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Meet Elaine Tocker

Meet Elaine Tocker: Head gardener, Huka Lodge

Huka Lodge, near Lake Taupo in New Zealand, is renowned for its fine food, generous hospitality, incredible location- and beautiful gardens!

Interview: Robin Powell


We’re looking across the lawns to where the Waikato River rushes by the green tapestry of a lush woodland garden reflected in a still pond. It’s quite a workplace!

It certainly is! Gardenings always been my thing, and I've been working in the Huka garden for 22 years now, and as Head Gardener since 2003.


How many in your team?

There are three full-time gardeners including me, and two more who do lawns and irrigation. It seems like a big team, but there are 17 acres of gardens, from the woodland areas around the pond, to our new meditation walk and yoga lawn, the various hedged garden rooms that guests use for meals or just relaxing, the gardens around each suite, and the more domestic garden around the Alan Pye cottage, with its roses, and white-wisteria-fringed verandah.


What are the garden conditions like here?

In the summer we don’t get much above 28 degrees, and usually sit around 25-26.In winter we don’t go below -6. And we get plenty of rain, usually in the winter. The soil is quite rich too, so if you buy a plant and the label says it will grow to a metre or so, you can pretty much guarantee that it will get to double that.


Well that explains the lushness!

Yes, and how much time we need to spend weeding!


What’s the overarching style for the gardens?

It’s not too formal, with a mix of New Zealand natives - lots of ferns and the wonderfully elegant rimu - but also lots of exotics - viburnums, maples, rhododendrons, maples, cherries. We don’t do as many annuals as we used too, but still plant 1500 tulips every year. I experiment with new tulip varieties around the reception area, but around the Alan Pye cottage I have a favourite white tulip- ‘Honeymoon’, which is a strong grower with pure white petals fringed at the top.


Maybe I’ll have to come back and see that!

On yes, and the thousands of daffodils in late August, the autumn colour in May, and the cherries in September and October. We have the lovely pale pink Japanese yoshino cherry, but the tuis prefer the cherry named after a famous New Zealand plant breeder, Felix Jury. I often see flocks of 12-15 or so of them, feeding on the nectar in the hot pink flowers.


Huka Lodge is a New Zealand Garden of National Significance as well as well as being a report of international reputation. More at

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Author: Robin Powell