While it’s currently off limits to the public as it undergoes a major revamp, we were recently treated to a look inside one of Tauranga’s best kept secrets, the Tropical Display House in Robbins Park, and discovered why it has been an enduring and popular attraction for those in the know for almost 70 years.
For the past five years, Citycare Property’s Open Spaces Maintenance team — led by Horticulture Crew Leader, Mel Wards — has been tasked with ensuring the displays within are always looking their best, including updating seasonal displays and carrying out a daily regimen of upkeep and care.
“Every day, in the morning, I carry out any needed general maintenance — which means tidying up the plants, making sure that they look fresh, doing any hand watering, trimming or deadheading — to make sure the display house is ready for when it opens to the public,” says Mel.
A world of floral possibilities
Part of the ongoing allure of the Tropical Display House are the seasonal displays. Working well in advance, Mel and her team devise seasonal ‘themes’ reaching out to local and national nurseries to secure new plants so that at the start of each season they have a fresh crop to choose from. Previous displays have included cacti, succulents, natives and even carnivorous plants.
As we were visiting at the beginning of spring, the plants of choice included lobelias, hydrangeas and tropical impatiens — in an array of lavenders, pinks, purples and blues. Also making a seasonal appearance were varieties of coleus, peperomia and calla lilies.
A surprise around every corner
Not all of the plants are seasonal and the Tropical Display House boasts an impressive collection of bromeliads, which Melanie says offer year-round interest for visitors.
“We've got several species of bromeliad here, so we usually have something in flower, but they also have really interesting patterns on their foliage as well, so there’s lots of different colours and textures going on within the one display.”
One of the unexpected finds within the Tropical Display House is the resident banana palm, which produces a big bunch of bananas every year.
“The fascinating thing about bananas is that once they have fruited, the parent plant dies off and is replaced by a new plant, which I think is quite fascinating for the public to come in and witness that cycle and see it flower and fruit.”
Preparing for the next 70 years
In all, around 40 species of plants are on display every season and the house receives around 2000 visitors per month over winter and up to 4000 visitors per month during summer.
“Looking after the Tropical Display House is a really creative part of my job, one that I really enjoy. It gives me an opportunity to do new and interesting things that I know the public really appreciates — maybe they haven't seen some of these plants before. And yeah, it's just a lot of fun.”
Following upgrade works — which include a new roof, new cladding and updated polycarbonate — the Tropical Display House is expected to reopen to the public in mid-December.