Barry Cox was waiting to meet us as we arrived for our special visit of his Tree Church Gardens near Cambridge.  After alighting, we gathered in the bright sunshine, absorbing the serenity of the place and the beauty of what we were about to visit – a magnificent creation in green, covered at its entrance by dark red roses and surrounded by meticulously laid out grounds.

Barry invited us to enter and take a seat on the wooden pews (“only sinners sit in the back rows!”), then told us the fascinating story of his Tree Church.

Passionate about trees, he bought the flat 1.2 hectare piece of land as a private sanctuary for his own personal use and set about developing it. To help that development – and also earn some money by assisting others – he obtained a specially designed ‘tree spade’, able to transplant large trees up to 6 metres tall.

One day in 2011 Barry came to the realisation that what the space needed was a church! He had long been fascinated by the design and architecture of churches and had visited many in his travels around New Zealand and overseas. He decided to construct one out of trees, cleared the area, designed and built a metal frame, and started ‘growing’ the building.

As we sat inside the airy and light-filled space, we admired the symmetry of the construction, the variety of trees used, the carefully wrought windows and the altar made from a slab of recycled Italian marble, appropriate given Barry’s ancestral links with Italy.

Outside the church, we were likewise impressed as we wandered through the elegant wrought-iron gates sourced from Barry’s family farm in Shannon, up a beautiful avenue of trees, around the 350-metre labyrinth designed to replicate the walls of Jericho in 460BC, and on through the extensive gardens beyond.

All of this Barry created for his own pleasure and satisfaction. In January 2015, after ongoing pressure from relatives, friends and local garden clubs, he officially opened the Tree Church and grounds for public visits and private events. The response has been overwhelming – far greater than he ever envisaged. Now others around the world are looking to emulate his achievement.

Our visit to Tree Church and meeting Barry was a highlight of our Great Gardens and Galleries tour to the Waikato.

Jan Blayney

You will find more information about Barry in this articleThe man who grew a church from trees“.