Warkworth family unveils plan to save heritage orchard

Members of the Morrison family are pleased that part of Warkworth’s horticultural heritage will be saved if Auckland Council gives the orchard proposal the green light. Pictured are Tom and Robyn Morrison, with three of their four children Jo, Paul and Bevan, and grandson Maximilian.

An historic orchard on State Highway 1, just south of Warkworth, could become a visitor attraction and learning centre if Auckland Council accepts a recommendation in the current draft Warkworth Structure Plan.

Under the Auckland Unitary Plan, Kenilworth Orchard, owned by the Morrison family, is earmarked for future urban development.

However, the family hopes Council can be persuaded to change the zoning so that it can be retained for primarily horticultural purposes.

Family spokesperson Bevan Morrison says economically, the eight-hectare orchard cannot bear the burden of being rated as anything other than farmland.

The future of the orchard has been under a cloud for more than a decade.

When the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway was first mooted, four of the nine proposed routes went through the farm.

Tom and Robyn Morrison, who live on the farm, say living with so much uncertainty has been difficult.

“It was tough to make any long-term decisions or justify any further investment, and as a result, maintenance of the trees has suffered,” Tom says.

“Although our four children – David, Bevan, Jo and Paul – all have their own careers, as a family we are keen to retain the orchard. The kids grew up here and they want their children to have the same experience even though they are under no illusions about how much work is involved in running this kind of operation.”

Many of the fruit trees in the orchard have a long and impressive pedigree. The Gladney’s Red, for instance, was the first apple exported from NZ, arriving in London packed in cases of sawdust. As well as apples, there are peach, plum, pear and citrus trees.

If the plan goes ahead, the family envisages an orchard that showcases its heritage trees and history, and provides hands-on learning opportunities for schools and others. The plan involves moving the shop towards Warkworth (opposite The Grange driving range) and expanding it to include a cafe, playground, farmers market and events centre, with pick-your-own, animal petting and camping opportunities. It would also be linked to the town through walkway and cycleway networks.

“The opportunity to invest now in something that will have such a positive impact and provide for generations to come is priceless and worth fighting for,” Bevan says. “The shame would be to only see this value after the opportunity has passed.”

Tom adds that their philosophy is one of guardianship for future generations.

“Like my parents, we endeavour to work with nature, protect our environment, love our surrounds and especially our Mahurangi River, in whose catchment we live.”

The structure plan closed for submissions on March 25 and is scheduled to go to Council’s Planning Committee for adoption in June.

Orchard has a long history

The Gladney’s Red (below), which still grows at the Morrison family orchard, was the first apple exported to England.

English settlers, Edward and Janet Morrison, established the original Morrison orchard and nursery, known as Red Bluff and Glen Kowhai, in 1873.

The operation was located on the banks of the Mahurangi River, along Hepburn Creek Road.

At its peak, Red Bluff and Glen Kowhai was the largest operation of its kind in the southern hemisphere, covering just over 70 hectares (180 acres) and accommodating 250,000 trees including more than 160 varieties of apple.

The nursery was responsible for developing the Morrison seedless grapefruit (Poorman’s Orange) from a cutting taken from Sir George Grey’s garden at Mansion House on Kawau Island.

The Morrisons were forced to burn their trees in 1920 under claims that the orchard had introduced fire blight to Australia. It took 90 years and a challenge by New Zealand in the World Court in Geneva, before Australia’s ban on NZ apples was finally lifted in 2011.

The current orchard, on State Highway 1, was planted by Edward’s grandson Athol in the early 1930s and included many of the original Red Bluff trees.

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