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Hamilton Gardens New Zealand

Dorothy - 16/09/05

Be sure to put Hamilton Gardens on your MUST SEE list next time you are in Hamilton. Well over half a million people visit this beautiful area each year and with the great variety of gardens presented within the Gardens there is always somewhere fresh to explore – and all this enjoyment is offered FREE.

These gardens, mainly developed since 1982, feature themed gardens and are a contrast to the older municipal gardens like Christchurch and Dunedin Botanic Gardens with their mature trees and shrubs and their own history. Part of the 58 hectare Hamilton Gardens, the Paradise Gardens have been designed to illustrate aspects of the history of gardens around the world with an Indian Char Bagh Garden, a Chinese Scholars Garden, an English Flower Garden, a Japanese Garden of Contemplation, an American Modernist Garden and an Italian Renaissance Garden. The Garden Collections include the Rogers Rose Garden, the New Zealand Cultivar Garden, the Rhododendron Lawn, the Hamilton Camellia Garden and the Victorian Flower Garden. For those more interested in the food which a garden can produce there are the Herb Garden, the Kitchen Garden and the Sustainable Backyard Garden.

Eye catching new sculpture
If you enter the Gardens from the eastern entrance at the corner of Cobham Drive and Hungerford Crescent your attention will immediately be caught by the huge new sculpture created by two internationally renowned artists, sculptor Chris Booth who is based in Kerikeri, and Diggeress Te Kanawa who seldom goes far from her Te Kuiti home. Chris Booth has undertaken major commissions in Holland, Australia, USA, Italy and Spain, and Diggeress Te Kanawa has become renowned for her work preserving traditional Maori weaving techniques and patterns. Their design proposal was chosen in a competition to which top New Zealand artists had been invited to submit designs.

The competition brief asked for a massive sculpture which could be seen and appreciated from fast moving vehicles at a busy site with signs and street lights. It also requested that the proposals

  • promote the ‘high international reputation’ of Hamilton Gardens
  • reflect the scale of Hamilton Gardens, both in its physical and social significance
  • incorporate the Maori heritage of the Hamilton Gardens site
  • reflect the special character of Hamilton Gardens and the present day nature of Hamilton city.

The requirement for a massive sculpture has indeed been met with dimensions of 400cm x 3000cm x 180cm. It comprises a broken wall of Hinuera stone columns over which hangs ‘a blanket’ of pebbles that have been woven together to resemble a Maori cloak. The blanket of pebbles is known as ‘kakahu’ or ‘earth blanket.

Sculpture at entranceway
Sculpture at entranceway
Chris Booth explained the symbolism and the meaning of the sculpture.

“It was through my quest to find a way to celebrate the entranceway to Hamilton Gardens and the advice sought from Diggeress Te Kanawa about the concept that the sculpture ‘'NGA URI O HINETUPARIMAUNGA' was born. The eroded forms of the ignimbrite escarpment at Hinuera gave inspiration for the 21 columns. It was appropriate to use this stone because I’m told that erosion of this material over thousands of years has formed much of the land of the Waikato region, carried and deposited by the Waikato River. The land of Hamilton Gardens is beside the river. The stone is symbolic of this earth.

“The need to symbolically protect five of the Hinuera columns with an earth blanket or kakahu, a protective woven pebble cloak, came to me from witnessing too much local, national and international disrespect for Mother Earth. Along with protection, the kakahu also symbolically honours the wonder of Mother Earth. 12,000 quartz pebbles from Southland and 1000 greywacke pebbles from Kaiaua form the kakahu which is titled ‘'TE KAHU O PAPATUANUKU'. Three ancient patterns were translated into stone from a traditional korowai (cloak) woven by Diggeress Te Kanawa in 2001. They are NIHONIHO, TE KARU O TE WHENUA and TOORAKARAKA.

Paradise Gardens illustrating the history of gardens through the ages

The Indian Char Bagh Garden
The 'Char Bagh' or 'enclosed four part' garden was the original 'Paradise Garden'. It is sometimes known as the 'Universal Garden', partly for its widespread use over a long period, but also because it was regarded as an icon for the universe itself. This type of garden spread throughout the Muslim world between the 8th and 18th centuries. The complex symbolism behind this form of garden has its roots in three of the world's great religions - Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

Indian Char Bagh Garden
Indian Char Bagh Garden
The type to be developed at Hamilton Gardens is the 'Riverside Garden' with a plan very similar to the Taj Mahal, but on a very much smaller scale. A small hunting palace near Agra, called Lal Mahal, has inspired the Hamilton Garden's 'Char Bagh' garden. Such gardens were pleasure gardens, not just places to walk through. Perfumed flowers were planted like a Persian carpet and the sound of water was provided by fountains and ponds.

The Chinese Scholars Garden
This garden is similar in many ways to a Chinese garden from the Sung Dynasty of the 10th – 12th century. From the Han period, at least 2,000 years ago, Chinese gardens reflected contemporary landscape painting, poetry, calligraphy and music.

Scholars gardens were full of imaginative symbolism. The design encouraged contemplation in an idealised ancient and magical world of illusion and fantasy. . For example paths were not necessarily easy and direct but would often be winding and with a rough surface to consciously slow down the visitor. The Scholars Garden in China was maintained by mandarins, scholars and the landed gentry.

Hamilton’s sister city, Wuxi, involved in developing the garden
A Chinese Garden Trust was formed in 1986 to raise funds and oversee the development of the Chinese Garden. The garden was a joint project between the Hamilton City Council, Hamilton's Sister City, Wuxi, the NZ Chinese Association (Waikato Branch) and the New Zealand China Friendship Society (Hamilton Branch). Work on the Garden officially commenced with the planting of a Magnolia (officially called 'The Friendship Tree') in the Blossom Court by the Mayor of Wuxi, Mr Wu Donghua on 5 July 1986.

Margaret Evans, Major of Hamilton formally opened the garden, on 28 February 1992. On 1 October 1998 a Wuxi delegation presented the Celestial Yuan of Taihu (bronze turtle).

Bronze turtle beside the Waikato River
Bronze turtle beside the Waikato River
English Flower Garden
The English Flower Garden is designed in what is termed the English Arts and Crafts style (also called or New Georgian or Natural style). It is patterned on the gardens that were enjoyed in England from 1870 to the beginning of World War 1. That is considered to be the golden age of such gardens although many more were created in that style throughout the twentieth century.

They are often designed around a focal point such as a seat or a fountain and have walls or hedges which define sections planted in different types of plants.

Japanese Garden of Contemplation
Visitors to the Zen garden traditionally view it from a pavilion and use their imagination.

The Japanese Garden of Contemplation also features a Shoin style of scroll garden set around a pool. This type of garden invites visitors to sit in a building opening on to a verandah and see the landscape unroll before them like a scroll.

Gardens of these types feature islands, trees and rocks in a colour scheme of green and grey rather than coloured flowers and blossom.

Japanese Garden
Japanese Garden
American Modernist Garden
The Modernist style was not just featured in twentieth century American gardens but was used internationally. Most Modernist gardens are designed for relaxed outdoor living and so they are particularly well suited to the Californian way of life - the climate, culture, and individual wealth found there. The garden created here is in a mid-century West Coast American style.

Modernist garden design became widely used on the US western seaboard and in northern Europe, particularly France, Germany and Scandinavia in the 1930s. In Modernist design the form could actually grow from an analysis of the site, the architecture and functional requirements. This means that the design is often centred round swimming pools, barbecues and outdoor eating areas and created to suit the house. The house in this garden is represented by the wall and window. The kidney shape of the pool was very popular in America during the 1940's.

American Modernist Garden with kidney shaped pool
American Modernist Garden with kidney shaped pool
Italian Renaissance Garden
Two major sources influenced the development of the Italian Renaissance Garden.- Arab garden traditions and ancient Greek and Roman traditions, especially the sculptures which were copied and placed in the gardens. Romulus and Remus, the babies who were suckled by a wolf and became the legendary founders of Rome were a popular subject. The high walls, arched trellises and square beds of Mediaeval gardens also became a feature.

Italian Renaissance garden
Italian Renaissance garden
The central axis in the design became popular. Renaissance studies sought geometric patterns in nature, and symmetry, circles and triangles became a regular pattern in gardens. These forms have been the basis of the design of the garden in Hamilton.

Rogers Rose Garden
This rose garden was founded in 1969 and named after Dr Dennis Rogers, the mayor of Hamilton in that year. With more than 4,200 roses in the garden the Rogers Rose Garden is the third largest in New Zealand. Some 230 cultivars are featured in the garden and these are constantly evaluated. Clearly the garden looks its best in the flowering season, but in winter you could visit the garden for a pruning demonstration.

New Zealand Cultivar Garden
With New Zealand garden enthusiasts showing increasing interest in native plants the display of New Zealand cultivars in the Fergusson Glade cannot fail to attract many visitors. A garden for all seasons, it has a variety of points of interest as the seasons change.

Rhododendron Lawn
Flowering rhododendrons are a magnet for visitors to the gardens in the spring. They flower well in a very suitable site in the Hamilton Gardens as they are sheltered by a steep bank of pine trees. Tree lovers will also visit to view the deciduous trees in the area – -various Alnus, with their special bark, Cornus, Magnolia, and Acer. The shade provides a good setting for perennials which add colour after the rhododendrons have shed their petals.

On the lawn there is a magnificent tree - the Eucalyptus viminalis, or 'Mana Gum', and bordering the lawn and sloping down to the lake is the Hispanic garden with a copy of a famous Roberto Burl Marx sculpture and a landing with names of all the Hispanic countries.

Hammond Camellia Garden
After visiting the rhododendron garden you can walk up to the Camellia Garden which is sited behind the Victorian Greenhouse. There are a wide variety of forms and colours of camellias. From the higher level of the Camellia Garden there are good views over Turtle Lake and the lower levels of the Gardens.

Victorian Flower Garden
The Victorian Flower Garden is one of the Cultivar Gardens that feature plants selected and bred in the garden and the greenhouses. It is also designed to represent a nineteenth century garden in the English gardenesque tradition with greenhouses, smooth lawn, some novelty specimen trees, formal bedding, mixed borders, shrubbery, and curved gravel walks. This was the type of garden favoured in municipal parks and gardens until the 1960s when the maintenance of such a garden proved too costly.

The Herb Garden
Herb gardens became popular in the twentieth century, and most follow the pattern of Gertrude Jekyll with plots separated by paving or evergreens. The four rectangular plots in the Hamilton Gardens herb garden shows how effective this plan can be.

Herbs are now commonly used for flavouring, unlike the use in the past to conceal the taste of meat that had gone bad. Before the development of modern drugs and cosmetics they were widely used for medicinal purposes. The four plots in this garden grow culinary, medicinal, cosmetic and perfume herbs. Two other sections of the Herb Garden contain herbs used for dyes and for herbal teas.

Kitchen Garden
Many New Zealand families will associate the vegetable garden with regular weekend chores, and the housekeepers, usually women, will think of harvesting vegetables and cooking the fresh produce for the evening meal, or standing in summer heat in the kitchen preserving or freezing garden produce.

For some Kiwis this is a vivid memory, but many families associate vegetables mainly with shopping. Whichever group you are in the account of the history of the kitchen garden on the Hamilton Gardens website makes very interesting reading, and a visit to the Hamilton Gardens kitchen garden is well worth while.

Sustainable Backyard Garden
This garden set up in 2001 by the Hamilton Permaculture Trust aims to demonstrate the way permaculture can be used in a suburban backyard. Volunteers from the Trust maintain the garden which is designed to educate the visitors who view its productive vegetable beds, worm farm, composting and a variety of fruit trees, berries and wine.

For more information The Hamilton Gardens website provides useful information on how to get there, the opening times for the information centre, café and display houses, and the seasonal attractions in the Gardens.

The photographs for this article were provided by the Hamilton Gardens.

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