Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Tauranga Hospital's Roof Garden

Roof Garden, from rear, 1994: puka trees: pond area, to right beyond box hedging: hebes, a variety of pittosporums, Teucrium fruticans (germander) (large grey green plant). Lower right: mixed conifers. Next to path, ground cover junipers. Bottom right corner: Australian frangipanis. Photo: Vivien Edwards
When the Clinical Services building at Tauranga Hospital was planned, Hamilton architects Gillman, Garry, Clapp and Sayers’ suggestion to use soil for roof insulation and create a garden, met with controversy. There was no other roof garden completely covering a roof in the Southern Hemisphere, let alone one on top of a hospital building. After reassurance from the architects a garden could be created without the roof leaking, and approval came from Wellington, it was decided to proceed. The therapeutic value of plants and the important role gardens play in creating optimum conditions for people to heal, was recognised. Such a garden would create an environment where patients, relatives and staff could retreat from stressful events, find beauty and solace, and be restored. When patients’ health and the weather conditions allowed, those confined to bed, could be wheeled out into the garden, along with supporting equipment such as intravenous drips. Mobile patients would make their own way.

In 1994, I had the opportunity to investigate the story of what was then Western Bay Health’s roof garden, as GP Weekly, a publication I wrote for, which now no longer exists, regularly published a page on doctors’ gardens. Ron Benfell, one of two gardeners employed at the time, showed me around the garden. His fellow gardener was Frank Thompson. The two men spent two to three days a month, maintaining the roof garden. They also cared for the other hospital gardens. Unfortunately, some gardens had to make way for new hospital buildings, to service Tauranga’s burgeoning population.

Puka tree (Meryta sinclairii), 1994. Photo: Vivien Edwards
Alyson Howell, customer services manager for Western Bay Health at the time, told me the roof garden was developed in 1971. The garden had been carefully planned. The roof was waterproofed with polybutanol, and the piped drainage system had control valves. There were layers of chaff, straw and pumice, then soil, only a spade-end deep, except where mounded to create raised areas. Despite minimum soil depth, some conifers were 20 to 25 feet high. The flowering cherries had recently been topped. A large variety of perennial species were chosen for their particular qualities, and with regard to their rooting system. “We couldn’t plant a tree with tap roots on the roof.”

Those on the upper floors of what was then the main hospital building, look down onto the garden. Cameron Road is on one side of the garden. Below, on the other side, are secluded courtyards, accessed through the clinical departments. In 1994, the courtyard nearest to the main building had a white camellia, and the central courtyard, a large Japanese maple Shin deshobo, which hung over the courtyards on either side. The furthest, more shaded courtyard grew pongas and other ferns. The railing near the entrance to the roof garden was covered with maroon-coloured jasmine and fatshedera. Bouganvilleas were being established. A cobblestone path and dwarf box hedging divided the garden into separate feature areas of conifers, small perennial shrubs and natives. A waterfall (out of sight in the photo) was set in a grassed area. It had a long run to the bottom, before the water was pumped back. Walking through the garden, which is around a quarter of an acre in size, there were weeping silver birches, pittosporums, three flowering prunus trees, surrounded by several smaller crepe myrtles, followed by mixed conifers, and a dwarf kowhai next to small perennials.

Pond area of the roof garden, 1994. Photo: Vivien Edwards
The pond had a backdrop of Leptospermums, azaleas, Choysia and Pittosporums. Before the large pukas (Meryta sinclairii) were two wide-leafed Australian cabbage trees. Pink proteas and Ceanothus behind a seat created shelter and privacy. Beyond the native shrub area was a stand of large conifers and Australian frangipanis. Along the meandering, cobblestone path, wisteria clinging to the pergola, helped to offset the hospital’s large ventilation cooling towers. At night the garden was strategically lit. Those unable to sleep, could look down on the trees.

Since 1994, the roof garden has undergone change. The pond was fenced to comply with health and safety legislation and I don’t remember seeing the waterfall when I was last there. But the roof garden is still a beautiful and restful place, worth a visit next time you are at Tauranga Hospital.

1 comment:

  1. a former workmate of my late husband worked at the garden after he retired from painting. He was Allan Bowden and died in 1997 so it must have been some time prior to that year. Allan had walked with a limp all his life but never let it hold him back and worked as hard as an able bodied man.