I have just visited the Pauatahanui Burial Ground, next to the Historic Church of St Albans at Pauatahanui village. Now is the best time to go – from October to December there is a wonderful display of old roses. The area is hidden from view from the road, and even on going up the drive to the church, you still can’t see the Burial Ground. So when you walk through the gap in the hedge and see the roses for the first time, it is quite breathtaking. Great billowing mounds of roses tumble down the slopes, hugging the lichen-encrusted tombstones of young and old.
The Burial Ground dates from 1860, but by 1991 had become overgrown and neglected. A group of local volunteers decided to clear and plant it, with a focus on rescuing heritage roses. Cuttings were collected from roadsides, cemeteries, and old gardens. Now there are hundreds of roses, nearly all of them labelled. You can find detailed information about the history of the Burial Ground, and every one of its roses, on the Porirua City Council website.
Roses have now been in New Zealand for 200 years. It is quite touching to imagine who might have set off on that one-way journey halfway around the world, carefully carrying a small cutting or plant of a favourite rose, and keeping it alive on a small ship for many weeks. Perhaps arguments were had – ‘We’re going to need an axe – did we put in the toolkit?’ – ‘No, but I’ve got a marvellous specimen of that pink rose we had by the front gate…’
Other cemeteries I have visited are always either completely neglected, or immaculately tended. This one strikes a very happy medium. The paving is cracked, the fences and gravestones have assumed the patina of age, but clearly gentle hands are maintaining this semi-wild rose garden.
So a big thank you to all of the people who have worked so hard on the Burial Ground over the years – you have created a treasure garden.