The festival came about by accident. The main feature of the festival is the 125-metre drive, which used to be planted in Paulownia trees. Paulownia tree wood is brittle and, in storms, large branches would break off and block the drive. So, we decided to remove the trees and replace them with flowering cherries, which are more ornamental.
Rather than immediately lose the canopied avenue, we planted the cherry trees in between the Paulownia. The photo below shows the young trees in flower.
When the trees got a bit bigger, we felled the Paulownias. The photo below shows the medium size trees, though the canopy has not yet formed. You can see that the trees are quite tall and slim. The tree is a NZ-bred hybrid called Awanui, which is often short and wide. However, having them grow among taller existing trees caused them to shoot up to reach the light, hence the tall, slim nature of these ones.
Four years later the canopy had formed as you see below.
As the trees grew, each year more and more people came to look and take photos. They would not just stand at the top of the drive, but would come down the drive. All sort of groups gathered to have their photos taken. On one occasion, we encountered a bride in wedding dress. When we drove out and our car appeared at the top of the drive, the people on the drive would suddenly flee. It was great fun to see them leg it!
So, to give people the opportunity to see not only the great spectacle of the drive, but also the rest of the garden that has many other flowering cherry trees and plants, including a weeping cherry tree over a pond, we decided to open to the public for a weekend at peak flowering.
We thought if we do a fair amount of marketing with posters stuck up all around and much else, we might get 200-300 showing up. Well, we did one facebook post and shared it to a few people and that was the end of the marketing. Within a week, we sold out. And despite the fact that the website said that it was sold out, hundreds including many busloads from Auckland showed up without tickets, and unfortunately we had to turn them away.
However, we opened again the next weekend to give those who has missed out another chance. All in all, we had about 2000 attendees.
That was 2017. This year, 2018, we are extending the days and hours. It runs three days 21-23 September 8am to 8pm. The early morning and evening hours provide the opportunity for some great light, which is particularly appreciated by photographers. In addition, in the evenings there are lights that light up the drive and the garden.
21 Sep is a Friday and that is a quieter day with minimal entertainment and few food and drink vendors. Note that if you want to come one day, say, Friday evening and return on another, say, Saturday midday, you can; at the gate just get a stamp on your arm to show when you return.
There are varied acts at the festival and they perform one or more times. A popular act last year and returning again this is Wai Taiko Drummers. It’s a rousing act of Japanese drums and chants that is impressive both aurally and visually.