History of uni grounds revealed

13 November 2014

Ron Lycette

In the Fernery: The University of Waikato's first grounds supervisor Ron Lycette leads a tour of the University gardens.

If you didn't know the difference between a swamp cypress and a conifer, a tour of the University of Waikato grounds this week would have put you straight.

Historical tours of the university gardens and grounds

As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, the University ran historical tours of its gardens and grounds led by Ron Lycette, the grounds supervisor from 1965-1979. Initially three tours were planned, but due to high demand, a fourth was added, and each tour was booked out. Tours took in the lakes, the fernery and the Japanese garden, and were followed by a high tea.

Ron began each tour with a slideshow presentation showing the development of the grounds over the past 50 years, early plantings, development of the lakes, and some before-and-after photos of various areas.

"Don Llewellyn was the vice-chancellor at the time and he was very involved in the development of the site," says Ron. "He believed the University was a community asset and wasn't just for students and staff. He said the grounds needed to fulfil the needs of the community."

Campus transformed into a "botanical gem"

Coming to Waikato from London's Kew Gardens, Ron says arriving at the still-new university came as something of a shock.

"I was shattered when I came down Ruakura Road for the first time and saw just paddocks with cows in them and only a few trees on the site. A few times I thought 'hell, what have I done?'."

In the early days, Ron says obtaining seeds, seedlings and plants was a challenge, with many coming from overseas and not all of them surviving Waikato's climate and soil conditions. But he was keen to see what could be done here after working at Kew and visiting the grounds of UK universities such as Cambridge and Brighton.

He says in the early days the campus was just "mud, mud and more mud". But things have changed over the decades, the work done by Ron and many others have transformed the campus into a "botanical gem".

"Coming back here now, I'm amazed at the dramatic growth of the trees, as some of them have grown way beyond what you'd expect."

Ron now lives in Victoria, Australia and is working on several school and church garden projects.

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