Christchurch Botanic Gardens
Jim Crook - Secretary of the Friends of the Botanic Gardens
The gift of Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens
The early settlers in Christchurch made the infant town a magnificent gift
when the Provincial Government dedicated a large area of land close to the
town centre as a reserve to be known as 'Hagley Park'. That Park and the
Christchurch Botanic Gardens developed within the Park have played a major
role in earning Christchurch the title of 'The Garden City'.
Cherry trees in blossom
Choice of the Park site
I have often wondered why Hagley Park was sited where it is. Historians
have put forward two different scenarios. One is that the Deans brothers
who had settled about 1840 in the area now known as Deans Bush or
Riccarton Bush negotiated a buffer between themselves and the new town, and
the other is that Scots people living in the Lower Riccarton area wanted
to remain separate from the new English settlers. Those ideas may not be
too far fetched when you consider that many streets in Lower Riccarton have
Scottish names while those in the central city area all have names of
Enterprising early settlers
Just imagine what the English settlers saw when they arrived in
Christchurch in 1850. With the exception of small enclaves like Deans
Bush most of the land that was the site of the new town was then covered
with a mixture of tussocks and ferns, and along the banks of the small
river that drained the swamps there were rushes and flax. There were also
sand dunes and shingle banks that were later used for building roads in the
new town. Just imagine the energy the new settlers displayed in clearing
the land because within thirteen years of their arrival the area known as
Hagley Park was established as a Reserve and initial plans were made to
form the present Botanic Gardens. An area of approximately 30 hectares was
set aside within a loop of the small river Avon to develop a Botanic
Garden, located as shown in the chart below.
Foundation of the Gardens
Recorded history of the Gardens dates from 9 July 1863 when an English oak
tree was planted on the banks of the Avon to commemorate the marriage
Prince Albert Edward to Princess Alexandra of Denmark. That oak
tree still lives. It is located near the footbridge over the Avon leading
to the Band Rotunda and Daffodil Woodland where in spring you can see (in
the words of the poet) "a host of golden daffodils fluttering and dancing
in the breeze". Although 9 July 1863 is taken as the foundation date of
the Gardens they were not officially established until 1864.
Importing English trees
When the first settlers from England arrived there was nostalgia for the
trees of their home country. For that reason many of the older trees in
the Gardens, such as sycamores, oaks and elms were imported from England.
The trees came as small plants in wooden cases, like miniature glasshouses,
named Wardian cases after their inventor. On arrival, those plants that
survived the journey were plunged into the Avon to revive. Incidentally,
the place in the Avon chosen to revive them was a large pool close to the
present Information Centre where men subsequently went 'skinny dipping'.
Baths were then a bit hard to find!
Imaginative development over the years
As might be expected early Head Gardeners, later known as Curators, adopted
English gardening concepts in laying out the area set aside for a Botanic
Garden. Their successors have since developed that area into a Botanic
Garden which now contains over 10,000 exotic and indigenous plants
displayed in a landscape setting mainly within the loop of the Avon.
The stated mission of the Gardens
Many people believe that the Christchurch Botanic Gardens were developed to
provide a pleasant place to take the kids for a picnic, or to wander in the
gloaming with your lady love in beautiful surroundings or for time out 'to
smell the flowers'. That is what can be described as a 'Municipal
Ornamental Garden' viewpoint. However, it overlooks the word 'Botanic' in
the title of the Gardens.
Consequently when the Council produced a Botanic Gardens Management Policy
Document in 1995 it re-stated a much wider Primary Goal for the Gardens.
That goal is:
"To promote understanding and appreciation of the world's flora (its
botanical attributes and uses) including special areas devoted to Southern
Within that primary goal there are secondary goals - particularly
educational and research - which taken collectively embrace much wider
Botanic concepts than simply maintenance of a 'Municipal Ornamental Plant
The Management Plan
Past Curators had varying influences on the design and location of plant
collections in the separate zones of the Gardens depending upon their
training and individual interests. For that reason there was and still is
overlapping of plant collections in the different zones.
Since 1995, when the Policy Document was approved by the Council, Gardens'
staff have been working under a Management Plan aimed at developing
consistency in the location of collections and upgrading the respective
zones under a ten year time scale.
The Peacock Fountain
funds bequeathed to the Christchurch Beautifying Association by the Hon. J.
T. Peacock and named after him. Because of maintenance problems the
fountain was dismantled in 1949 and put into storage until it was
refurbished and erected on it present site in 1998.
The Peacock Fountain was originally erected on another site in 1911 out of
A new entrance off Rolleston Avenue scheduled for 1998 is still awaited.
Other major projects listed in the Ten Year Plan are to be tackled
progressively when funds are available.
From a botanical aspect a plant register of all trees within the Gardens
has been established. Needless to say some years will elapse before trees
can all be located in their correct zones.
There are a number of management issues affecting the Gardens.
One irksome issue is vandalism. It is most disheartening for a gardener
responsible for a particular zone to come to work in the morning and find
that cherished trees have had branches broken or plants have been stolen
from newly planted beds. Do you put a barbed wire fence around the
perimeter and have the area patrolled all night by security guards with
Free access for overseas tour parties
Another contentious issue is free access to the Gardens by overseas
tourists. Should tour operators be free to entertain their tour parties by
turning them loose in the Gardens at no charge as at present? Most
overseas Gardens make an entry charge to both tourists and locals alike
for this privilege.
Funding for botanical work
Yet another issue is the lack of funding for botanical work like specialist
plant propagation and research, continuation of seed and plant exchanges
with overseas gardens at an appropriate level, and the proper maintenance
of a plant herbarium.
An educational role
How much effort should be devoted to giving school groups lectures and
tours of the gardens? This is a difficult service to provide since the
Gardens' education officer was relocated and given extra responsibilities
following a staff review.
Improved public presence on Rolleston Avenue
The Gardens don't have an adequate public presence on Rolleston Avenue
where many visitors come to the Arts Centre and the Museum. The Gardens
would like space in the present Art Gallery building when the new Art
Gallery is opened and the present gallery in the Gardens is vacated. There
are bids from other organisations for that space and the Council is yet to
make a decision on this question.
Competition for City Council funding
These are all difficult issues, most of which arise from competing claims
on Council funds, and these impact on the level of rates which local
politicians consider to be politically acceptable.
Residents group opposes plans for entrance
There is also opposition by a local residents group to proposals for
upgrading Rolleston Avenue and providing a better entrance to the
Friends of the Gardens
The Society known as the Friends of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens was
formed some ten years ago. The first objective for which it was formed is
"to promote, support and protect the Christchurch Botanic Gardens".
In terms of that objective our Society lets the Council have the benefit of
our views on what we believe is best for the Gardens. The Friends of the
Gardens conduct tours, lectures and meetings for people interested in the
The popular children's play area.
Another major activity of the Friends is fund raising to supplement the
resources made available by the Council. This year accumulated funds and
the proceeds of the Annual Plant Sale will be applied towards meeting the
cost of a sun shelter in the children's play area. This is our contribution
to Turning Point 2000.
If you visit Christchurch do include in your itinerary time for a visit to
the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. The daffodils and the cherry trees
flowering in the spring are the most popular feature on postcards or
calendars, but the Gardens are worth visiting in all seasons.