Sir Walter Norwood

Lady Rosina Norwood, (1930) in whose honour the Rose Garden and Begonia House were named

P C Tomlinson. June 2015. Version 2 Update August 2016

For many visitors, especially those from overseas, the Wellington Botanic Garden IS the rose garden/begonia house complex. While the Main Garden has its own special attraction with its spring tulips and extensive summer bedding displays deserving additional attention, many make this area the focus for their visit. Both the begonia and rose collections are long established, both having been in existence within the Wellington Botanic Garden for over 100 years.

Both these areas have benefited from the generosity of members of the Norwood family. Sir Walter Norwood, benefactor and friend of the Wellington Botanic Garden who with his father and other family members, always had a particular love for the Rose Garden. His family have continued to support the garden, providing funds for the Begonia House, Rose Garden and fountain, waterfall, cafe, and Giant Waterlily House, and other developments for the benefit of Wellingtonians and visitors alike.

The site

The site occupied by the Lady Norwood Rose Garden and Begonia House is the result of the most drastic landscape modification ever inflicted on the Botanic Garden. Originally Honeyman's Valley extended from the bush at the back of the Dell through the site of Anderson Park and Bowen Street and included Sydney Street. On the western side the Herb Garden the ridge was higher and ran above the site of Anderson Park connecting with the ridge in Thorndon on the eastern side of Tinakori Road. In the 1870's the Botanic Garden Board received permission from the Trustees of the cemetery to fence and plant these reserves. By the late 1880's plantations sprouted from the native forest along the valley and covered the western ridge above Tinakori Road.

In November 1906 development of the area commenced with the removal of trees and clearing the valley in preparation to forming a City Reserve for a recreation ground, originally especially for winter sports. The building of the recreation ground was supported by the community, and although this caused so much physical


This 1890 photograph of Honeyman's Gully shows the original land form, which was significantly altered by the development of Anderson Park and the Rose Garden area.  The image was taken from approximately above the existing begonia house.

and visual damage to the landscape its scars have never been completely camouflaged. By the summer of 1910 Anderson Park was ready for use. Instead of a long wooded valley, there was now a large dark gully where the Rose Garden now exists, ending abruptly in the wall of fill making up Anderson Park. It was not long before this gully became a rubbish tip which was not cleared up until the early 1930's.

From 1931 the Anderson Park extension resulted in the filling the remains of the valley left over from the formation of Anderson Park. From December 1931 until May 1934 the work proceeded, using some 60 to 70 workers under the Government Special Works Programme,  filling the gully which, from photos, appears to have been some 15 metres deep. It involved demolishing the western ridge to its present level and laying extensive storm water drains through Anderson Park and under Sydney Street. By May 1934 this had cost £12,631 ($25,262). Following this the level of Anderson Park was raised to conform with that of the new extension.

Anderson Park 1931 work to fill in the gully to create the land for the begonia house and rose garden. 1927 children's garden in centre.
Note the significant depth of the gully to be filled

Honeyman's Gully being filled in for future rose garden 1931

Rose Garden site, major earthworks below current herb garden showing gully being filled with removed spoil 1932

The new land was used for extra sports fields until it became the site of an American Marine Camp and hospital for some 400 personnel during the Second World War. After the war it was restored and used as a sports ground until the building of the Lady Norwood Rose Garden from 1951.

The Rose Garden

Its northerly aspect protected from the wind for the first few years by a fence of manuka brush

For many people the Lady Norwood Rose Garden and Begonia House will be their first contact with the Wellington Botanic Garden. With their horticultural displays, cafe, and accessibility they have always been a hit with tourists and the local public. Even during the 1960's and 1970's when the Botanic Garden as a whole was not heavily used people still flocked to the Rose Garden and Begonia House especially on Sunday afternoons.

The plan for this complex of gardens was most likely the work of Director Edward Hutt. It was certainly the largest addition to the Botanic Garden established during his directorship (1947-1965). The scheme was expressive of a forceful new director and a community moving to reclaim its open spaces many of which had been appropriated by the military during the Second World War. It was also expressive of an affluent post-war Parks Department which compared to the 1920's and 1930's had money to burn. In 1965 at the end of Hutt's reign Wellington had the best funded parks department in the country.

Edward Hutt

After Berhampore Nursery was established a Rose Garden and conservatory were Director Edward Hutt's next big horticultural project and in July 1948 the plan for these was published in The Dominion newspaper.

Roses do not seem to have featured in the Botanic Garden of the Board (1869-1891) in the way that camellias and rhododendrons were. What James Hector, Wellington Botanic Gardens first Director, did establish in the 1870's was a teaching garden on the site of the present Sound Shell Lawn. The layout of this garden with its formal rectangular beds was to become the basic structure of the first Rose Garden. The Teaching Garden remained unchanged after the City Council took over in 1891 and remained unchanged until well into the 1900's. Photographs of the cleared newly planted Main Garden dating from circa 1906 show that it was still intact at that date, although up to 1910 other photographs show that at its southern end some of the rectangular beds had been modified and were used for displays of seasonal annuals.

The Rosary 1925 on Sound Shell Lawn

The transformation to a Rose Garden from Hector's Teaching Garden of 1886 was a gradual process. The earliest record of roses being present dates from September 1880 when William Bramley reported "a number of his best roses had been stolen". Plant thefts are obviously not something new. The number and extent of the collection at that time is unknown.

Under the City Council it became "the Enclosed Garden." Rectangular beds were divided by new paths and much of the original planting including cabbage trees was retained. That roses featured in the garden by 1912 is recorded in a report to the Town Clerk from Superintendent Glen stating that the "Enclosed Garden" had been broken into and that roses and other flowers had been cut and strewn about. The original long rectangular beds had been divided up by new paths running at angles to them. Seasonal formal bedding became a feature, though this was always mixed with other plants, many retained from the original plantings. Hector's cabbage trees and some of the other native trees stayed there for many years. The development of the Enclosed Garden into a rose garden occurred during Glen's period in office from 1901 to 1918. There is no direct record of roses being planted at any one time, only a gradual, increasing dominance until the Garden was ready for another name change. By 1917 it is evident that "the Enclosed Garden" was now called "The Rosary", and that it was still fenced with restricted access, as was evident in many parts of the garden. The rose beds were edged with clipped box, under planted with flowering annuals such as pansies and violas, and remembered by those who had to weed them as being riddled with oxalis. The transformation continued under later Director Mac MacKenzie, but even as late as 1928 other plants were still being taken out. The last of Hector's cabbage trees and rhododendrons were finally removed in 1928 at which time the area was a fully fledged rose garden. The old Rose Garden remained until the Lady Norwood Rose Garden was completed in 1953. It is not known when it was finally grassed over but it was still alive and well in 1951.

Development of new Rose Garden area
March 1950

The removal of concrete foundation slabs from Anderson Park Marine Camp structures and the Parks extension began in November 1947 which probably means that the area was not finally cleared until well into 1948 or 1949. Another factor of the post-war cleanup and refurbishment of reserves was the amount of money available for the task. At its meeting of 1 July 1946 Council proposed two loans that were subsequently approved in October. One of £96.000 was for the improvement of city reserves generally. The other of £16.400 was specifically to restore the playing fields at Anderson Park. This suggests that other than to return the grounds to their pre-war uses there was as yet no plan to develop a Rose Garden or a Begonia House.

Money for improvements to Wellington's reserves kept coming in the late 1940's. In 1949 a loan of £180.000 was authorised for 1950. Again there is no mention of money specifically for the Rose Garden project that had already been approved. Thus the cost of the project may have been seen as part of the post-war refurbishment and was embedded in these loans.

A rose garden was suggested in 1948. Work began in 1950 and between then and 1953 it was developed and planted. It was without a pergola until 1961, its northerly aspect protected from the wind for the first few years by a fence of manuka brush. In 1950 the Council decided that the new Rose Garden would be named after Lady Norwood as an appreciation of the services rendered to the city by herself and Sir Charles. An actual link between the Rose Garden and its namesake came about in 1956 when Lady Norwood donated a fountain for the center of the Garden, although a number of similar donations had been made for the Begonia House from 1939. Like its later neighbour, the Begonia House, the Lady Norwood Rose Garden completes the development of a horticultural feature within the Garden, the origins of which go back to the days of former Director George F. Glen.

The Parks Department's files on the rose garden, the Council minutes and the Parks and Reserves Committee's minutes from late 1945 to 1948 contain no information or hint of discussions about or lobbying for a Rose Garden and Begonia House. The Parks Department file on the Rose Garden begins after the proposal had been accepted and the plan published in The Dominion on 15 July 1948. Nor is it clear who came up with the idea for a Rose Garden and Begonia House or who designed the layout.

According to Hutt's successor Ian Galloway this was likely to have been Hutt himself and the evidence found supports this conclusion. Hutt had trained in England and Scotland in the commercial nursery firms of Henry Cannell and Son, Swanley, Kent, and Dobbie and Co of Edinburgh. Personal documents now in the Council archives include information that while in Edinburgh he took a course in landscape and garden design. With these documents there is also a plan for the layout of gardens around Lower Hutt's Civic Centre drawn up by Hutt when he was Director of Parks and Reserves in that city before taking the Wellington job. These demonstrate that he was quite capable of designing a layout like the proposed Rose Garden and Begonia House.

Records in the Council archives also imply that Hutt was the probable author of the plan. He began his directorship in February 1947. That month he produced a report detailing a plan for the reorganisation of the department. It begins with comments on the organization of the Director's office. It had no adequate filing system. Nor is there evidence "of any landscape plans for the development of parks and reserves". Those plans that were on file referred only to the engineering side of development. As a result of this one of his recommendations was that any future development of parks and reserves should involve the preparation of detailed plans for their layout and that these plans should be the responsibility of the Director.

Honeyman's Gully in process of being filled in with spoil from the ridge where the Herb Garden now stands

Another record that suggests Hutt did, or at least oversaw, their preparation comes from a recommendation he made to Council in 1957. Hutt wanted to employ a landscape architect because the planning and design of parks and reserves were now the responsibility of the Director of Parks. Previously such work was done by the Engineers Department. Because the Parks and Reserves Department had grown over the previous ten years the Director's role had become more of a political and administrative job than before. This request had no outcome and the Department was not to get its first landscape architect until the late 1960's. From all this it seems to me probable that in 1948 Hutt was the person who conceived and probably drew up the concept of the layout of the Rose Garden and Begonia House which he then handed over to a surveyor and draughtsman.

It took two years from 1946 to remove the military buildings on Anderson Park and on the site of the future Rose Garden and Begonia House. This involved negotiations with the Government around whose responsibility it was to meet the costs and do the work of restoring reserves taken by the military during the war. In some cases a trade-off was reached by which the Council agreed to do the work and in return was allowed to keep the buildings. This is what happened in the case of Anderson Park and its extension. After the war timber was in short supply and timber from the military buildings was used for housing, particularly for foremen and custodians of parks and reserves. Notably the overseers house located behind the herb garden was constructed using recovered building materials from this source. Acute labour shortages during the late 1940's and into the 1950's meant that free or low rental housing with a job encouraged staff retention.

Topsoil for the rose garden was obtained from Putnam Farm (Putman Street Northland),  removed prior to its subdivision into housing sections  c.1930, according to Ruth Putnam, daughter of the then owner.

The first reference to a Rose Garden and Begonia House comes from the Reserves Committee's minutes for 5 July 1948. At this meeting the Director submitted a plan for the development of Anderson Park and the northern portion of the Botanic Garden to provide for two hockey grounds, or one rugby ground at Anderson Park, and for a children's play area, a rose garden, a winter garden Begonia House, and fernery.

A children's playground had been built on Anderson Park in 1927 on the north west corner of what was to eventually become the Rose Garden. The 1948 a proposal was made to replace the playground moved to Grass Way in 1934, but this did not eventuate as no suitable site could be found in this location. In all other aspects the 1948 plan as submitted was approved and later endorsed at the Council meeting on 14 July 1948, the day before it was published in The Dominion

In July 1948 Hutt was already thinking about the planting of the new rose garden. He intended to use species as well as horticultural rose varieties. To this end on 16 July 1948 he wrote to the directors of Kew and Edinburgh Botanic Gardens asking for seeds of rose species. Edinburgh sent seed, and Kew promised to do so the following season although there is no documentation indicating that plants resulted from this, or that species roses ever became part of the original Rose Garden plantings. The building of the Rose Garden did not get underway until 1950.

Rose Garden under development 1954

Judging from the orders for roses in 1951 planting must have begun in 1952. This continued in 1953 with the added urgency that the garden be completed in time for the royal tour that year. To shelter the new Rose Garden from north-westerly winds its northern half was surrounded by a manuka brush fence, as can be seen in the adjoining photo. Later a border of large shrubs was planted along the Anderson Park boundary for the same purpose. In 1961 the zig-zag and brick walls up to the present Herb Garden were erected. The pergola surrounding the roses was also erected that year. From 1969 and into the 1970's the area was artistically lit at night, illuminating the roses for the enjoyment of visitors, accompanied with musical and dramatic events.

In planning the rose garden Hutt was supported by the Wellington Rose Society. In 1949 the Society held a rose festival that raised £148 ($296) for the garden and gave the department 100 rose bushes. Given that the weekly wage of a gardener in 1949 would have been around £3 ($6), in present value this was not an insubstantial sum of money. This donation does indicate community support for the Rose Garden project. Hutt and his predecessor J G Mackenzie worked at a time when horticulture in Wellington and the development of city reserves attracted a fairly high level of community interest. This was expressed in organisations like the Wellington Horticultural Society, the Wellington Beautifying Society and other specialist organisations such as the Rose Society. The Lady Norwood Rose Garden and Begonia House in the 1940's 1950's and early 1960's realised this interest through the support of a project that embellished the garden and the city and which represented the large-scale achievement of an horticultural ideal.

Children playing in Rose Garden fountain 1984

In 1955 Lady Norwood offered to donate a fountain. This was installed and was operational by November 1956. Lady Norwood's original fountain was replaced by the present one in 1977, donated by her children. The new fountain originally stood in front of a bank in London.

Since the building of the present Rose Garden and Begonia House, improved access, more gardens, a cafe, and an outside stage have completed the development of this area of the Botanic Garden. Horticulture and recreation have been combined here, making it a modern urban pleasure garden with access and facilities for year round use. Many of these developments have been supported financially by the descendants of Sir Charles and Lady Norwood.

In 1971, through the generosity of their daughters, Mrs Eilleen George and Mrs Edna Swanson and their son Sir Walter Norwood, the waterfall, pond, brick shelter and wall, and path access from the weather office were all built. This gift also made possible the construction of a sloping bank to the south of the waterfall, covering an unsightly cliff where the hill had been cut away. The construction of this garden was directed by

Richard Nanson, and the big rocks were placed by Bob Stevens and his gang who were the Department's strong right arm during the 1950's,

Rose Garden framed by the pergola.

60's and early 70's when it came to heavy work of this kind. To the north of the waterfall, beds of shrubs were planted on either side of the approaches to the path from the weather office. They also screened another cut bank and linked up with a protea collection established after 1968, which occupied the lower slopes of the lawn below the tennis pavilion. This garden provides the banks on the eastern side of the Rose Garden with a rich texture of plants. The informal surroundings of the waterfall are linked to the formal geometry of the Rose Garden by a straight line formed by the brick wall and shelter running through them. In 1977 the Norwood family replaced the fountain presented by their mother in 1956. The new one was brought from Australia. It is a fine, elegant Victorian artifact of a rather lavish Roman design cast in metal and providing a rich focal point.

The mature scrub that once covered the area of the present Salamanca Road Lawn in 1902 was cleared as a result of the great fire of 1906. In 1922 this clearance was still maintained, the ridge on the right above the waterfall being completely open, while that on the left was covered with pine plantations. The right hand ridge had probably been kept free from regrowth scrub as it offers a distant, but grandstand view of Anderson Park. Maintenance of the area was abandoned during the 1930's and by 1943 well established regrowth scrub covered all the previously cleared areas.

Buccaneer, the last survivor from the 1950's  disaster, only recently removed

Sometime during the first decade of the Lady Norwood Rose Garden's existence there was a great disaster. A gardener accidentally sprayed the roses with 24D a hormone herbicide mistaking it for liquid DDT and killed all but two beds of roses. All the bushes were removed and that season the garden was planted with annuals until a new batch of roses could be installed. Needless to say no documentation relating to this event in the City Council Archives has been found but it was still one of the horror stones related by staff. No member of the staff was sacked as a result of this mishap. Instead Hutt put out a press release to the effect that the roses had fallen prey to a fungus disease and that the plants had been removed to the Berhampore nursery for treatment. In reality they all went to the tip and Hutt ordered new ones planted.

In 1990 the then director Richard Nanson proposed extending the garden with a formal planting across the eastern half of Anderson Park. Walter Cook noted that "this would have given the Rose Garden a larger context and strengthened the link with the Bolton Street Cemetery that is run as part of the Botanic Garden and which contains a nationally important collection of heritage roses. Protests from community sports groups prevented this from happening. As a consequence the Rose Garden and Begonia House remain as a formal architectural entity complete in themselves but linked to no larger pattern in the Botanic Garden".

This year (2015) the World Federation of Rose Societies presented this garden the Award of Garden Excellence. This international award of the rose garden is in recogntion of the quality and extent of this garden, in competition of gardens from 39 member countries. The World Federation of Rose Societies was founded in 1968 in London, England by representatives from the rose societies of Australia, Belgium, Israel, New Zealand, Romania, South Africa, Great Britain and the United States of America, although other countries are now members. Its stated purpose was to hold international rose conferences and act as a clearing house for rose research.


Begonia house erected 1928 - display 1944 and (below) cleared as a propagating house
for rest of year 1937

The story of begonia displays in the garden started early in the history of this garden. The first reference to a begonia collection occurred in 1913. Director George Glen, who served from 1901 to 1918, had what was considered to be the finest collection of begonias in the Southern Hemisphere, so that the tradition of begonia displays in the Garden has existed for over 100 years.

The exact date of the erection of the first begonia house in the area of the present nursery is not known, although

The first glass house was erected in the nursery area in 1898, although it use is not recorded. Begonia house exhibitions did not occur until after 1904. Further glasshouses were constructed, but the first direct reference to Glen's begonia collection did not occur until 1913. Director George Glen purchased £5 ($10) of seed from the North England nursery of Blackmore and Langdon. The purchase of seed from this source has continued for many years, with more recently up to 5,000 seeds purchased every 2 years.

In the earliest years the collection of seasonal begonias were only on display to the public on Sundays and Wednesdays from 2 to 4 pm. Early newspaper reports raised concern about the limited public viewing, and the glasshouse was eventually also opened on Saturdays. Right up to the erection of in 1961 the glasshouses were used for propagating during the winter and as a display house for the tuberous begonias, gloxinias and streptocarpus from September to Easter. When that season had finished staff had to remove the benches and display pieces to prepare the building for propagating plants for the spring plantings.

The original begonia house was very small with only one door and the public had to pass in single file through the glasshouse. The house was extended in 1922. It is noted that "the need for an adequate show house in the garden has been stressed by the Director, so much so that the Begonia House item of the estimates proposals became looked upon as something to be cut our as a regular thing. The Council did not deny the Begonia House was one of the real features of the Garden but simply said the money could not be spared!

Hutt's predecessor J G Mackenzie made two attempts before the war and one during the war to build a winter garden. When he failed in his bid for this in 1939 Lady Norwood offered £200 ($400) for effecting improvement to the old Begonia House in the nursery area. Unfortunately the war years prevented any developments in the gardens and although plans were prepared in 1945 for further extensions to the begonia house - limited finance meant the Council could not afford the £500 ($1,000) new wing, even with the donations from the Norwood's. 3 years later Sir Charles Norwood offered £300 ($600) necessary for the extension but other developments and improvements were taking precedence at this stage. Finally in June 1960, after talking with Director Edward Hutt, Norwood generously donated the sum of £20,000 ($40,000) for the construction of a new Begonia House to face onto the new Lady Norwood Rose Garden. Now that the Berhampore Nursery had been established, the planned Begonia House could act as a glasshouse the whole year round, and include the most exotic indoor plants.

The structure comprises brick lower areas, aluminum frame, and Belgium plate glass imported especially from Europe. It covers a ground area of 12,000 sq. ft.(3,660 sq. metres) The most modern amenities were incorporated, including modern infra red heating, fluorescent lighting, ventilation by suction fans etc. The opening of the building was planned for Christmas and everything went smoothly - the grand opening took place on 22nd December 1960, and was presided over by Mayor Francis Kitts and Prime Minister Mr. Keith Holyoake, and of course the Norwoods. When it was finished it brought together a tropical glasshouse and a cool greenhouse all in one building.

Mr. W.A. Dentice of Messrs. F,. Cooper Ltd., (Seed Merchant Growers) to commemorate their centenary of opening, bestowed a gift of £1,000 ($2,000) for furnishing winter growing plants in the begonia house. Another benefactor - Mrs. J. Poole, in 1971, donated a unique collection of nerines - 41 varieties which were virtually unprocurable in N.Z. at the time.

Begonia House showing lilly house and roses

The new glasshouse was recognised at the time as the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and contains a variety of other plants as well as begonias which are displayed in summer, with the winter varieties of cyclamen, cineraria, gloxinia, scizanthus, calceolaria, orchids, hibiscus, liliums, poinsettia and bougainvillea. Tropical subjects are crotons coleus, bromeliades (from which pineapple comes)) banana palms and many more varieties. The display usually includes some 5,000 separate plants.

In 1981 a cafe was added onto the eastern end of the Begonia House, constructed to blend in with the existing architecture of the building. Likewise, in 1989 the Lily House on the western end of the building was added to house the fascinating amazonica lily and other hot house specimens. Both these developments were generously part funded by the Norwood family. Later the foyer was extended, with a food area suitable for catering of events, with a retail area. As a result of concerns raised after a Wellington earthquake, seismic analysis of the structure was undertaken, and strengthening as recommended was completed. The exterior paving was more recently also repaired and upgraded.

Cafe addition under construction 1981

The use of the rose garden/begonia house complex in summer was extended especially during the Summer City festivals that were inaugurated in the summer of 1978/1979. These events which drew thousands of people benefited from the Government funded Project Employment Programme (PEP) inaugurated under the Muldoon Government (1975-1984) schemes that subsidised artists actors and designers. Spectacular events were staged in the Dell and Rose Garden and elsewhere in the city. The Rose Garden and its surroundings often looked like a fairground and by the early 1980' s children had certainly claimed the fountain pool.

In 1982 the public toilets and staff amenities block behind the Lady Norwood Conservatory was constructed at a contract  price of $44,270. 

Begonia House from Rose Garden

Interior of begonia house with shop to right

Unusual evening view of Begonia House


Today the Lady Norwood Rose Garden and Begonia House remain the most visited part of the Botanic Garden. They and the surroundings stand as a fitting memorial to Sir Charles and Lady Norwood and their family who have for over seventy years supported the Botanic Garden and this area in particular in so may ways.

It is also fair that this part of the garden should also be publicly associated with Edward Hutt, whose vision and determination gave a fitting memorial to his work, as significant today as it was when created.

Sources and resources:

Winsome Shepherd and Walter Cook; The Botanic Garden, Wellington A New Zealand History 1840 – 1987

Winsome Shepherd and Judy Siers The Botanic Garden A Celebration of a Garden

Wellington City archives, file notes. Old historic photographs WCC Archives and National Library

Margeurite Hill  Heritage Inventory  2003

Walter Cook Lady Norwood Rose Garden

Walter Cook The Lady Norwood Rose Garden and Begonia House - detailed notes

Brown Cathy Victorian Winter Garden

Includes material from:
Shepherd W. and Cook W., 1988 The Botanic Garden
Shepherd W.  .Siers J., 1992 The Botanic Garden. A celebration of a Garden.
Lady Norwood Begonia House, Notes by Mike Wilton for Botanic Garden Guides 1998

        Patrick Beaver 1970 The Crystal Palace