Ian Duggan, Te Aka Mātuatua – School of Science, The University of Waikato

Postage stamps were first issued in New Zealand in 1855. At first they featured what is known as ‘The Chalon Head’ – an illustration of Queen Victoria, based on a portrait by Alfred Edward Chalon, which also appeared on stamps elsewhere in the world (e.g., the Province of Canada, the Bahamas and the Colony of Natal). Further variations of portraits of Queen Victoria followed. In 1898, however, New Zealand became one of the first countries globally to release ‘pictorials’, beginning a trend of placing pictures on its stamps, including landscapes and native birds. Inevitably, stamps featuring gardens, garden flowers and other garden-related paraphernalia, were produced. In this blog, I examine the stories of some of these stamps.

The immortal spirit of youth

Health stamps were a long-running series of charity postage stamps. Released annually between 1929 and 2016, they featured one or more limited edition stamps each year. The series was a uniquely New Zealand one, in that they included a regular postal charge along with an additional fee that went to the benefit of local health projects. Some popular themes included members of the royal family and birds, but it was not until 1945 that our stamps delivered their first garden scene. The depiction was, however, not of a New Zealand garden, but of the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens, London.

Health Stamp advertisement, Otago Daily Times, 2 October 1945, P2

Kensington Gardens’ Peter Pan statue, the work of renowned sculptor Sir George Frampton, was chosen for the 1945 Health stamps because of its representation of “the immortal spirit of youth”[i]. The postage rates of the stamps were one pence postage with a further half pence fee charity contribution, and a second stamp, which had a postage rate of two pence, along with an added one pence charity fee. A unique feature of this release was the introduction of a second colour to the Health stamps. As announced by the Acting Postmaster-General, the Hon Frederick Jones in June 1945: “In the 1d and 1/2d denomination the statue and lettering will be grey-green and the background buff, while in the 2d and 1d denomination the colours will be carmine and cinnamon respectively”[ii]. Released on October the first, the proceeds of the charity component were donated for the purpose of maintaining Children’s Health Camps, “for under-weight, delicate, or convalescent children of primary school age”.[iii]

Coming up roses

The earliest in a variety of stamps released depicting roses were those commemorating “Roseworld ‘71”, the inaugural International Rose Convention, which was held in Hamilton in November that year. The convention was attended by delegates from around 15 countries, including 80 from Australia[iv]. In all, it was estimated that more than 70,000 visitors converged on Hamilton over six days.

The idea for a world rose convention arose from a meeting in London sometime around 1968, where it was voted to hold the initial event in New Zealand.[v] Hamilton was subsequently chosen as the venue by the National Rose Society of New Zealand, in part because of the large size of the Waikato Winter Show Buildings at Claudelands Showgrounds.[vi] Further, Hamilton was considered worthy due to “Hamilton City Council’s acceptance of a scheme to establish a rose garden off Cobham Drive”.[vii] This garden, known as the Rogers Rose Garden, was one of the first developments in Hamilton Gardens; development began on the rose garden in 1969, and was opened in 1970, the year before the convention.

The three stamps, depicting a Tiffany Rose (2c), Peace Rose (5c) and a Chrysler Imperial Rose (8c), proved exceptionally popular, with buyers forming something of a stampede. It was noted that:

The “rose” stamps which were placed on sale in the first week of November proved so popular that within a week stocks at many Post Offices were either exhausted or very low, says the Post Office. To meet the demand, it has arranged with the printer, Courvoisier of Switzerland, to print a further supply.[viii]

Roses proved popular in the 1970s, with the Roseworld ’71 stamps followed by what is known as the ‘Rose Definitives’ collection in 1975. ‘Definitive stamps’ is a term denoting postage stamps that are part of a country’s regular issues, available for sale for an extended period of time, and designed to serve the everyday postal needs of the country. Nine denominations, each featuring a different rose cultivar, were initially released; the 1c stamp featured the ‘Sterling Silver’, 2c ‘Lilli Marlene’, 3c ‘Queen Elizabeth’, 4c ‘Super Star’, 5c ‘Diamond Jubilee’, 6c ‘Cresset’, 7c ‘Michele Meilland’, 8c ‘Josephine Bruce’, and the 9c depicted the ‘Iceberg’ cultivars.

Interestingly, two of the stamps were reissued in 1979, overprinted with a new price; The 8c ‘Josephine Bruce’ stamp was reissued with a lower value of 4c, while the 6c ‘Cresset’ stamp was overprinted with a value of 17c. In 1980, similarly, the 7c ‘Michele Meilland’ stamp was overprinted with a 20c value.

In a move some might say pushed the envelope, roses again featured on our stamps with a New Zealand-China joint stamp issue in 1997. Released as a pair of 40c stamps, one features Rosa rugosa (Mei kuei), and the other ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’ (also known as Rosa ‘New Zealand’), a rose cultivar developed in New Zealand.

Rapid deliveries: Brief notes on other issues

A number of other stamps have featured garden and related images. The 1983 definitives issue included five stamps featuring fruit grown in New Zealand; grapes (10c), citrus fruits (20c), nectarines (30c), apples (40c) and kiwifruit (50c).

Originating from Asia, Camellias are a common component of New Zealand gardens, and were the focus of a series of stamps in 1992. These depicted a variety of cultivars; ‘Grand Finale’ (45c), ‘Showa No Sakae’ (50c), ‘Sugar Dream’ (80c), ‘Night Rider’ ($1), ‘E G Waterhouse’ ($1.50) and ‘Dr Clifford Parks’ ($1.80).

The Scenic Gardens series in 1996 was notable for being the first stamps to depict New Zealand public gardens. The series celebrated five public gardens; Seymour Square Gardens, Blenheim (40c), Pukekura Park, New Plymouth (80c), the Auckland Wintergarden ($1), Christchurch Botanic Gardens ($1.50), and the Marine Parade Gardens, Napier ($1.80).

Besides these series, individual stamps have also featured garden related images. In 1960, a definitives series of eight stamps featuring native flowers was released, including flowers from species such as Kōwhai (3d), a common component on New Zealand gardens. Come 1967, and the introduction of decimal currency, it was decided that there was insufficient time to produce a new set of pictorial stamps. As a result, the design of the 1960 issue was retained, and the Kōwhai stamp was reissued carrying a value of 2 1/2c.

Finally, in 1999, as the new millennium approached, a gardening stamp was released as part of a ‘Nostalgia’ series. A stamp titled ‘Garden’ ($1.80) featured images of seed packets from horticultural supply company ‘Yates’, along with a Masport push mower.


[i] Evening Star, 8 June 1945, P6

[ii] ibid

[iii] Record First Week, Auckland Star, 10 October 1945, P6

[iv] Bans on garden fires in U.S., Press, 2 November 1971, P14

[v] ibid

[vi] World rose convention to be held in Hamilton, Press, 29 October 1971, P11

[vii] Waikato Roses, Press, 7 May 1970, P21

[viii] Popular stamps, Press, 17 November 1971, P22

2 thoughts on “Gardens Scenes on New Zealand Stamps

  1. In 2021 NZ Post put out a aeries of 4 stamps from Sarah and Edward Featons Art Albumof NZ Flora which was published in 1889
    There was also a series published in or around 2000 of ornamental plants bred in NZ

    Liked by 1 person

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