Camellia for Foliage, Flowers, Fruit & Tea
30 years and is an unusual crop even among the herbal beverage 'tea' growers, of which there are many in the States.
There was a much earlier and famous Camellia garden established in the 1930s by Manchester Boddy the newspaper magnate in Descanso, California for flower production. (I had visited this a few years prior to my Nuffield Scholarship). Soon the cut flowers were more profitable than the newspapers, but this market did not last. The garden today has a fantastic collection of thousands of plants, economically viable through astute management of the collection as a visitor attraction. It is interesting to note how well the plants survive drought.
4) New Zealand
New Zealand horticulturally is an innovator extraordinaire so it was no surprise that they had attempted tea production. The only projects are/have been:
A co-operative venture at Motueka on the north east coast of South Island, now wound up. Trials set up at Riwaka the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research have now been wound up.
A Hawaiian biochemist is planning to set up a tea garden in Golden Bay, putting in around 2,0000 Japanese plants, but unfortunately the owner was not in NZ at the time of my visit.
So what were the problems incurred in what might seem a most promising location and with probably, of all the places visited, the most comparable climate to that of Cornwall?
Motueka started off as a co-operative venture by a group of 20 growers. In total they put 120 ha into the operation and employed one full time man. Growers met their own on-farm costs and were charged a levy to cover group expenses. Total money put into the venture was NZ $20,000,000, of which 2/3rds came from government. The Japanese were in collaboration from the start. The product was green tea, which is grown for the Japanese market.
Problems were encountered from frost. Frost in June (northern hemisphere equivalent is of course December) was not unexpected, but frosts in January and February, although only -1 to -3, were sufficient to damage the crop. The high UV light factor in NZ turned the green leaf to a khaki colour.
The best price per kilo ever achieved was Yen 2,600 (say £14 per kilo), the average for the first flush was Yen 1,800 (say £10), and the second flush would achieve only Yen 400-800 (say £2.50-£5) The total crop value in the final year was NZ $90,000 (£31,000 approx).
A teahouse/tourism project was planned as an add-on but somehow never got done.
The various partners started pulling out and the project was wound up in 2000.