May 25, 2020

‘The Hobbit’ Made Me Do It

How Garden Maine Went to New Zealand and Back Again

Anna Paton Photo | Auckland Botanic Gardens, New Zealand

Anna Paton Photo | Auckland Botanic Gardens, New Zealand

• By Janine Pineo •

Back in August, this thought popped into my head: Wouldn’t it be cool to feature plants from New Zealand in The Daily Plant when ‘The Hobbit’ premieres?

Then I went back to picking vegetables or making pickles or whatever bit of garden fun I was doing at the time. Which, if you know your Tolkien, is a fairly Hobbity pastime.

But the idea didn’t fade away. Instead, the little seed that was planted lay dormant for a bit.

It sprouted about the time I met Anna Paton in the land of the Internet, where we were talking about all things Hobbit and many things not.

Anna, you see, is a Kiwi.

Anna Paton Photo | A bench at the Auckland Botanic Gardens in New Zealand

Anna Paton Photo | A bench at the Auckland Botanic Gardens in New Zealand

* * * * * * *

Janine: I have one wee question, which I could look up, but I’d rather have your answer. Why are you called Kiwis?

Anna: Oh, that’s actually a lovely story and I’m delighted you asked. There’s a Maori legend about how the king of the forests noticed the treetops were overcrowded and asked for a bird to volunteer to lose the ability to fly, live on the forest floor and be nocturnal for the sake of the greater good. The kiwi volunteered. If you Google the story, you’ll see quite a bit of variation and a lot more poetic renditions of the story.

* * * * * * *

As the weeks passed and Anna and I sent digital words back and forth, the little voice in my head kept reminding me that time was a-wasting. All I was going to ask her was if she knew any gardeners since she lived right there in New Zealand and might know one or two.

I finally hauled my courage up by its bootstraps and asked. I explained about Garden Maine, my plan and that all I really needed were pictures of plants in New Zealand, with just a name so I could look them up and then write about them. Five would be great, I said. Ten would be better, because I could do a week for the world premiere on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, in New Zealand and then one for the U.S. when it opens nationwide on Dec. 14.

Anna Paton Photo | Auckland Botanic Gardens in New Zealand

Anna Paton Photo | Auckland Botanic Gardens in New Zealand

No, Anna said, she didn’t know of anyone. I guess the sad eyes I sent via the Internet worked wonders because Anna took the ball and ran with it but not without protest. She claimed she was no photographer. Maybe her daughter could do it, she wrote, mentioning that Saturday was free. (Can’t you just hear the “thanks, mum” to that one?) There might have even been the line: “I’m no gardener.”

A couple of days later — not even the Saturday yet — and I hear that Anna is headed to Auckland Botanic Gardens with camera in hand. Turns out that the Gardens are a hop, skip and a jump away from where Anna lives in Auckland.
Seemingly moments later, she’s back and soon will upload some photos. Then I can peruse her shots, she wrote, and let her know if any interest me. And, oh, by the way, it was a nice day to visit.

All I can say is Kiwis seem to be awfully humble. By the time I clicked on the last photo in her set, I had a grin as wide as the Misty Mountains. A veritable Smaug’s treasure did she have, with plants both familiar and exotic. I was agog with wonder, especially when most of the pictures came with a shot of their plant ID plaque so I would know the exact variety.

I gave up counting how many different plants she photographed, but it is more than enough to do the next three weeks until ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ opens across the United States on Dec. 14.

And then some more.

So enjoy this trip to Middle Earth with thanks to a lovely Kiwi, Anna Paton. Who, by the way, is already wandering the streets of Wellington as I finish writing this story and will be among the hordes on Wednesday lining the red carpet as the cast arrive to see ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ premiere.

We did a brief interview with Anna. Click here for the link.

For a list of featured New Zealand plants featured, click here.