At 83, Jolyon Manning acknowledges there are few people who have had lives so involved in conservation, environmental management and public service as he has.
Mr Manning is well known in Alexandra and Central Otago for establishing what is now Jolendale Park in Bridge Hill alongside Enny, his wife of 58 years.
The couple still live in the house – designed by prominent Otago architect Ted McCoy – they built next to Jolendale 25 years ago.
Mr Manning said they had no ambitions to establish a park when they began planting trees on the barren 6ha site in 1960.
“We just loved the rocks and the trees. It was good occupational therapy in those early years.”
The couple would drive up from Dunedin in the weekends and in their spare time.
At the time, Mr Manning was an accountant and Dr Enny Manning was a research specialist in high blood pressure at the Dunedin School of Medicine.
He recalls only about five houses on Bridge Hill in the early 1960s and said the couple slept in tents when they first arrived.
“It was real pioneering living.”
The land was raw and undeveloped when they began work on the site, with only a few trees and shrubs having managed to avoid grazing by livestock and rabbits.
The park is now covered with a variety of exotic and native trees which were researched and hand-picked for their hardiness and drought resistance.
He said the early years of planting were hard work.
They carried buckets up the hill to water the trees on the parched landscape.
“The local people down the bottom of the hill thought we were mad. They knew how hard it was to get anything to grow without water.”
Jolendale was permanently protected by the QEII Trust in 2004 as the sole registered “semi-arid woodland reserve” in New Zealand and was recently gifted by the Mannings to the community.
“We see this as a gift we should all enjoy and benefit from. It’s become a secure public asset and can never be subdivided and built on,” Mr Manning said.
Mr Manning said the park had always been open for the public to enjoy.
“We didn’t want any fences. Too many fences around the countryside doesn’t do much for the community as a whole.”
Aside from Jolendale, Mr Manning was also involved with planting at Champagne Gully, a popular picnic and camping ground.
He is not exactly sure where his love for trees came from but believes it started on his parents’ property when he was young.
“My parents had quite a large section on Maori Hill in Dunedin and the previous owners had planted a large number of trees [on it]. My parents had no interest in gardening, so I chose to look after them.”
While Jolendale Park might be his most visible contribution to the community, Mr Manning said he believed his work in regional development was his biggest achievement.
He said his interest in regional development started when he began his professional life as an accountant.
Mr Manning was heavily involved in creating jobs in Otago, having later become chief executive of the former Otago Council and regional development executive for the Otago Regional Development Council.
He established the monitoring of regional statistics from Northland to Southland in the early 1960s and prepared the model that was adopted by Norman Kirk’s government in the early to mid-1970s.
He also held positions with the New Zealand Institute of Forestry, Dunedin City Council, Otago Tree Society and Dunedin Civic Arts Council.
Having dedicated his working life to public service and the environment, Mr Manning credits his wife for much of his drive and success.
“My wife had played a very important role. We have very distinct professional backgrounds and there’s been a good to-and-froing of ideas.”
Today, Mr Manning can still be found watering the grounds at Jolendale and still loves walking through the park.
“I love classical music and – like music – there’s a pervasive ambient pleasure when you’re walking amongst the trees,” he said.