Century milestone for Hackfalls founder

A fascination with trees led to big things.

A fascination with trees led to big things.

Photo of Bob Berry taken on his 100th birthday. Picture by Paul Rickard

A FARMER whose fascination with trees led him to become an award-winning dendrologist and establish Hackfalls Arboretum turns 100 today.

Robert James Berry, known as Bob, was born on June 11, 1916 in Gisborne. He grew up and spent much of his working life on Abbotsford Station, his family’s farm at Tiniroto.

Over the years Mr Berry set up what would become the Hackfalls Arboretum on that family land. The arboretum now has a collection of around 3500 rare and exotic species of trees and shrubs spread over 50 hectares, and one of the largest private collections of Mexican oaks in the world.

There was no particular reason Mr Berry became interested by trees.

“It was just something to do other than farming.”

He has received national and international recognition for his life’s work, including the 2010 Ron Flook Award for outstanding service to the care of trees and the arboriculture industry, and a lifetime service award in 2012 from the International Oak Society for his dedication to the cultivation of Mexican oaks.

In 2015, he was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Veitch Memorial Medal for “outstanding contributions to the advancement of the science of horticulture”.

Prestigious medal

Only five New Zealanders have received the prestigious medal, including Eastwoodhill founder William Douglas Cook (1965), the man who inspired Mr Berry to create an arboretum himself.

As a young man he quickly developed a fascination with different types of trees, especially after he took over Abbotsford Station around 1950.

He became a regular visitor of Eastwoodhill Arboretum, New Zealand’s national arboretum, and received valuable advice from Mr Cook.

After Mr Cook died in 1971, Mr Berry began the immense task of cataloguing Eastwoodhill’s trees, one day a week over a year.

One of his fondest achievements was introducing Mexican oaks to New Zealand. Mexico has more native oak species growing in its mountainous regions than any other country.

Mr Berry travelled there in 1981 on a tour with the International Dendrology Society, returning with a variety of oak seeds.

“You could not do that any more,” he says. “I found they grew well here. Now they have been spread all over the country.”

In 1984, his niece Diane Playle and her husband Kevin took over the stock side of the station, leaving Mr Berry to concentrate on the arboretum.

Renamed Hackfalls Arboretum

It was renamed Hackfalls Arboretum after Hackfalls Wood in Yorkshire, England, where the Berry family originally lived.

In 1990, he married English horticulturalist Lady Anne Palmer and the two continued to work on the arboretum together.

Apart from feeling “a little wobbly”, Mr Berry says he is in good health. His latest achievement has been writing a book cataloguing all of the plants at Hackfalls.

“Writing the book has been wonderful. It has been my occupation over the past six years since leaving Hackfalls. I would like to thank Pat and Nick Seymour, who gave me a lot of help putting it together.”

Lady Anne, who will celebrate her own centenary in three years, says it is very important to keep their minds active at their ages.

The couple are looking forward to having a nice lunch with a group of family and friends to mark the occasion. This week Mr Berry received cards from Queen Elizabeth, Prime Minister John Key and Conservation Minister Maggie Barry, among others, congratulating him on reaching the milestone and his life’s work.

A FARMER whose fascination with trees led him to become an award-winning dendrologist and establish Hackfalls Arboretum turns 100 today.

Robert James Berry, known as Bob, was born on June 11, 1916 in Gisborne. He grew up and spent much of his working life on Abbotsford Station, his family’s farm at Tiniroto.

Over the years Mr Berry set up what would become the Hackfalls Arboretum on that family land. The arboretum now has a collection of around 3500 rare and exotic species of trees and shrubs spread over 50 hectares, and one of the largest private collections of Mexican oaks in the world.

There was no particular reason Mr Berry became interested by trees.

“It was just something to do other than farming.”

He has received national and international recognition for his life’s work, including the 2010 Ron Flook Award for outstanding service to the care of trees and the arboriculture industry, and a lifetime service award in 2012 from the International Oak Society for his dedication to the cultivation of Mexican oaks.

In 2015, he was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Veitch Memorial Medal for “outstanding contributions to the advancement of the science of horticulture”.

Prestigious medal

Only five New Zealanders have received the prestigious medal, including Eastwoodhill founder William Douglas Cook (1965), the man who inspired Mr Berry to create an arboretum himself.

As a young man he quickly developed a fascination with different types of trees, especially after he took over Abbotsford Station around 1950.

He became a regular visitor of Eastwoodhill Arboretum, New Zealand’s national arboretum, and received valuable advice from Mr Cook.

After Mr Cook died in 1971, Mr Berry began the immense task of cataloguing Eastwoodhill’s trees, one day a week over a year.

One of his fondest achievements was introducing Mexican oaks to New Zealand. Mexico has more native oak species growing in its mountainous regions than any other country.

Mr Berry travelled there in 1981 on a tour with the International Dendrology Society, returning with a variety of oak seeds.

“You could not do that any more,” he says. “I found they grew well here. Now they have been spread all over the country.”

In 1984, his niece Diane Playle and her husband Kevin took over the stock side of the station, leaving Mr Berry to concentrate on the arboretum.

Renamed Hackfalls Arboretum

It was renamed Hackfalls Arboretum after Hackfalls Wood in Yorkshire, England, where the Berry family originally lived.

In 1990, he married English horticulturalist Lady Anne Palmer and the two continued to work on the arboretum together.

Apart from feeling “a little wobbly”, Mr Berry says he is in good health. His latest achievement has been writing a book cataloguing all of the plants at Hackfalls.

“Writing the book has been wonderful. It has been my occupation over the past six years since leaving Hackfalls. I would like to thank Pat and Nick Seymour, who gave me a lot of help putting it together.”

Lady Anne, who will celebrate her own centenary in three years, says it is very important to keep their minds active at their ages.

The couple are looking forward to having a nice lunch with a group of family and friends to mark the occasion. This week Mr Berry received cards from Queen Elizabeth, Prime Minister John Key and Conservation Minister Maggie Barry, among others, congratulating him on reaching the milestone and his life’s work.

In 1916 ...

The year Bob Berry was born

  • William Massey, of the Reform Party, was New Zealand’s Prime Minister.
  • The New Zealand Labour Party was formed.
  • ANZAC forces withdrew from Gallipoli
  • The hamburger bun was invented.
  • The first self-service store offering a wide variety of food and household merchandise, aka a supermarket, opened in the US.
  • Actor Gregory Peck and author Roald Dahl were born.
  • A soldier named Adolf Hitler was injured in battle.
  • The first professional golf tournament was held.
  • The Easter Rising was launched by Irish republicans in an attempt to end British rule.
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