Gordon Bailey Photo supplied

Central Otago District Council Parks and Recreation Manager Gordon Bailey has been awarded a fellowship with the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture (RNZIH).

He is one of five horticulturists to be awarded a fellowship for his service to horticulture.  

Mr Bailey joined the Central Otago District Council in 2018, and already had a career spanning more than 30 years in parks and recreation in the southern regions of the South Island.

He is involved in other projects outside his council role, which include identifying and saving some rhododendron species from extinction in their native habitat, as part of an international, co-ordinated effort.

Under his chairmanship, the Taranaki-based Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust Board has taken the lead on this initiative. Pukeiti is owned by Taranaki Regional Council and is one the Southern Hemisphere’s largest collection of rhododendrons. In the past five years, the Pukeiti Ex-Situ Rhododendron Conservation Strategy has been established. ‘Ex situ’ is a botanists’ term to ensure species are not lost.

“The basis of this strategy is to determine what rhododendron species grow or have at one time been grown in New Zealand; are they endangered or extinct in their native habitat,” Mr Bailey said.

“It means obtaining propagation material, growing that on and distributing to identified sites to grow. It is hoped longer term that we can then supply plant material back to where they used to grow in the wild.”

Rhododendrons are a very large genus of 1,024 species of woody plants in the heath family (Ericaceae), which are either evergreen or deciduous and found mainly in Asia – Sumatra, China, Vietnam, Sikkim, Nepal and India.

The plants grow in a variety of conditions, from the forest floor in the tropics to more than 4500 metres above sea level in the Himalayas. 

“They grow well in Central Otago and most established gardens would have at least one plant – probably a hybrid rather than a species.”

A big rhodo fan, the plants have taken Mr Bailey to China six times in the past 30 years.

“I like them not just for their flowers but also their leaves, bark and new growth. Having said that, I like all plants.”

Traditionally, the institute’s awards are made in a ceremony associated with the Annual General Meeting of the Institute.

However, because of Covid-19, it is likely that the AGM for 2022 will be virtual, in which case, the awards ceremony for Mr Bailey to get his fellowship will be held in 2023, the centenary year for the RNZIH.