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Christchurch Botanic Gardens
Jim Crook - Secretary of the Friends of the Botanic Gardens

The gift of Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens

Cherry trees.
Cherry trees in blossom
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'.

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 English origin.

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.

Map showing the location of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.
Map showing the location of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.
Photo Source Christchurch City Council
Click here for a larger version

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

Spring daffodils
of 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 Hemisphere plants".

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 Garden'.

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
The Peacock Fountain was originally erected on another site in 1911 out of

The Peacock fountain.
The Peacock fountain.
Photo Source Joe Levy
Click here for a larger version
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.

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.

Plant register
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.

Management issues
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 dogs?

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 Gardens.

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 Gardens.

The popular children's play area.
The popular children's play area.
Fund raising
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.

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