly commissioned stone Māori Pikorua sculpture supported by generous private donors with further support from North Yorkshire County Council, plus a locally crafted bench donated by Wellington City Council. As well as new planting, and a specimen bush donated by the Royal New Zealand Air Force, a number of the original bushes and trees have been retained.
An updated information board was also added, with kind donations from the family of Tony Sissons who designed the 2010 garden, and other work on defining the pathways has improved accessability.
The garden was formally re-opened on 22 April 2023 in the presence of a representative from the RNZAF, local dignitaries, the generous supporters, and a number of the people who had worked so hard on the refurbishment including the sculptor, horticulturist, and the installation team, with music from the local Tewit Youth Band and a solo singer from a local school leading the national anthems.
The ceremony was hosted by the Chair of Harrogate International Partnerships Dennis Richards. Speakers included:
- Flight Lieutenant Dan Channon of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, who explained the gifts of the bench and the specimen bush, outlining the significance of the relationship between Harrogate and Wellington;
- Elizabeth Smith of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who gave a short history of the original 1953 garden;
- Fran Sissons, who talked about the 2010 refurbishment and the involvement of her father-in-law Tony Sissons;
- Nigel Clay from HIP, who outlined the significance of the new Pikorua sculpture; and
- Sue Wood, who highlighted key items from the planting and original bushes and trees which are still in place.
The new information board was unveiled by Bobbie Sissons – widow of Tony Sissons, the Pikorua sculpture was unveiled by Virginia Partridge, and finally the new bench was unveiled by Flight Lieutenant Dan Channon.
Thanks go in particular to Jennifer Tetlow the sculptor, Richard Taylor of Joblings in West Tanfield who crafted the bench, and Sue Wood who had led the horticultural input, as well as Nigel Clay from HIP whose vision and drive led the project. Plus the Harrogate Borough Council gardening and construction teams for the installation, and the Friends of Valley Gardens for tending the garden and its plants.
Thanks must also go to those who provided funding and support. These included the late Alan Rollinson and his daughter Virginia Partridge, Roberta (Bobbie) Sissons and Sisley Garden Tours, Wellington City Council, Harrogate Borough Council, North Yorkshire County Council (in particular Councillors Peter Lacey and Sam Gibbs), and other individual donors, as well as Harrogate International Partnerships.
The Pikorua is a well known Māori symbol that represents the journey of life, friendship, eternity and loyalty, as well as the connection of people and the joining of different cultures.