Teaching Garden

1950's and 1960's
and 1991 teaching garden proposal (click)

The current proposal for a childrens teaching garden is the fourth in the garden's history.  Here we discuss the first three, only the first  successfully completed, although the second was used to some extent.

Sir James Hector envisaged the garden would be the home of scientific studies, and with this in mind he promoted the developmment of a teaching garden, located in the Main Garden to show rare plants, and enable new immigrants to the country to see and find out about the use of native plants, and to learn the suitability of imported plants and trees.  Since the garden was established, many trials were run to establish the suitability of many plants and crops.

The year 1885 appears to be the turning point in the fortunes of the Colonial Botanic Garden for it was in this year that the Board learned that Government had declined their annual grant. Only the share from the Town Belt rents was now left as revenue to maintain the Garden. With an income which barely covered the keeper's salary little could be accomplished. Although efforts to establish the teaching garden continued, some maintenance work was of necessity neglected. After fifteen years of carrying out plant trials, and now with only a restricted income available to the Botanic Garden Board, little development was possible. This unfortunate state continued for a further six years until the change of management occurred. Meanwhile, however, Hector opened the 'Teaching Garden' to the public still hoping that it would be developed in conjunction with a school of botany, an objective for scientific research he considered appropriate for the Garden, but which, unfortunately, never occcurred.

Teaching Garden showing small rhododendrons
Main Garden looking south;  showing
Teaching Garden c.1890

The Teaching Garden was completed and opened to the public in 1887. The possibility of using this for classes was mentioned in the Annual Report for 1889/90. In 1888 thinning of some of the earlier plantings became necessary. Plants were still available from the Nursery and efforts were made to get some financial return from their disposal. Seed was gathered from some of the conifers in the Garden and sown in the Nursery. In 1886/87 several bushels of seed were gathered for distribution as a funds raising exercise.

Teaching Garden early 1890's, hand tinted postcard from Guide Mira Parsons
Note folly erected appproximately 1890 (later it became covered with foliage), and manager's house.

It was unfortunate that the retirement of two valuable staff members came at a time when the Garden was experiencing financial difficulties. In 1885 John Buchanan retired from his position at the Geological Survey and involvement with the Garden. The Board keenly regretted the loss of his services. Towards the end of 1889 William Bramley also retired. The Annual Report said that it was through "the untiring and faithful services and economical management (of Bramley) that the Board has been able to effect such extensive improvements of a public property with the very limited means at its disposal."

The Board developed on the site of today's Sound Shell Lawn, a specialised garden suitable for teaching purposes. The land originally sloped away from Dray Road (now known as Buchanan Way) but by 1886 was flattened and laid out in geometric beds edged with box hedging and into these beds were planted a choice selection of native and exotic plants.  Although it was opened to the public in 1887 the theft of some of the plants forced the Board to limit admission to the area. At the time of MacKenzie's retirement in 1947, the Evening Post reminisced that "the Gardens . . . were fairly strewn with locked gates and barbed fences that kept visitors off everything but a small area inside the main gates and a few paths . . . ".The concept of the horticultural zoo was adhered to by Director Glen in later years in many of his renovations, and the visitor viewed the seasonal features through lattice bars and the criss-cross of wire-netting.

Teaching Garden showing small rhododendrons
Teaching Garden entry

Photographs spanning a period of over forty years record the transition in the area of this specialised garden. The construction of a rustic Arch was an obvious feature of this area. Early photographs of the Teaching Garden show a number of dwarf rhododendrons which perhaps came from Kew. These were gradually removed and replaced by roses as this site was transformed under the City Council's management into the first rose garden. A number of large 'Sir Robert Peel' plants continue to feature in today's Garden.

After 1886 the centre of the Botanic Garden was Hector's Teaching Garden. This was a specialised area where new introductions could be established, and a cabinet of curiosities and rarities which could be examined and pored over by those as yet unable to possess the items themselves. As such it was a popular attraction. The Main Path has apparently always been edged with ornamental beds, a fact sometimes overlooked as criticism mounted over the overplanting of fast growing pines.

The Act vesting the Botanic Garden in the City Council became operative in December 1891. It was not until the following year that the Reserves Committee set up some form of permanent management for the Garden. However, in October 1891, it had made an anticipatory inspection "with the view of making recommendations . . . as to their future management. ". After commenting that they found the Garden "in a very creditable condition considering the small amount of money which had been expended on them".

Teaching Garden
Teaching Garden with matured trees

Formal bedding has always been popular with the public, and the models for public gardens were well established by 1870 After 1890 Mantel's fears began to be realised.  The transformation of Hector's Teaching Garden from an eastern palm grove dedicated to the higher things of botanical science, to the "gaudy parterre" of the public garden, was well under way by 1906. Hector's terrace and long rectangular beds were reminiscent of the idea of a parterre. From the Top Drive visitors could look down on to the garden and take in the layout of the whole area. Between 1890 and 1914 diagonal paths were added creating a simple geometric pattern of
small beds. Larger shrubs and trees were retained in the central portion, so that it was in the outer ring of beds that the formal plantings first appeared. Fan palms and cabbage trees were retained as it was considered that the effect of these plants brought an elegance to the gaudy parterre. In the opinion of the British horticultural writer William Robinson subtropical gardening "did something to relieve the formality of "bedding-out". By the time that these were finally removed in 1928 the area had evolved into a rose garden.

The use of formal bedding as it developed in 19th century England did not ultimately depend on the use of parterres. Often formal arrangements of beds were sited freely in open spaces within landscape parks, or elaborate patterns were developed within self-contained beds. This was how formal bedding was used particularly under Later Director Mac MacKcnzie. There had always been rectangular beds along the Main Drive, but during the 1920s these were added to. Before 1918 the lawn inside the Main Gates supported four formal beds. One was trowel shaped, two were circular, and one was a large five pronged star Each of these beds contained elaborate geometrical patterns which emphasised their assertive individuality. By 1920 the lower parts of the freshly cleared slopes above them, among the young trees and shrubs, were another collection of beds . These were square, diamond shaped and circular and seemed to contain single varieties of plants. Similar beds decorated the Magnolia Bank in the 1910s and these were not abandoned until the mid 1960s, though by this time the elaborate formal patterns had been dropped. Today the carpet bedding in the Main Garden and Rose Garden is a direct descendant of the formal bedding and great parterres of our 19th century past.

Folly close up, an early feature of the Teaching Garden
soon covered wth climbing foliage.

When George Glen began work at the Botanic Garden in 1901 it was still predominantly a forest reserve.  Pines filled most of the area known as the "Main Garden" stretching from the entrance gates south between the central drive and Glenmore Street. They covered the present magnolia banks, the lower slopes of Druid Hill above the Sound Shell Lawn, down to the Main Gates, where they spread northwards along the Tinakori Road frontage from the Main Gates to Bowen Street. Hector's Teaching Garden stood in the middle of all this, an oasis of eccentric horticultural order, enclosed and bastioned with latticed fences as much, it seemed against the encroaching trees, as against marauding vandals. Beyond this Garden was the lower nursery enclosure comprising part of the present Sunken Garden, the area now occupied by the tool sheds and Mess Rooms, and the Camellia Garden. The nursery enclosure also contained the stable housing the horses used in the Botanic Garden.

Moves to remodel the Main Garden were put in hand soon after Glen arrived. In September 1902 he requested "a truck or trolley for moving trees and shrubs". "There are a number in the Botanical Gardens requiring to be removed and it would be impossible to do so without a conveyance of that kind. Two prices for a trolley were obtained which were respectively were seven pounds and seven pounds ten shillings

Later photographs  show that in the course of time many of the plants in the beds were replaced by a seasonal tapestry of bright flowers so beloved by Victorian as well as contemporary visitors. The age of the "gaudy parterre" had arrived, a fashion disliked by an early Board member, Walter Mantell and mentioned in his presidential address to the Wellington Philosophical Society in 1870. The influence of Hector on the development of the Garden was waning and soon the rhododendrons, the cabbage trees and many other plants were to be destroyed to make way for the first Rose Garden.

Teaching Garden looking down to Tinakori Road
Teaching Garden - now a Rose Garden

By 1930 Hector's Teaching Garden had gone. What remained were roses combined with annuals in beds edged with low box hedges. This had all the qualities of a formal parterre, which brings us back again to the revival of the geometric garden in the mid 19th century. Though rose gardens were an established part of the English flower garden by 1800, evidence that the evolution of the formal rose garden was affected by this revival, can be found in the writing of C Loudon and his wife Jane. The Loudons were prolific writers during the first half of the 19th century on all aspects of horticultural taste and practice. They reinterpreted the traditional aristocratic garden styles of the past, adapting them to the requirements of the new suburban property. Even when the annual flower garden was still new and popular, they indicated that more economical butless spectacular treatments of parterre plants were common. The qualities of these gardens which they describe and illustrate, relate directly to the character and plan of the Lady Norwood Rose Garden.

 1950's - 1960's  Teaching Garden

In the 1950's for some 10 years the terraces beside the nursery’s orchid house were used to grow masses of cut flowers for Town Hall events, Royal visits, other functions and weekly displays in Council chambers and the Mayoral quarters. These beds, which must have been a lot sunnier then, grew delphiniums, lupins, paeonies, tulips, gladioli, tuberoses, watsonias, proteas, narcissi, and Dutch irises. The displays also relied heavily on baskets of fuchsias. 

It was here that the tradition of teaching gardens was continued, with the beds also used for teaching purposes, although the extent this area was used  is unknown.  The end of the No 7 glasshouse was used for this purpose for a number of years.

1991 Children's Teaching Garden proposal

The Treehouse Visitor Centre was opened in 1991.  The then Director Richard Nanson and senior staff proposed that a childrens teaching garden be established.  Interestingsly, it was to be in the same area as the current proposal, above the nursery, with the site terraced to provide flat areas. With the completion of the Treehouse, direct access from the classroom, now the seminar room of the Treehouse,  could be easily provided.  However, the cost of excavation and removal of material was considerable, and the loss of standing areas for the nursery became major issues.  With the considerable development cost of the Treehouse, finance constraints were also a significant issue, and while there was general support,  the idea never progressed past the concept stage.


Winsome Shepherd and Walter Cook; The Botanic Garden, Wellington A New Zealand History 1840 - 1987  Publisher Milwood Press, Wellington NZ 291B Tinakori Rd Thorndon Wellington Published 1988 ISBN 0-908582-79-X

1950-60     Proposal
WCC Archive files

Richard Nanson and Peter Tijsen   personal communications