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Famous Faces in Science

William Douglas Cook.

William Douglas Cook was born in New Plymouth in 1884. Educated at Wellington College, he developed a love of horticulture. As a cadet farmer in the Gisborne Region he purchased some hill country and began to plant trees.

During World War I in Europe, Cook was wounded and blinded in one eye. He convalesced in Britain at his relatives’ estates. Once home he named his property Eastwoodhill after a family home in Glasgow and he began planting in earnest.

Cook used most of his farming profits to buy Northern Hemisphere tree species, developing his dream of an arboretum for future generations. Neighbouring farmers considered him eccentric for his plantings and because he was a nudist who wore a sunhat and a boot on his right foot. A book-lover, Cook developed a substantial horticultural library.

Cook married Aucklander Claire Bourne in March 1930 and in 1934 they adopted an infant son. The marriage failed and Claire and son Sholto left.

In the 1940s Douglas Cook served on a committee assisting in the establishment of Massey Agricultural College’s horticultural faculty. Elected Fellow of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture, Cook received its highest award. The Royal Horticultural Society also granted him an award and he was the first New Zealander on the International Dendrology Union.

Douglas Cook made many overseas trips to purchase plants. The 1950s nuclear war worries in Europe caused him to plant all he could, to have a repository of Northern Hemisphere plants in the event of nuclear devestation. For finance he mortgaged his farm several times. Rhododendrons did not flourish so in 1951 Cook established the Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust near Mount Taranaki.

Eastwoodhill is perhaps the most comprehensive collection of Northern Hemisphere woody plants south of the equator. In his later years, and unwell, Cook worried about its future and in 1965 farmer and philanthroist H B Williams bought it, to maintain it as an arboretum. In1975 Williams established the Eastwoodhill Trust Board as a Charitable Trust.

Douglas Cook died in Gisborne in April 1967, by which time Eastwoodhill was the most comprehensive arboretum in New Zealand, a collection of international standing. In 1977 it received the International Dendrology Society’s first award for ‘ collection of outstanding merit’.