Dig reveals secrets of castle’s fernery

Uncovering the Larnach Castle fernery are (from left) Heritage NZ intern Janny Sjaaholl, Heritage...
Uncovering the Larnach Castle fernery are (from left) Heritage NZ intern Janny Sjaaholl, Heritage NZ Otago-Southland archaeologist Matt Schmidt, and Larnach Castle executive director Norcombe Barker. Photo: Linda Robertson
The outlines of a 90-year-old feature of the Larnach Castle garden emerged from the  undergrowth yesterday in a dig organised as part of Archaeology Week.

Despite constant rain, Heritage NZ Otago-Southland archaeologist Matt Schmidt and helpers yesterday made sterling progress in uncovering the  fernery and made some exciting discoveries along the way.

"It was the worst weather I could have got for the project.  I’m absolutely soaking," Mr Schmidt said.

"It turned out well and we are very pleased  ... I did a couple of test pits and we discovered the fernery has sandstone slabs on its floor, which we thought it might have but which nobody knew."

The fernery was built about 1927-28. It can be dated that precisely as its roof is believed to have been made from glass from the vessel Paloona, which was broken up at Port Chalmers around that time.

Made of basalt rocks with an entrance of Oamaru limestone, the building  had its own water piping system which the dig had aimed to uncover.

"All we could see was the stonework of the walls and the entranceway, but when we cleared the whole thing you could see these beautiful walls, which were built on a cement base which was why they kept their alignment so well," Mr Schmidt said.

"We also found more of the pipework."

The castle’s owners are revealing the fernery so the building can be included in the castle’s garden walks.

"We got rid of the large trees and stuff which was damaging the walls," Mr Schmidt said.

"The next stage is we need to clear out the interior  ...  we think we can see the original outline of how ferns would have grown in the fernery."

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