Sir James Hector, in his plans for this garden, considered that it should be a national garden, and for many years it was called the 'Colonial Garden'. It was only after its transfer to the Wellington City Council in 1891 that this name was lost.   He saw  it being established for research, teaching  purposes, with responsibility for the study of the national flora, and also having the ability to study the value of introduced species to the developing colony.  His vision was along the same lines as we see today in the Australian state botanic gardens with their herbariums, extensive research facilities, etc.   The focus was on issues of national interest.   For various reasons his aims were not achieved.  This article,  published in 1928, by a director of Kew Botanic Garden in the UK, makes interesting reading in light of this background. 

It raises the issue   -  "what our Garden might have  been".

The Evening Post, report in Volume CV, Issue 78, 2 April 1928, Page 13

Some trenchant criticism of the Dominion's Botanic Gardens and some far-reaching recommendations are made by Dr. A. W. Hill in his report to the Government.

"Botanic Gardens do not exist in New Zealand except in title and by Act of Parliament," he says. "the present gardens are really public pleasure gardens, with a good horticultural display, which is in no sense a botanical arrangement."

Dr. Hill, who is director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, England, at the beginning of this year made a tour of the Dominion with a view to furnishing a report upon botanic gardens, reserves, and similar subjects, and during the short time that he was here. He visited a large number of places in the Dominion.

"It appears to me," he says in his report, "that the great need in the Dominion is for a Dominion or National Botanic Garden; but, owing to the differences with regard to climate, etc. between the North and the South Islands, I do not think that any one spot could be chosen adequately to represent the flora of New Zealand to full advantage. Further, there is the difficulty that each of the four main centres naturally regards its own botanic garden as a place of considerable importance, and I fear that, were any one of the botanic gardens now in existence chosen as the sent of the National Botanic Garden, considerable jealousy and friction might be aroused. '.

'"What I should regard as an ideal arrangement would be to have the National Botanic Garden in two parts— one centred at Dunedin, where the high Alpine plants can be so well grown, and the other at Wellington or Auckland, since either would be suitable for growing the more sub-tropical plants which are to be found in the North Island, and which cannot be grown successfully at Dunedin. Against this suggested arrangement, there is the obvious claim of Wellington, as the seat of Government, and the very strong claim of Christchurch, where, as in Wellington, the botanic garden is, I believe, established by Act of Parliament. If the Dominion Botanic Garden were in two portions, one in the North Island and one in the South Island, the director should have general control of both gardens; but the leaving out of any one of the four main centres may, as I say, lead to difficulties which would prevent what I regard as an ideal scheme from being a workable proposition. This being the case, it may be better to select Wellington as the headquarters of the Dominion Botanic Garden, and consider the gardens at Dunedin, Christchurch, and Auckland as branches or parts of the Dominion garden wider the general supervision of the director, who might be styled 'Director of the Dominion Botanic Gardens.'


"The Director of the Dominion Botanic Garden should be a good, systematic botanist with a keen interest in horticulture, and for that reason I think it is essential that he should be associated with the Dominion Herbarium. "Wellington, therefore, suggests itself as being the proper centre for the main Dominion garden.' Each of the gardens linked together under the scientific director should be in charge of a competent curator, who should be a good cultivator with a therough knowledge of plants. "I do not feel that I am in a position to say anything as to the financial arrangements which might be involved in these proposals, as at present, I understand, the botanic gardens in the four main centres are financed locally, whereas funds for the salary of the Director of the Dominion Botanic Gardens and for the maintenance of the Wellington garden in its new capacity as a botanic garden for the display of the botanical resources of the world should, I presume, be provided by the Dominion itself. I foresee there might be some difficulty in connection with the gardens at present financed by municipalities in being in any way controlled by the State, and it would not be necessary for them to attempt to have a full and general collection of plants." After discussing two schemes for the establishment of a National Botanic Garden which had been brought to his notice, Dr. Hill remarks that both appear to suggest that an entirely new garden should be set up as a National Botanic Garden. "As New Zealand is so well provided with good public gardens at present, it hardly appears necessary to set up an entirely new organisation which, as I have said before, could not adequately represent the flora of the Dominion, if it were in any one particular location, and I am inclined to think that the scheme I have put forward would be a better way of meeting the needs of the Dominion."


Dr. Hill proceeds to indicate the advantages possessed by Wellington for the establishment of a Dominion Botanic Garden, indicating how such a garden should be arranged. "In connection with the establishment of a Dominion Botanic Garden and the suggestion that Wellington might be the centre of the organisation embracing the gardens at Dunedin, Christchurch, and Auckland, I should point out that Wellington is very advantageously placed in possessing in the Otari Open-air Museum (Wilton's Bush), an ideal spot for the study of the native New Zealand flora. Christchurch also is fortunate in. possessing Riccarton Bush, while at Auckland there is the fine Waitakere Reserve, and, in the Dunedin Garden and around the city there is a splendid amount of native reserved bush. the Dominion is thus very well provided for in the matter of its native flora, theugh, obviously, it will be necessary to cultivate in the various gardens specimens of native plants well arranged botanically and carefully labelled, so that they may be easily studied by botanical students. "In the Otari Open-air Museum, I understand, there will be ample room for the cultivation and study of the various hybrids which occur in the New Zealand flora, so that Wellington would seem to be the best place to be the headquarters of the Dominion Botanic Gardens proposal. The chief 'need, therefore, at Wellington will be to bring together a representative collection of the floras of Australia, South America, South Africa, and Europe, as well as of North America and the East. These collections could be arranged either on geographical, botanical, or biological lines, and some attempt could be made on ecological lines as well. "It may be necessary to have a small area devoted to purely horticultural displays but1 such efforts are more suited to public parks, and I should like to see the present garden devoted to definite botanical purposes, as it would be of great educational value not only to the city of Wellington but to the Dominion as a whole. "As I have said, the formation of a properly arranged and useful botanic garden can be formed only if and when a scientific botanist with a wide knowledge of plants, aided by a competent curator, can. be put in charge of the undertaking. Plant breeding and selection would be better done, I think, by special research officers attached to the Massey Agricultural. College or of the Agricultural Department, and I understand that work on these lines is at present under consideration."


In an addendum to his report, Dr. Hill remarks:— "One of the main difficulties in considering the question of a Dominion Botanic Garden is that botanic gardens do not exist in New Zealand except in title and by Act of Parliament. The nearest approach to a botanic garden is the one at Dunedin, but that fulfils the proper functions of a botanic garden only to a small extent. At Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin there is a fairly representative display of the native flora, but the native plants are not displayed in any botanical or biological manner so as to be of real educational value, nor are they properly labelled. The present gardens are really public pleasure gardens, with a good horticultural display, which is in no sense a botanical arrangement. At Dunedin, some efforts have been made in the' right direction, but labelling everywhere is poor. To be of real use, the scientific and English or Maori names of plants should be given as well as their natural families, and their country of origin."


Dr. Hill criticises what he calls "a sad waste of money" in some centres in the erection of costly structures called "winter gardens," these "housing a very poor collection of plants of no botanical interest, and of very little horticultural value. They might be made of interest under the care of a scientific man, but at present they are really of no value, and very little interest." He adds that some effort at a good artistic horticultural display should, of course, be made at a botanic garden, but a real botanical display could be made just as interesting and beautiful if properly explained, and of great educational value. A small museum in connection with a National or Dominion Garden, Dr. Hill thinks would be a good thing, this displaying economic products derived from native plants.


"I do not think it necessary that all the botanic gardens' in the Dominion should follow the lines I have suggested," concludes Dr. Hill, "but Wellington, if it is to be the central garden, should do so, and Dunedin should try to work on similar -lines. "I have said that a scientific director of botanic gardens will be needed, and that each of the constituent gardens will need a curator. The trouble at present is that the curators of the gardens are not able to devote their full attention to the actual gardens under their charge. They perform many other functions-^tree-planting, care of reserves, parks, open spaces, etc. I consider it essential, if the proposals I am making are to be of any value, that the curator of the Dominion main garden should be allowed to devote his whole time to the garden, and the Otari Open-air Museum, and that another officer, superintendent of public parks, should be appointed to take charge of all street, planting, public parks, and .pleasure gardens. I should like to see a similar arrangement made for Dunedin, as the garden there offers very great possibilities. "I feel sure that a garden or gardens developed on these lines would lead to an increasing interest in botany throughout the Dominion, and also prove of great interest to your many visitors from overseas, who always like to pay a visit to botanic gardens."