Old Quarry: Garden as Sculpture Park

I was thinking of my mother and my gardening friends on today’s afternoon outing—how they’re so fond of digging big holes, or more to the point, filling them. Holes don’t come any bigger than an abandoned quarry.

The Waitakaruru Arboretum and Sculpture Park is the work of a couple, who started planting an old hillside quarry in 1991. Using their own resources to rehabilitate the site, they struggled with the trickiest of terrain, lack of topsoil and poor water-holding capacity.

The result: 42 acres of more than 18,000 trees and shrubs set among rocky cliffs and outcroppings, ponds, waterfalls and streams with panoramic vistas that look out onto the Waikato River valley. This labor of love earned them the prestigious Garden of Significance status from the New Zealand Garden Trust.

It is also NZ’s most extensive outdoor sculpture gallery, exhibiting three guest-curated shows annually since 2004. We just managed to sneak into the last day of E:Scape, Sculpture in the Landscape. Curated by Sarah Anderson, it staged 41 sculptures by NZ artists along the park’s mile-long trail.

This place was full of wonderful surprises. As we wove ourselves around the hillside, we found startlingly fresh work at every turn. Some art pieces were site-specific responses; some works addressed an environmental agenda; others drew strength by placement and proximity to other pieces. If I were to vote, my favorite—which surprised me—was No Looking Back. It was so different than anything I’ve seen before. I was struck by the way the work skewed my perception of the space and created a unique interface between where landscape ends and artifact begins.

Imagine—a bicycle cut in half, one part retains its rusty ruined condition, the other restored to its shiny original. The two halves sandwich a piece of sheet metal, each side showing diametrically-opposed photographic landscapes—one metro, one suburbia—printed on vinyl.

At this point, I stopped think about my gardening friends, and now wondered about friends who bike, like Tom and Aly Lamar, and friends who are amazing photographers, like Peter Vincent and Alison Meyer. Then, I started thinking about people who are Friends of the UI Arboretum, like Jennifer O’Laughlin and Bill Bowler, wondering if could be even remotely possible to create a sculpture park at the UI Arboretum?

Just wondering.

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