Wellington Botanic Garden has historical significance as one of earliest public gardens established in New Zealand. It has been part of the development of Wellington City and the country as a whole since 1844, when land was appropriated from the Town Belt by legislation to provide for a Botanic Garden. Officially established in 1869 by an Act of Parliament as a kind of 'Central Depot for botanical and acclimatising purposes' the Garden was intended to benefit the entire colony and as such has national historical importance. It was envisioned that the Garden would meet three needs of the Colony: to act as a trial ground for examining the economic potential of plants; as a place for the scientific study and collection of plants; and as a public garden.
The Botanic Garden is also significant for its connection to leading figures in late-nineteenth century New Zealand. It was governed by the Botanic Garden Board, which was drawn from leading politicians and scientists in the colony. Five Governors of the Colony were members of the Board, and a number of Premiers and two Superintendents of Wellington served on the Botanic Garden Board. The key visionary behind the development of the Garden was scientist Dr. James Hector, Director of the Institute, the Colonial Museum and the Colonial Laboratory. Hector's influence over almost every aspect of science in late nineteenth-century New Zealand was such that it gave rise to the term 'Hectorian centralism' . The garden was one of his key works and serves as an important memorial to him.
The garden is also significant in its role as a public garden for Wellington, and as one of the longest serving public gardens. It has evolved over a period of almost 140 years not 'from any grand architectural design but from a series of pragmatic responses to the site, climate, horticultural taste, and a variety of other uses and demands operating at different time'.
Summary of Significance:
According to a 1984 article in the Royal Horticultural Institute's Annual
Journal, the Wellington Botanic Garden is one of New Zealand's most
Wellington Botanic Garden has national historical significance as one of
earliest public gardens in New Zealand. Officially established by an Act
of Parliament in 1869, the garden was intended to serve as a kind of
'Central Depot for botanical and acclimatising purposes, that would
benefit the entire colony. The Botanic Garden has a rich past, which
has been connected to New Zealand as a whole, the Wellington region,
Central Government, the New Zealand Institute (Royal Society), the
Colonial Museum (from which Te Papa Tongarewa originated), the Geologival Survey and the many generations of visitors to the Botanic
Garden for almost 140 years.
Developed by influential scientist Doctor James Hector the garden is an
important scientific institution. It was founded on British ideas of a colonial botanic garden that would support plant trials, acclimatization,
research into native plants and also a place for contemplation and
As a garden, the Wellington Botanic Garden evolved as it is not 'from
any grand architectural design but from a series of pragmatic responses
to the site, climate, horticultural taste, and a variety of other uses and
demands operating at different times over the last one hundred and
[thirty] years'. The majority of the plantings in the Wellington Botanic
Garden reflect ideas about science and the taste and fashion in
gardening from different periods over its 135-year history. The garden
also contains buildings and artwork that contribute to New Zealand's
architectural heritage and add significantly to the aesthetic value of the
The Wellington Botanic Garden is culturally important. It demonstrates
elements of Victorian philosophies and values, such as the Romantic
Movement. The Botanic Garden is often described by nineteenth
century writers in terms of the sublime and savage, key terms in the
Romantic Movement and romantic landscape painting. The native bush
created an image of the 'forest primeval'. For instance, the New
Zealand Cyclopaedia described the Garden as a romantic wilderness.
The Botanic Garden also appealed to the idea of the exotic. The pine
plantations of the 1870s, for example, were considered to be an exotic
The Wellington Botanic Garden is also of significance from a social
perspective. 'Public in its creation and the purposes it serves', the
garden is both a public treasure and an important tourist attraction for
visitors to Wellington City. Interest in new plants was also key to the
Botanic Garden, as science was a major pastime and interest of the
'modern man'. The rare and unusual species found in Hector's
Teaching Garden, made it a popular attraction: Today, the Botanic Garden continues to educate and enhance people's awareness of plants and their environment and provide appropriate recreation
opportunities while protecting the diverse cultural and natural heritage
contained within its boundaries.
The Wellington Botanic Garden was founded on European ideas of a colonial botanic garden that would support plant trials, acclimatisation, and research into native plants, and was also intended to serve as a place for contemplation and learning.
It was strongly influenced by the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, which under the management of Joseph Hooker became the international centre of scientific research, botanical classification and distribution of plants. Dr. James Hector, of the Wellington Botanic Garden, maintained a close relationship with Hooker. By 1883 Hector had implemented the majority of guidelines set out by Hooker in the Wellington Botanic Garden. Like Kew, therefore, the Garden was used to test the economic potential of indigenous and exotic plants.
Apart from those in the Main Garden, the majority of the plantings in the Wellington Botanic Garden reflect ideas about science. The native trees were not removed and replaced with Old World trees; instead the native plants were admired for their uniqueness and their place in New Zealand's ecosystem. The protection of the native bush remnants as early as the 1870s makes the Garden unique. Areas of original coastal broadleaf remain at the Botanic Garden, linking us to the days before European settlement. The oldest tree in the Botanic Garden is a hinau, which is about 250 years old.
Many plants and trees were planted for plant trials and signify a desire to ensure the economic success of the Colony. Walter Cook describes the Botanic Garden as a 'huge cabinet of curiosities', with the exotic cork oaks from Spain, the Himalayan pines and the New Zealand cabbage trees existing in the same space. The Botanic Garden was 'international, eclectic and exotic'.
The Garden also has considerable aesthetic value. According to Juliet Ramsey, gardens are the 'matrix, which give form and unity to urban rural landscapes'. She defines botanic gardens as having a focus on botanic collections, plant acclimatisation, floral displays, and as places for public events. Many botanic gardens were also in the 'paradise style' with conservatories, tropical houses, and stylised features such as curator's cottages and bandstands, elaborate gates, ornaments and memorials. The plantings in the Botanic Garden reflect taste and fashion in gardening from different periods over its 135-year history. In the nineteenth and early twentieth-century, 'exoticism and a love of geometric form were characteristics expressed in the Wellington Botanic Garden'. Many native plants were prized for their colours and strongly defined forms. New Zealand native plants were also subtropical, fitting British desires for the exotic.
Today the wildlife, the numerous microclimates, the scents and smells together help to create the character and ambience of the Garden. It is the combination of these different elements in a relatively small and defined area that makes the Garden appealing to a wide cross section of the public.
The Garden also contains buildings and decorative items that contribute to New Zealand's architectural heritage.
The decorative items add significantly to the aesthetic value of the garden. They range in date from the 1870s (Lady Norwood Rose Garden Fountain) to the 1980s (Centennial Sundial Sculpture). However, the decorative items are predominantly associated with the period between 1906 and 1930. The items represent the contemporary styles and fashions of the period in which they were constructed.
The buildings in the garden also contribute to the aesthetic value of the garden. These structures include an early timber cottage (Overseer's cottage) that retains its original integrity of design, early twentieth century buildings in the Arts and Crafts style, and a gazebo that adds to the formal style of the garden. As such, the garden is an interesting and unusual collection of New Zealand architecture and decorative art through the ages.
The Wellington Botanic Garden fashion and garden styles:
Ramsey defines the style of a garden as 'the way in which the characteristics of a place are contrived to represent what is considered beautiful, or a particular ideal'. In New Zealand, as in Australia, many gardens were based upon British designs, although gardeners had to contend with different climates and plants. Ramsey outlines many garden styles, such as squared gardens, geometric styles, Arcadian gardens, picturesque gardens, the Gardenesque style and High Victorian gardens.
The Wellington Botanic Garden demonstrates many elements of the Edwardian garden, a period between from the 1890s to the 1920s, which includes elements such as gothic architecture, serpentine paths, mixed plantings and retaining natural contours and features. These elements could be seen in the Wellington Botanic Garden of the past, and can still be found today. Laid out in the 1940s, the design for the Lady Norwood Rose Garden for instance, was based on garden fashions that emerged in the 1890s and reached their heyday between 1910 and 1940. Rustic fences and seats, latticework and summerhouses were also features of the Edwardian garden, and these were also common at the Wellington Botanic Garden. Elements of the Gardenesque style can also be seen, including the emphasis on the scientific, use of native and non-traditional (British) plants and trees, and the emphasis on the form of plants and shrubs.
In comparison to the formal Italian nature of the Lady Norwood Rose Garden, Romanticism has influenced much of the rest of the Botanic Garden. Romanticism treasured the wildness of nature and natural features. Rustic features became common in the Botanic Garden. The Mess Room and Stables and Summerhouse are part of this tradition, as are the map houses near the entrances of the Botanic Garden. The Board also installed rustic seats and fences.
The Wellington Botanic Garden is a public treasure and an important tourist attraction for Wellington. Winsome Shepherd and Walter Cook argue that the Botanic Garden and its history is significant through its 'survival in association with our own development as a people, they acquire an emotional and symbolic significance, expressing certain attitudes that we hold about our past, our environment and the things we value in it'.
The Botanic Garden also has a strong educational focus. Staff are reviewing its plant collections in order to best serve public interest and promote 'excellence in specialised areas'. Staff are also planning to create an interpretive plan of the Botanic Garden, as this has already been done for the Bolton Street Memorial Park. A consistent sign guide will be implemented. The Botanic Garden Management Plan also intends to develop practical demonstrations further, as well as continuing to promote guided tours. The Botanic Garden's strategic goals also include supporting and conducting research, providing formal and informal education and developing and enhancing interpretation. The Botanic Garden Management Plan also suggests that a wide range of appropriate recreational uses be encouraged in the Garden. A range of public events is also to be explored. The walkways are to be maintained in a way suitable for a range of interests and abilities.
Maori have been present in the Wellington region since about 1125. Kupe was the first figure to reach Wellington, and later various tribes, including Ngati-tara and Ngati-Mutunga came to the Wellington area. Before 1800 Wellington Harbour was inhabited by Ngati-turoto for many generations. However, '[during the first two decades of the 19th century the west side of Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Thorndon to Ngauranga) was deserted'. Whanganui-a-Tara had a turbulent time from 1819-1836, as the area exchanged hands twice, and was invaded six times. Ngati Tama settled at Tiakiwai, near the northern end of Tinakori Rd in about 1824. There was a total withdrawal of the Ngati Ira from Whanganui-a-Tara in the late 1820s, as relationships between Maori soured. From the early 1830s, Te Ati Awa became the dominant peoples. Ballara summarises the occupation of Whanganui-a-Tara as 'a gradual, untidy affair, a series of short sharp clashes and consequent occupation readjustments as Ngati-Ira gradually conceded more territory'. However, Ballara goes on to state that '[it was clear that both push and pull factors were inducing the populations of Te Whanganui-a-Tara and Wairarapa to abandon their territories to the Taranaki invaders. In the case of the harbour, the change was to be permanent'. According to interpretive panels at the Wellington Botanic Garden, cultivations at Polhill and Omaroro 'were certainly the cultivations supporting the Maori communities at Pipitea, Kumutoto and Te Aro. It is estimated that between three to five hundred were living in these areas'. A map of the parcel of land returned to Kumutoto Maori by the McCleverty Awards shows cultivation near the current Cable Car/Upland Road area. Pipitea Stream, which runs through the Botanic Garden, was an important source of fresh water and cultivation supplies.
Settlers to the New World wanted to avoid the problems of cities in the Old World, and so town planning was an important part of settlement in New Zealand. Town planners aimed to avoid the narrow allies and courts, which often became slums in Britain. Instead, New World cities were to be open, with plenty of space and suburbs. In Britain there was a belief that cities were inherently dangerous, because of their moral laxity, close-quarters living and slums, which spread disease. Settler cities were doubly problematic because of their youth and instability: they were often described as chaotic. Because settler towns and cities had only recently been carved out of the landscape of native bush, there was often a fear of the wilderness, and so nature had to be tamed in order for towns to live harmoniously within a wild country. According to Hamer, as cities became more populated and developed industry, this element of the natural was lost. Instead, public parks and gardens, and provisions such as the Town Belt became necessary. The Directors of the New Zealand Company instructed surveyor William Mein Smith (1799-1869) to provide land for a Botanic Garden and a belt of open space (the Town Belt) to separate the Town Acres from Country Acres. On 14 January 1840, New Zealand was annexed to New South Wales, and William Hobson became the Lieutenant Governor. He issued the Land Titles Validity Proclamation, and declared that all land purchases prior to annexation would be investigated. Hobson hoped to improve race-relations by showing that the government would be 'more responsible and regular' in its land purchase. He anticipated that Maori would be able to sell their land 'without distress or inconvenience to themselves'. William Spain was appointed as Commissioner by the Secretary of State for Colonies. He arrived in New Zealand in late 1841, and was to investigate both the claims of the New Zealand Company and claimants against the New Zealand Company. 116 cases were referred to Commissioner Spain. Spain recognised that the reserves put aside by the New Zealand Company for Maori were inappropriate, as they were hilly or too far from potato cultivation areas. Spain agreed to Wakefield's proposal to compensate Maori with surplus supplies from ships, however Spain felt that the settlement had to be made quickly. Spain felt that giving land back to Maori was 'impracticable' as he thought that Maori would not consent to selling the land at pre-settlement value. Spain felt that this was a case of compensation not land return. However, Spain did exempt pa, burial grounds and cultivation sites from the sale. According to Tonk, 'Spain ruled that the Maori would give up their lands to the Company in exchange for immediate compensation'. Compensation was paid to various iwi in the Wellington area, including the Te Aro Pa (£300), Pipitea Pa (£200), Kumutoto Pa (£200) and Tiakiwi (£30). Tiakiwai is modern Thorndon. Colonel G.W.A. McCleverty was appointed to 'direct the survey and selection of the lands which were due to the Company'. In 1847 he awarded 44 urban sections and 2868 rural acres to individual hapu. In 1847 he also made a series of exchanges with Maori, where Maori gave up cultivation on European land in return for property which comprised of 'original Maori reserves, parts of the town belt, Hutt Valley lands'. One of these exchanges was 52 acres, 2 roods, and 37 perches of Town Belt adjacent to the original 13 acres of the Botanic Garden Reserve. This was known as the Kumototo Block and was later to become the Wesleyan Reserve. It is not known if Maori used this land for cultivation in the three years they owned it. It was sold back to the Government in 1851 for £150 and some land in the Hutt Valley. In 1852, the land was given by the Government to the Wesley Church Mission. By 1865, the land had still not been used by the Mission so the Superintendent was ordered to repurchase the land. It was then earmarked as a public park. The Wellington Horticultural Society was founded in 1841, and regularly staged exhibitions despite the problems faced by the new colony. In 1851 the Horticultural Society approached the Colonial Secretary for a Crown Grant for the land designated as a Botanic Garden Reserve, and named a committee. The land was declared as Botanic Garden Reserve, however no further action was taken for another five years. The Botanic Garden Reserve was protected by the Crown and was not used as grazing land. However, there were threats to the Town Belt and Botanic Garden Reserve in the form of squatters who were burning the scrub.
Establishment of the Botanic Garden
By 1867, there was a growing interest in the Botanic Garden reserve. Dr. James Hector, who had recently moved to Wellington and was a Government consultant on scientific matters, was asked to look over the Botanic Garden Reserve. Dr. Hector recommended it as a good site, with plenty of still and running water, good soils and good access and position. He also remarked that the site was very narrow, and suggested that the Wesleyan Reserve could be consolidated with the twelve acres of Botanic Garden Reserve. Dr. Hector imagined a botanic garden which would be both a public park and 'a Garden for botanical, horticultural and acclimatisation purposes'. Hector estimated that it would cost £2400 to establish the Botanic Garden, by building greenhouses, potting sheds, manager's office, paths, bridges and fences. He also estimated that it would cost about £1000 per year to upkeep the Garden. Mr Gisborne, the Colonial Under Secretary, agreed to Dr. Hector's suggestion of setting apart the Botanic Garden Reserve and part of the Wesleyan Reserve. A year after Dr. Hector had first inspected the Botanic Garden Reserve, the Public Domain Act was passed, and the Botanic Garden Reserve became a Public Domain. In October 1868, Dr. Hector was appointed as manager of the land. By February 1869, Dr. Hector had established a nursery and was receiving seeds from Kew.
A Colonial Botanic Garden
Establishing the Botanic Garden as a kind of 'Central Depot for botanical and acclimatising purposes' was more than Dr. Hector could do on his own. This kind of central store for botanical material would benefit the whole colony and would make the Wellington Botanic Garden a Colonial Botanic Garden. In 1869 Alfred Ludlam, a Member of Parliament and keen horticulturalist, introduced the Wellington Botanic Garden Bill to Parliament. The Bill was passed, and a Crown Grant was executed, giving control of the Botanic Garden to its Governors. £376.7.6 held by the Wellington Horticultural Society in trust for the provision of a garden was given to the new Botanic Garden Board. The Government did not contribute, or provide future funding. The 73 acres, 1 rood and 22 perches of Wesleyan land were purchased for £3500 by the Superintendent. Hector applied to fence 32 acres of this Wesleyan land, and it became part of the Botanic Garden. In 1874, a further 20 acres were conveyed to the Botanic Garden, meaning that the Garden was now 68 acres, 1 rood and 20 perches in size. In 1877, some cemetery land was being supervised (but not leased) to the Garden, so the acreage managed stood at 77 acres, 1 rood and 10 perches. From 1869, the Botanic Garden was governed by the Botanic Garden Board, which was drawn from leading politicians and scientists in the colony. The Board envisioned that the Botanic Garden would meet three needs of the Colony: to act as a trial ground for examining the economic potential of plants; as a place for the scientific study and collection of plants; and as a public place. The Botanic Garden Board was made up of the same people as the New Zealand Institute Board. Five Governors of the Colony were members of the Board, and several Premiers and two Superintendents of Wellington served on the Botanic Garden Board. The first Board meeting was held on 28 September 1869. Once the Crown Grant was issued, work began on fencing and building paths in the Botanic Garden. 1870 was a busy year, as roads and paths were established in the Garden, and the battle against gorse began. By 1876, the Board had spent £270.3.4 on fencing, £103.11.4 on paths, £185.12.6 on buildings and £147.1.4 on seats. However, formal entrance gates were not erected until 1878, when a picket fence and gate were built for the cost of £69.
Dr. James Hector
Dr. James Hector was a qualified medical doctor from Edinburgh. He came to New Zealand in 1862 after being appointed to establish the Otago Provincial Geological Survey. He immediately began collecting geological specimens, and in 1865 a New Zealand geological exhibition was held in Dunedin, showcasing fossil, rock and mineral collections from around the country. That year Hector was asked to establish a Geological Survey for New Zealand in Wellington. By the end of 1865, he had arrived in Wellington, along with all his staff from the Dunedin Geological Survey. An Act of Parliament established the New Zealand Institute in 1867, and Dr. James Hector was made Director of the Institute, the Colonial Museum and the Colonial Laboratory. Hector was also in charge of the Colonial Observatory, the Meteorological Department and the Standard Weights and Measures. As there were few scientists in the Colony, the Government relied on Hector to give advice on subjects as diverse as olive oil and coal. Hector's dominance was known as 'Hectorian centralism' because of his wide influence over every aspect of science in New Zealand. The First Keepers David Hall, owner of the cottage built on Wesleyan land (Director's Residence) offered himself as keeper to the Botanic Garden in 1869, and acted as such until William Bramley was hired as Keeper/gardener in 1870. The cottage was bought from Hall, and Bramley and his family lived there until 1876 when the Keeper's Cottage was built on the Serpentine Way. Under Hall's stewardship of the Botanic Garden, various conditions were imposed upon users of the Garden: animals were forbidden to roam the Garden; people were prohibited from cutting wood or damaging plants; and trespass was also forbidden. Horses and cows were quite often found grazing on Botanic Garden land. Bramley took over as Keeper on 23 September 1870, and was paid £80 per annum. His wages increased to £100 in 1872. Bramley remained Keeper until 1889, when he retired. He was replaced with George Gibb, who took over the position on 4 October 1889. Gibb was paid £7.10.0 per month, and remained as Keeper until 1901. Towards the end of Bramley's term as Keeper, he became known as the Curator of the Botanic Garden.
Gorse was a constant problem for the under-funded Botanic Garden. In 1881-2, 19 acres of gorse were cleared at a cost of £42. The gorse was affecting young trees and was becoming a fire risk. With an annual income of less than £200, gorse control became a problem for the Botanic Garden. Gorse was still a major issue by the time of the Vesting Act in 1891. In an effort to raise funds, sheep were run as an experiment in 1876, and were sold for £13.15. Hay was also sold, and raised £201.4.6 in ten years. The Botanic Garden did not receive any regular funding from local government until 1874.The province system was abolished in 1876, so the Botanic Garden received only this funding for only two years. The Botanic Garden also received a proportion of the rents raised from the Town Belt. In 1876 the amount given to the Botanic Garden from the Town Belt rents was only £93.9. The major source of income for the Garden was from plant trials. However, during the recession of the 1880s, the Government withdrew much of its support for plant trials. The Botanic Garden could no longer afford to distribute trees and shrubs for free, and instead surplus plants were sold to raise money. Acclimatisation and Plant Trials The 1869 Botanic Garden Act allowed for the Botanic Garden to be used for acclimatisation of plants and animals. The first meeting of the Wellington Acclimatisation Society was on 20 April 1871. Acclimatisation Societies aimed to introduce plants and animals that could be of value to the Colony and settlers. Pheasants, fowl and even emus were introduced to the Botanic Garden. Unfortunately, the emus were responsible for 'the wholesale destruction of young plants' and had to be confined. By 1881, one of the emus had died, and another was brought from Blenheim to keep the remaining emu company. At one stage, there were also several monkeys and kiwi at the Botanic Garden. The monkeys regularly caused trouble by escaping and attacking children and terrorising the neighbours' chickens. Newtown Zoo was opened in 1906, and the monkeys and emu were moved to the Zoo. The Botanic Garden was also used to trial plants as diverse as mulberries, cork oak, olives, beetroot and sorghum. A Colonial Industries Commission was established by Vogel, and began to investigate the economic potential of various plants. The Geological Survey was used to distribute seeds and collect results. However, by 1885 the Government was unable to finance these projects, and the money that the Botanic Garden needed dried up. Over the ten years from 1870 to 1880, the Botanic Garden earned £1000 for their part in plant trials. Flax was one of the first plant trials at the Botanic Garden. About 21 varieties of flax were grown at the Botanic Garden. As late as 1972 flax from this collection was discovered near the Dominion and Carter Observatories. The Botanic Garden Historic Flax Collection is still an important element of the Garden. Mulberries were one of the first plant trials at the Botanic Garden. In 1871, the Government gave 150 white mulberry trees to the Garden. It seems that the trees were unsuccessful, and were not given time to mature to produce the leaves needed to feed the silk worms. The next trial was Spanish cork oak in 1872. Unfortunately, cork oaks take about 25 to 27 years before they are mature enough to produce cork, and then cork can only be stripped and collected every eight years. Some of these cork oaks remain in the Botanic Garden today, and are related to the cork oaks at the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew. Sorghum was another plant trial at the Botanic Garden. Sorghum, which is used to produce sugar, was introduced to the Garden in 1881 after earlier trials in Tauranga and the Hawkes Bay. Unfortunately, there is no information about how successful the trial was. There were also sugar beet trials at the Garden in 1871 and 1875, but the plants did not yield enough sugar to make any further trials worthwhile. In 1883, twenty olive trees were planted at the Botanic Garden. An olive oil industry was being considered in the Colony, especially around Auckland. The trees in the Botanic Garden flourished at the time, but do not exist in the Garden today. One of the rationales for founding the Botanic Garden was to 'form the basis for a system of forest propagation throughout New Zealand', and the raising and distribution of conifer plants became a central role of the Botanic Garden. By 1860, the need for quick growing trees for shelter and timber was growing, and the newly discovered conifer species of North America, plus species from India and Japan seemed to fill this need. The Botanic Garden has some of the country's oldest Pinus radiata. The Botanic Garden also distributed the trees throughout the country. Between 1870 and 1871 the first trees were planted in the Botanic Garden. In 1871 the Forest Trees Planting Encouragement Act was passed, which was intended to encourage settlers to plant trees like Pinus radiata by giving a free grant of two acres of wasteland for every acre planted with forest trees. In order to fulfil the Act, the Government had to purchase the trees, and James Hector once again became the distribution point for the seed. The Geological Survey served this function from 1870 to 1884. The Botanic Garden received conifer seed from as far afield as the Himalayas and Mexico, as well as the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and Calcutta. Eucalyptus was also imported from Australia. The last seed was imported from the United States in 1885. 48 species of conifers were introduced to the Garden, of which only half appear to have survived, from 1870 to 1885. Seeds from these introductions were collected by Government from various places in New Zealand in the 1890 for Forestry Department's initial seed banks and are thus associated with the origins of the forestry industry in New Zealand. Hector's position in the Garden, his position with the Geological Survey and the Colonial Museum are thus interconnected. After 1885 no further species were tested. By 1921, Pinus radiata was one of the country's leading timber species. Security By 1876 William Bramley, the Keeper, was unable to supervise the entire Botanic Garden by himself. He was even injured keeping the peace in 1880. After this incident, a police constable was appointed to the Botanic Garden. Constable Campbell lived in what is now known as the Overseer's Cottage. At the time it was called the Constabulary or the Rangers Cottage, and remained as the Gardens constable's residence until 1898. Constable Gleeson replaced Campbell in 1882. There were still problems with livestock and dogs wandering into the Botanic Garden as late as 1882, as reported by Constable Gleeson. Constable Whelan replaced Gleeson 1890. The native bush When the Wesleyan land was purchased and ceded to the Botanic Garden, some native forest remained in the valleys. The native bush was in 'a fair state of preservation' despite the fact that much of the useful timber had been removed by settlers in the 1840s and 1850s. Much of the land was covered with mature kanuka / manuka scrub. A reasonable amount of native bush remained in the Garden in 1875, including maire, miro, rimu, totara, kahikatea, rata and tea-tree. Due to the earlier removal of timber, the remaining native trees needed protection from the wind. In the 1870s, the Botanic Garden Board planted conifers, oaks, Australian blackwood and New Zealand beeches to protect the native bush. In 1891, when the Botanic Garden was vested to the Wellington City Corporation, James Hector estimated that one fifth (15 acres) of the Botanic Garden was still in bush, with 20 acres in kanuka, 36 acres in plantations and 15 acres in open grass. The Botanic Garden was recognised for its native tree-ferns and shrubs by Dr. Leonard Cockayne, who went on the found Otari Open-Air Museum. As well as bush native to Wellington, other native plants were introduced to the Botanic Garden. The Board aimed to establish a collection of plants from other parts of New Zealand. The Wellington Philosophical Society donated £50 in 1870 towards collecting and labelling the plants. The labels showed scientific, popular and Maori names for the plants and shrubs. Plants from as far afield as the Chatham and Auckland Islands were introduced, along with kauri, kowhai and cabbage trees. An alpine collection was also begun. Many of these New Zealand plants became the core of Hector's Teaching Garden, which was set out in traditional rectangular beds. The Botanic Garden also sent many native plants and seeds to other botanic gardens such as Kew, Jamaica, Washington and Melbourne. Plants from conifer seed raised at the Botanic Garden were distributed to other major gardens, as well as private individuals, schools, farms, hospitals, churches and Government House. Wellington Botanic Garden seed was sent all over the country, and the resulting trees can be found in gardens all over New Zealand. Transporting Seed The planting done by the Botanic Garden Board included many Old World plants such as magnolias, camellias and rhododendrons. There was strong tradition of exchange between the botanic gardens and acclimatisation societies throughout the world, and the Wellington Botanic Garden received plants from Melbourne, Kew, Queensland, Calcutta and other locations. The successful transportation of seed and plants was through the use of Wardian Cases. It was very difficult to transport seed to New Zealand; often the seed would rot, burn, be eaten by rats or be too old for any use by the time it arrived here. In 1829, Nathaniel Bartholemew Ward invented the Wardian Case, which allowed for the transportation of live plants. The Wardian Case was a miniature greenhouse, and tall glass jars filled with water allowed for the plants to survive without watering for months at a time. However, many plants were lost on their way to New Zealand, usually because of the great distance between Britain and New Zealand, and because the Wardian Cases were poorly packed or managed during the voyage. The last years of the Botanic Garden Board By 1885 the Botanic Garden was sorely in need of income. Government had withdrawn its funding and the Botanic Garden received barely enough from the Town Belt rents to pay Mr. Bramley's salary, let alone maintain the Garden. Upkeep of the fences and controlling gorse were the main problems that the Board had to face. Some of the fences were 15 to 25 years old, and were no longer secure. In 1887, a fire broke out in the Botanic Garden, destroying various outbuildings, including tool sheds and also damaging plants. There was little money to rebuild and replace the lost tools and buildings. There was growing public concern that the Botanic Garden was falling into disrepair, and it was first suggested in 1887 that the Botanic Garden management be given to the Wellington City Corporation. The Botanic Garden Board were unanimously against the proposal. They feared that the Corporation would do 'mischief' to the Garden, and argued that the Botanic Garden was an asset belonging to the Colony, as demonstrated by the plant trials and research undertaken in the Botanic Garden. They were also worried that the Wellington City Corporation did not have the expertise to deal with the different functions of the Botanic Garden. The Board also emphasised the need to maintain the original 13 acres set aside by Wakefield as a botanic garden, and the possibility of constructing an observatory on land in the Botanic Garden. Evidence related to the Bill was discussed at the Local Bills Committee in September of 1891. The City Corporation reported that it had 'no intention to level or destroy any of the Garden' and also promised to eradicate gorse as it was already doing on the Town Belt. In 1891, the Botanic Garden Vesting Act was passed. The Act included provision for an observatory and 'the requirement that the original thirteen acres be maintained as a Botanic Garden in perpetuity'. Winsome Shepherd sums up the work of the Botanic Garden Board thus: 'the Board in its twenty-two years developed a well balanced Garden with an area devoted to botany, fifteen acres in natural bush, collections of camellias and rhododendrons, magnolias, exotic trees, ferns and of course, the extensive pinetum. The only features missing were wide expanses of lawn and long vistas'. The Vesting Act: the Wellington City Corporation / Council The Botanic Garden Board had feared that the Wellington City Corporation did not have enough experience in dealing with horticultural matters. The Corporation, responsible for managing the Town Belt since at least 1876, had allowed gorse to spread on land the Corporation rented to tenants. With the exception of the Pirie / Ellis Street area, tree planting in the reserves maintained by the City Corporation had also been neglected. However, by 1891 the Corporation was better established and better financed, and had more experience in dealing with the Town Belt. The Botanic Garden was already well established, and the City Corporation inherited two experienced staff, including Keeper George Gibb. The Romantic Movement The City Corporation regarded the Wellington Botanic Garden as 'the jewel in the crown' of Wellington. The Botanic Garden stood out against the arid hills of Wellington and was described in 1897 by the New Zealand Cyclopaedia as the only redeeming feature of Wellington city. The Botanic Garden was also popular with the public, being a respite from the city and the wind. It was a popular spot for a walk and a place for sightseers and tourists. The Botanic Garden reflected the values of the Romantic Movement popular in the latter third of the nineteenth century. Nineteenth century contemporaries describe the Botanic Garden as a 'wilderness' and as having a 'rugged beauty'. The pines were exalted for their wildness. The First Ten Years of the Botanic Garden Board The excellent management of the Botanic Garden under the Botanic Garden Board, despite the lack of funds, meant that the Garden was well established and running well, except for the essential gorse management and fence repair. The City Corporation maintained the status quo for a time, and 'there was no major physical change to the appearance of the Garden in the next ten years' to 1901. However, the intention of the Garden had shifted from a place for scientific research to a place for public recreation. From 1895 onwards, public demand grew for the Garden to be developed as a public pleasure ground. The City Corporation maintained tight controls over public use of the Botanic Garden, with access to the Teaching and Camellia Gardens restricted, and visitors were expected to stay off the grass. Security Under the City Corporation, security at the Botanic Garden was still an issue. There were calls for Botanic Gardens staff to be made special constables in 1893, a uniformed policeman was put on patrol in the Garden in 1894 and in 1907 and 1908 there were calls to have a plainclothes police officer on duty in the Gardens. Botanic Garden staff were indeed made special constables in 1904, and the plainclothes officer was installed in 1908. As staff numbers in the Garden increased and as scrub was cut away, security became less of an issue in the Gardens. The Public's Garden With the completion of the Cable Car in 1902, access to the Botanic Garden became easier, and the Garden became an even more popular place to visit. With the building of public conveniences and a tearoom near the Cable Car in 1904, the Botanic Garden became the perfect place for an outing. Electrified trams reached the Main Gates of the Botanic Garden in 1904, enabling even easier access. In 1904, music became a common element of the Botanic Garden, especially on Sundays. In 1907 the Band Rotunda was built, and became a popular place for entertainment. This continues today at the Sound Shell and the Dell in the Summer City programmes. The Botanic Garden gained its first children's playground in 1905 under George Glenn, Keeper of the Garden from 1901-1918. Another playground was constructed at Anderson Park in 1927, and was shifted to the site of the original playground in 1934. Under George Glen more of the Garden was opened to the public. The location of the Cable Car meant that new routes through the Garden were developed, and Glen opened up nurseries along these new routes in response to public interest. The pines which filled the Main Garden were cleared from 1902 to 1906 and the area replanted. Glen subscribed to the idea of the 'horticultural zoo' and many specimens were kept behind lattice fences or wire netting. However, Glen established popular bedding displays and events. The remodelling of the Main Garden continued under J.G. MacKenzie, Director of Parks and Reserves from 1918 to 1947. During his time in office, the Botanic Garden saw many large-scale changes such as the completion of the Anderson Park extension and the development of the Magpie and Glenmore Lawns. MacKenzie also removed some of the fences and padlocks which had characterised the Garden since the Board's time. MacKenzie also planted many of the plants best known in the Garden today, such as magnolias and the three phoenix palms in the Main Garden. MacKenzie was fond of bedding displays, and continued Glen's efforts by introducing large displays of spring bulbs and more formal beds shaped like hearts, scrolls and circles. The Lady Norwood Rose Garden The idea for a rose garden arose in 1948 and work began in 1950. Director of Parks and Reserves Edward Hutt conceived of and probably designed the rose garden, based on traditional formal parterre. The Lady Norwood Rose Garden was completed in 1953 and the pergola added in 1961. The Rose Garden was named after Lady Norwood in recognition of the Norwood family's service to the city. The fountain which stands in the centre of the garden was given to the city by the Norwood family in 1977, and replaced the fountain originally donated by Lady Norwood in 1956. The Norwood family also gifted the funds for the creation of a waterfall, pond, brick shelter and the path near the Meteorological Office in 1971. Horticultural Training at the Botanic Garden The Botanic Garden has also acted as a horticultural training ground. J.G. MacKenzie was a supporter of the New Zealand Institute of Horticulture and its Diploma system, and hoped that the Botanic Garden would become a training place for New Zealand gardeners. However, the Depression intervened, and Botanic Garden staff had to gain their diplomas through technical colleges. The Botanic Garden has had a strong apprentice programme since the Second World War. Women were first employed as gardening staff at the Botanic Garden in the 1950s. By 1959, the diploma or trade certificate was compulsory for apprentices and the number of qualified staff increased. Under Ray Mole, lectures and field days were introduced for apprentices.
The Wahine Storm of 1968 did a great deal of damage to the Botanic Garden. Many old trees were destroyed or damaged to the extent that they had to be removed. However, it meant that many areas of the Garden could be redeveloped and replanted. The storm meant that light and openness could be brought into areas of the Garden which were formerly overgrown or cramped.
In 1965, Ian Galloway became Director of Parks and Reserves. Under Galloway, visitor and staff facilities were improved, and the Norwood donation of a waterfall and pond were made. The herb and succulent gardens were also established during this time. In 1979, Galloway also instigated the Summer City festival which is still very popular today. Ian Galloway died in 1986, and Richard Nanson took over as Director.
Nanson initiated the Centennial of City Council management of the Botanical Garden, as well as establishing the Friends of the Botanic Garden. In 1991 the Treehouse Interpretive Centre was built next to the old Director's Residence. The Interpretive Centre is used as a visitor information centre, education centre, staff offices and as the New Zealand head office of the World Wide Fund for Nature. In 1991, Mike Oates became Curator of the Botanic Garden of Wellington, overseeing all botanic gardens in Wellington. Under Mike Oates the Garden has seen the redevelopment of the Duck Pond, and the redevelopment of the children's playground. The top triangulation Point near Marama Crescent is at present being marked with the construction of the James Hector Memorial Lookout. The James Hector Pinetum established in 1992 is slowly taking shape. It includes plantings by the Governors General Dame Catherine Tizard as a remembrance of the days of the Botanic Garden Board when the Governor of the Colony chaired the Board Meetings.
The New Zealand Historic Places Trust thanks the Wellington City Council for the use of the information below.
The Wellington Botanic Garden consists of five parcels of land comprising a 24.8 hectare truncated triangle lying along a north-south axis one kilometre north west of Wellington's central business district. Located on the Wellington faultline, the Gardens are adjacent to the residential suburbs of Kelburn, Northland and Thorndon. The Gardens are bounded by Glenmore Street, the path between Anderson Park (closed road) and the Norwood Rose Gardens, Wesley Road, Salamanca Road, and residential properties at the ends of North Terrace, Glen Road and Mariri Road. There are a number of entrances to the Wellington Botanic Garden. These include the Founders entrance off Glenmore St; and the Kelburn entrances on Salamanca Road, Glen Terrace, Upland Road (adjacent to the Cable Car), and the entrance through the Bolton St Memorial Park.
The Garden is located on hilly country and has a minimum amount of flat land. The varied topography and the presence of mature pines on the hilltops have influenced the way parts of the Garden have developed. The micro-climates they create have allowed a more extended range of species to be grown than would have been possible on a more uniform, and flat site. Over time, the original gully-spur landscape has been modified to create more flat land. In 1908 the western ridge of the gully was levelled and Anderson Park, located adjacent to the gardens, was constructed. This gully was further modified between 1931 and 1936 to create the area where the Lady Norwood Rose Garden is now located. Magpie and Glenmore Lawns were also created by a similar process.
The soil types found within the Garden are Paremata silt loam, Korokoro hill soil and Makara hill soil. These soils are associated with leaching, high clay content, low pH and low natural fertility. The vegetation on the original 13 acres (5.2 hectares) of the Garden was originally covered with was dense broad leaf, podocarp and coastal broadleaf forest. Most of this was cleared prior to the establishment of the Gardens in 1869. The 54 acres (21.9 hectares) of land added to the Gardens in 1874 still contained a considerable portion of its native forest, including a number of mature podocarps.
The landscape of the Gardens comprises a combination of native forest remnants and nineteenth-century plantings which dominate and shelter horticultural collections, formal beds and lawns. The Main Garden, which corresponds with the original 13 acres (5.2 hectares) set aside as a Botanic Garden, features plantings from all periods of the Garden's development.
The skyline, demarcated by the lines of Druids Hill, is characterised by tall conifers, most of which are pines and include some of the oldest in New Zealand. On the north-eastern side of the hill is the Lady Norwood Rose Garden, to the west is Magpie Lawn. The Main Garden is located on the south west of Druid's Hill. This area corresponds with the original 13 acres set aside as a botanic garden in 1869. Located inside the Main Entrance at 'Founder's Gate', this area is laid out in the promenade style typical of Victorian gardens. It ends to the south with the Duck Pond and is associated with small remnant of native forest, a woodland garden, rockeries, a fucshia border, and a camellia garden. The Main Garden features plantings from all periods of the Garden's development. This area is enriched with artwork and reflects the picturesque tradition of garden adornment. Artwork includes six ceramic urns, statuary, and the Joy Fountain. The Main Garden also contains a number of important buildings such as the Gazebo, the Sound Shell, the Mess Room and Stables, and the Ladies Rest Room.
1st October 2004
Report Written By
Marguerite Hill (edited by NZHPT)
W. Shepherd, W. Cook, The Botanic Garden Wellington; A New Zealand History 1840-1987, Wellington, 1988 (Millwood Press)
Winsome Shepherd, Wellington's Heritage - plants, gardens, and landscape. Te Papa Press, Wellington, 2000
P. Tritenbach, Botanic Gardens and Parks in New Zealand, Auckland, 1987
Wellington City Council
Wellington City Council
Botanic Garden, Wellington City Council Archives; Wellington Botanic Garden Management Plan, January 1990
John Buchanan, 1875. Notes on the Colonial Botanic Gardens Wellington and its Flora. Te Papa, National Museum of New Zealand.
Te Papa National Museum of New Zealand
Te Papa National Museum of New Zealand
Botanic Garden Archives 1868-1891.
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Central Region office
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.
Historic Area Place Name
Children with water ewers
Gazebo / Summerhouse
Ladies Rest Room (former)
Lady Norwood Rose Garden
Lady Norwood Rose Garden Fountain
Main Entrance Gates
Mess Room and Stables
Norwood Begonia House (Lily House / Teahouse)
Paths / Drives / Walkways
Sound Shell Lawn