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A potted history of gardening in the New Zealand CPI

This article looks at the history of gardening items in the consumers price index (CPI) basket, current spending patterns on gardening supplies, and the changing cost of maintaining a garden relative to the CPI.

Gardening in New Zealand

The first gardens in Aotearoa were cultivated by Māori settlers, who grew kūmara and other plants brought with them from Polynesia. After European settlers arrived, the variety of plants in household gardens expanded, and new tools became available to help plant, grow, and harvest them (Te Ara, 2014).

Since their early beginnings, New Zealand gardens have blossomed. Until the Second World War, gardens were a key source of a household’s fruit and vegetables. As fresh fruit and vegetables became relatively cheaper to buy, household gardens became less focused on growing food and more focused on recreation (Te Ara, 2014).

More recently, New Zealanders’ gardening skills were put to the test when the country entered a six-quarter recession in the March 2008 quarter. Over the two years to the March 2010 quarter, fruit and vegetable prices increased 9.2 percent, while the CPI increased 5.1 percent. News articles from the time reported an upswing in gardening among New Zealand households (Fairfax NZ News, 2010). According to the Household Economic Survey (HES), household spending on plants, flowers, and gardening supplies increased by about 14 percent between the year to June 2007 and the year to June 2010.

Gardening in the CPI basket

New Zealanders’ keen interest in gardening can be seen in the CPI basket as early as 1949, following the CPI’s first major review. In 1949 we collected prices for spades, garden forks, and ‘hand type’ lawnmowers. The value of home-grown fruit and vegetables was also included in the CPI’s weights, which at the time were based on household consumption, rather than spending.

We added more gardening items to the CPI basket as part of the 1965 CPI review. These were:

  • rotary lawnmowers
  • garden hoses
  • lawn seed mixtures
  • garden fertilisers.

There were further changes to gardening in the CPI as part of the 1974 CPI review. Home-grown produce was no longer included in the CPI weights – a result of the CPI changing from a ‘consumption’ framework to an ‘expenditure’ framework. In addition, we removed garden forks and hand-type lawnmowers from the basket, and added garden plants. We eventually dropped spades from the basket in 1988.

The range of garden plants in the CPI basket was expanded in 1980 to include apple trees, rosebushes, tomato plants, and marigolds. Tomato plants remain in the basket, and price collection for bedding plants was expanded in 1993 to include more than just marigolds. Price collection for garden seed was also expanded in 1993, to include more than just lawn seed. Apple trees were dropped from the basket in 1993, and rosebushes were dropped in 2008.

Although the specific gardening products households purchase has evolved over time, the types of gardening items in today’s CPI basket are similar to those in 1974.

Table 1 shows the current garden items in the CPI basket and the category (class) they are part of.

Table 1

 Garden items in the CPI basket, by class
 Class  Item
 Property maintenance services(1)  Lawn mowing
 Major tools and equipment for the house and garden(1)  Motor mowers
 Chainsaw hire
 Small tools and accessories for the house and garden(1)  Garden hoses
 Plants, flowers, and gardening supplies  Native shrubs
 Bedding plants
 Tomato plants
 Indoor pot plants
 Cut flowers, delivered
 Seeds, packet
 Potting mix
 Garden fertilisers
 1. Contains other items that are not related to gardening.

We also collect prices for home and garden magazines, among other types of magazines.

Household spending on gardens

According to the 2012/13 HES, New Zealand households spent about $440 million on plants, flowers, and gardening supplies in the year to June 2013. This is an average of about $5.10 per household per week.

Spending on plants, flowers, and gardening supplies was down from about $460 million in the year to June 2010 (about $5.50 per household per week on average) – a 4.5 percent decrease in total spending over three years.

In contrast, prices for plants, flowers, and gardening supplies increased 4.5 percent over the three years between the 2009/10 and 2012/13 HES. This suggests that the volume of plants, flowers, and gardening supplies purchased by New Zealand households decreased between 2010 and 2013.

The changing price of gardening

Figure 1 shows how prices for plants, flowers, and gardening supplies have changed since 2002, compared with the CPI.

Figure 1
Graph CPI and plants, flowers, and gardening supplies June 2002-December 2013 quarters
 
From the June 2002 quarter onwards, prices for plants, flowers, and gardening supplies have increased at a lower rate than the CPI, on average.

Figure 2 shows how prices for metered water rates have changed since 2002, compared with the CPI.

Figure 2
Graph CPI, metered water rates, and local authority rates, June 2002-December 2013 quarters
 
While the price of plants, flowers, and gardening supplies has changed at a lower rate than the CPI on average, the cost of watering a garden has increased at a higher rate than the CPI. Local authority rates, which include water supply in many regions, have also increased at a higher rate than the CPI.

Conclusion

Gardening has a long history in New Zealand, beginning with the first Māori settlers. In the mid-20th century New Zealand gardens began to evolve from a household necessity to a popular hobby. The vegetable garden then saw a revival as New Zealand entered a six-quarter recession in the March 2008 quarter.

The gardening items included in the CPI basket have seen some change since first being introduced in 1949, but have remained broadly similar to those in 1974.

Over the past 12 years the price of plants, flowers, and gardening supplies has increased at a lower rate than the CPI on average, while the cost of watering a garden, as measured by the cost of metered water supply, has increased at a higher rate than the CPI.

References

Fairfax NZ News (updated 18 November 2010). Growing your own revival. Available from www.stuff.co.nz.

Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand (updated 21 May 2013). Gardens. Available from www.teara.govt.nz.

Back to Price Index News: April 2014

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