Science in Society student at Victoria University of Wellington
Within an hour of the move to Level 4 being announced I had placed an order for seeds. It was a panic buy; I already had plenty of seeds on hand, it was simply an act to reassure myself amid uncertainty. I wasn’t the only one. The seed company sent a newsletter later that week declaring: “Every day is like the busiest day in spring.” While happy to have the orders, they went on to urge gardeners to be careful about what seeds they were planting: “According to sales over the last two weeks, ANYTHING GOES but realistically…. don’t be tempted to sow heat lovers any time soon.”
This newsletter made me wonder, exactly how would Covid-19 impact on gardening practices in New Zealand? In this blog, I collect together some notes on how Covid-19 has affected New Zealand’s gardening community.
Facebook groups dedicated to garden chat began to fill up with references to lockdown, including satirical memes on how much gardening would get done. First-time gardeners began posting questions about what to grow first. Some long-time gardeners despaired – all the plants had been bought up at the garden centres, and they’d probably just die in the hands of inexperienced gardeners (though I’d hazard plenty of plants die at the hands of experienced gardeners too). However, the majority were gardeners sharing tips and inspiration on every aspect of gardening.
The Facebook group “New Zealand Gardening on a budget” took the opportunity to encourage resilience through vegetable gardening. A post at the start of lock-down suggested starting winter gardens. Experienced gardeners were encouraged to share their knowledge, and newbies encouraged to ask questions.
While online discussion could continue uninterrupted during lockdown, other gardening practices had to pause. A Wellington Facebook group for swapping plants was quick to put a halt on all trade. An admin post from 25 March reads:
“Sorry if you’re grumpy, but this is non-negotiable. The more strictly we stick to the rules of this lockdown, the sooner it can end. Let’s play our part in keeping our most vulnerable safe and just use what we’ve already got in our gardens – propagate EVERYTHING!”
The page has instead become a space for identifying mysterious plants and tips on what to grow in Wellington in Autumn. As one user commented, instead of plants “we’re sharing/swapping advice and knowledge.” For home gardeners, lock-down has meant a pause on visiting garden centres and reliance on the suppliers still shipping. For many community gardens it meant a complete pause on garden activity. On March 27 Taupō Community Gardens posted the below on their Facebook page:
Thank you all for being so passionate about this wonderful resource. We know that there are many of us that have found peace and purpose and a special connection with this community space – and this also means that some who pop down casually don’t realise how many others are doing the same…which is why we cannot do other than say please resist the temptation to be there until it is safe for all once more.
Vegetable gardening is often associated with community resilience. Andrea Gaynor, has written on the role gardens play in both independence – our ability to feed ourselves; and interdependence – our ability to feed our community. Gardens create community resilience not just as places to grow vegetables, but as restorative spaces for mental and spiritual wellbeing. With working bees off the table, some community gardens remained open as part of wider green spaces; Berhampore Community Garden posted, “You are more than welcome to walk through the orchard and you might even find some ripe Granny Smiths. Enjoy the serenity (once the bloomin’ southerly dies down!)”
I spent the past year researching at community gardens in Wellington, and my own garden took a back seat. After six weeks of enforced home gardening, I am now harvesting fresh rocket and mesclun from the packets I ordered. Aotearoa is now entering a new stage, one where more contact will be allowed, and community gardens will begin to re-open. My collection of observations in this blog seeks to illustrate the possibility of further research into gardening and Covid-19.
Hamilton Gardens is a unique public park in the upper North Island city of Hamilton, in which the history of the garden is being recreated, by geographical and historical sections. Rather than a Victorian-based botanical collection or an arboretum, the gardens celebrate the garden as an art form. Under the guidance of Peter Sergel, their visionary director, gardens have been created in consultation with experts from the countries and eras of origin. The Chinese Scholars’ Garden, Japanese Garden of Contemplation, Char Bagh Garden from India, an Italian Renaissance Garden, an English Flower Garden, an American Modernist Garden and Te Parapara (a Māori Garden), form the core of plantings. There are plans for a Baroque garden, a Pasifika garden and a Mediaeval Cloister garden. All have cultural and artistic components of reference with the eras they represent, but most overtly so is ‘The Mansfield Garden’, which is inspired by a New Zealand writer and her short story, The Garden Party, but is in fact a replica of many postcolonial wealthy landowners’ gardens from the era before World War 1.
Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) is perhaps New Zealand’s most famous literary export. After a happy childhood and schooling in Wellington, she was sent to a finishing school in London by her banker father, then returned to New Zealand in 1906 at the age of eighteen. But she was back in England within two years, having convinced her father to send her back for further musical training. From 1908 until her death from tuberculosis in 1923, she lived a nomadic life with various partners, infatuations and friendships, which culminated in a lasting relationship with John Middleton Murry, editor, writer and critic, part of a literary circle of Modernist writers (including D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf), which alternately embraced and rejected Mansfield. They lived in London, Cornwall, Switzerland for her health, and France where, when war broke out, she was reunited with her beloved brother, Leslie, before he was killed in Belgium in 1915. Some of her most settled times were spent at the Villa Isola Bella, in Menton, on the French Riviera, a property which today is run by the New Zealand government as a creative residence for New Zealand writers.
It was in the last few years of her life after her brother’s death that Mansfield began writing stories about her childhood in New Zealand, ostensibly simple and playful narratives that dealt with social issues such as the class system, and psychological issues such as depression, betrayal and loss of innocence. The Garden Party (1921) is one such story, from a collection that was published posthumously. In this story, a wealthy Wellington family plans to throw an extravagant garden party but on the planned day a poorer neighbour is found dead. Laura, the protagonist, goes through the excitement of planning, the shock of discovery and her first encounter with death, and believes the party should be cancelled. Then, at the last minute, she catches sight of herself in her party finery, sporting a glorious new hat and decides the party should after all not be stopped.
In this environment of storytelling through plant and architecture, every plant has been checked for temporal authenticity and any plants mentioned in Mansfield’s works have been included. The garden has the facade of a two-storied wooden villa with pretty verandas and fretwork, a circular driveway for horses, carriages and cars to turn in, which even sports a vintage car, surrounded by an outer ring with luscious borders of perennial flowers and shrubs. Off to one side is the lower lawn tennis court on which a marquee has been erected, sheltering a long trestle table set with jars of cordial, plates of cakes and sandwiches, and fruit. At the other end of the tennis course a piano and other instruments – violin, flute and ’cello – wait to be played for the party. It is to view only and as such, it is a party in waiting, immaculately kept and none of it is real, not even the 15 types of sandwich mentioned in the story. All is sculptured, plastered, thrown or cast. None of the food is edible, nor the instruments playable.
It is a tribute to Mansfield, but also to that era of leisure and pleasure before the wars ruined everything. But the literary association with the writer and story reminds us of how none of this would have been created or maintained without the work of many servants and other low paid workers and in this case as well, dozens of volunteers and supporters, as the Hamilton Gardens still have a policy of free entry for all visitors.
Two site specific events have occurred in recent times in the Mansfield Garden. Every year in February, when summer is at its peak and the gardens are at their best, they form the backdrop for an arts festival. Some performances employ fountains, lakes and even the mighty Waikato River, which swirls by several parts of the gardens. Others adapt shows for the outdoor environment or the particular themes of each garden and, in February 2019, a production of a play about Katherine Mansfield was held in the Mansfield Garden.
The solo play, ‘The Case of Katherine Mansfield’, first appeared in the 1980s when Cathy Downes, who had devised and performed it overseas, toured it throughout New Zealand. With its combination of letters, diaries and short stories written by one of our most colourful and significant writers, the monologue uncovers some of the myths and mysteries about this author, using her own words. The play reveals some of Mansfield’s motives for writing about the homeland she had left, and which keep emerging in her stories, as well as her often cynical view of relationships and social expectations.
What a privilege it was, in February 2019, to see this play in the newly created Mansfield Garden – the perfect backdrop. The audience sat on the circular lawn with a fountain at our backs and relived a long-gone era, but one which produced this first truly modern New Zealand woman writer. That production, directed by Louise Keenan, made delightful use of the on-site vintage car, recordings of Debussy and light jazz, and the appropriateness of the setting and time of day. As the sun faded, so did Mansfield’s health and the last few scenes in gathering darkness were particularly moving and the site memorialised the inspirational writing and life of its namesake.
Then, in February 2020 in the same garden, an event was held that brought the culinary content of The Garden Party story to life. The New Zealand Symposium of Gastronomy and Food History was holding its annual meeting at Hamilton Gardens over the first weekend in February and, in recognition of the many food writers who would be attending and the perfect opportunity to celebrate New Zealand’s great writer, Hamilton Book Month (of which I am a co-director) hosted a welcome reception on the evening before the conference proceedings began. Well in advance of the weekend I researched the story and poured over the delightful monograph, The Katherine Mansfield Cook Book, which has been produced by the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace in Wellington. I also asked local experts about what food was served at the opening of the Mansfield Garden by the hosting stalwarts, The Friends of Hamilton Gardens, who had consulted their own experts in the creation of the sculptured food and drink displayed under the marquee in 2018, while I reread the original story and others by Mansfield for clues. The most detail is in the original story which mentions 15 different sandwich fillings, cream puffs and flagged (labelled) sandwiches, as well as ices and jellies. With my colleague and Co-director of Hamilton Book Month, Catherine Wallace, we planned a menu and sent invitations to local food writers, Book Month supporters and sponsors, an, of course the Symposium delegates — food writers, anthropologists, historians and chefs. After beginning with a budget for 25-30 guests we had to expand our offerings to accommodate the 55 people who accepted. Then came the planning and preparation for the reception catering.
With my Australian colleague and friend Professor Donna Brien from Central Queensland University, who was also a delegate to the symposium. I spent a morning making several hundred sandwiches — sadly only 10 fillings, but we faithfully created the egg and olive and lemon curd and cream cheese combinations mentioned in The Garden Party story. I had earlier prepared drinks, jellies, ginger and fruit cakes and purchased frozen cream puffs, and of course lamingtons, also as advised by the consultants. As we were not officially serving alcohol or hot beverages, cool drinks were relatively easy to provide — homemade punch and countless bottles of soda made with home soda streams, into recycled bottles.
On the evening of the garden party a small group of six volunteers set up the tables with embroidered tablecloths and set out seating for the few speeches we would enjoy, shortly before the guests began to arrive. It was all a huge success, but the highlight of it all was to be allowed to step down onto the tennis lawn on which the marquee and plaster food are all display only and not usually for public access. Our key speaker was Dr Peter Sergel who welcomed the delegates and guests and, after several other words of welcome and drinks and treats had been enjoyed, he produced the master key to take us down onto the special lawn, inside the staged set, so that story, food, drink all merged into one garden party.
Despite J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, having never set foot in New Zealand, he is indirectly responsible for what is arguably New Zealand’s most popular garden. ‘Hobbiton’, near Matamata, is one of New Zealand’s biggest tourist destinations. It features the doors to at least 40 hobbit homes, with their distinctive round doorways, each fronted by a small garden. Beyond these, the whole of Hobbiton – featuring a variety of vegetation maintained, displayed and enjoyed – can more broadly be considered a garden in itself.
Tolkien himself appeared to have a love of gardens, gardening and plants. He greatly enjoyed relaxing at Oxford Botanic Gardens, for example, and reportedly had a favourite tree to rest under there – a large black pine (Pinus nigra), dubbed ‘Tolkien’s Tree’; this unfortunately had to be cut down for safety reasons in 2014. In ‘The Hobbit’, ‘Lord of the Rings’, and associated books, he described many plants. Many are common garden plants from the real-world, including chestnuts, daisies, heather, ivy, roses and nasturtium. Many others, however, were his own fictional inventions, under names like Aeglos, Alfirin, Elanor, Lairelossë and Mallos.
Hobbiton itself began to be developed as a film set in 1999, in an area of Waikato farmland with its rolling hills being converted into Peter Jackson’s version of ‘The Shire’, home to the hobbits, including the main protagonists of the books, Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins, Sam Gamgee, Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took. Hobbiton, the tourist attraction, opened in 2002, following the release of the first of the Lord of the Rings films. In their initial years, however, all there was for tourists to see were doorless, empty Hobbit holes, twisting pathways and the party tree by the lake. Nevertheless, with the release of ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy, the set was revitalised in 2011, this time in a more permanent form, including a bridge, mill and The Green Dragon pub. The gardens of the hobbits were also redeveloped at this time and have been maintained since.
Plants grown in the garden are primarily those that might be expected in a historic English country scene. In front of each hobbit hole, individual hobbit gardens are designed to reflect the character of its owner; some are kept tidy, and others border on abandoned. Plants across the site include 1.2 km of barberry hedges, apple and pear trees, as well as ‘old-fashioned’ flowers’ such as roses, foxgloves, geraniums, dahlias, pansies, violas and cornflowers. A lot of the vegetation are edibles, such as thornless raspberries, currents, artichokes, grapes, and a variety of vegetables and herbs. Another important utilitarian plant maintained is Nicotiana tabacum, referred to in the books as pipe-weed. While much of the vegetation has been grown on site, some of the trees have been transplanted from orchards and neighbouring properties. Trees and shrubs found on the site include magnolias and flowering cherry, but so too are a few New Zealand natives, including corokias and coprosmas. One of the dominant trees at the site, though, is an oak tree on the hill above ‘Bag End’. This, however, is a fake, constructed of fiberglass with leaves of silk – the original tree from the Lord of the Rings movies have been transplanted there, and by the time the Hobbit was filmed it was dead. As such, an exact replica was produced, replete with 376,000 leaves that have been individually attached by hand.
The gardens of course require maintenance year around; the site is usually closed only on Christmas day. This is done by a team of gardeners, said to comprise of a core of five or six, but with numbers fluctuating according to seasons.
These gardens are fantastic for all ages, but especially if you are familiar with the movies. And a highlight is a stop at the end of the tour at the Green Dragon, for a complimentary ale, cider or ginger beer.
By James Beattie, Victoria University of Wellington
During this worrying time, many of us are rediscovering our local nature and the joy and support it can give us. This might be in our own backyard while gardening or searching for bugs with our children, or while walking through parks or along tree-lined streets.
The legacy of finding in nature something restorative, something soothing, especially during a period of terrifying change, is a constant in many of the cultures that make up Aotearoa New Zealand—Pacific, Māori, European, Chinese, and many others besides.
This short blog reflects on the green-tinged heritage of the colonial period of Aotearoa New Zealand: a period in which parks, tree-lined streets, walkways and public gardens were laid out, very often over a rich and important Māori past.
In a world without antibiotics, in a society in which anaesthetics were only just coming into use, people in the nineteenth-century felt very vulnerable to a host of unseen diseases. Perhaps what we are experiencing now was something like that which people in the past felt when facing uncertain—and unseen—dangers, in an age before antibiotics.
Medicine, environment and plants
In a society lacking effective medical intervention, in nineteenth-century Aotearoa New Zealand environment—everything from trees and flowers, to weather and geology—assumed a power that we can today only imagine. Environment affected life and death, sickness and health. The rhythms of daily life moved in time with the patterns of seasonal disease. Agues, remittent fevers, malarias, and other diseases came and went at certain times of year. Travellers received doctors’ advice not to move to climates that differed from their own, lest their constitutions suffer.
To remedy ill-health, Tohunga, doctors (both Chinese and European), charlatans, quacks, and chemists plied a wide variety of plant-derirved remedies on the general public. The ubiquitous eucalypt, for instance, found its way into many tinctures, potions and remedies in New Zealand. In this country some also were derived from the country’s native plants, often by drawing extensively on Māori knowledge-systems. The French-born nursing nun, Mother Mary Aubert enthusiastically explored and exploited something of the medical potential of New Zealand’s plants by preparing and selling herbal remedies commercially (initially in conjunction with Kempthorne, Prosser and Co., Whanganui), and using them for the care of many Māori whom she ministered. These examples show the plurality of medical thought and the breadth of healing avialable in the early years of colonisation, but they also testify to the strength of what we today call alternative medicines as well as a relative lack of confidence in the efficacy of the medical profession.
In nineteenth-century New Zealand people expressed the negative connection bewteen health and environment in the term miasma, which loosely referred to ‘a quality of particular environments’. Frequently used as a shorthand for poisoned or impure air, people believed that decaying animal and vegetable matter poisoned the air, leading to a variety of diseases. But just as bad environments could could cause illness, so good ones could be healthy.
The health-giving tree
Eucalypts were widely acknowledged not only to filter miasma from the air but also to produce ozone in abundance and have a general sanitary effect on air. Popularised by the Australian scientist Ferdinand von Mueller (1825-96, figure 1)—‘Baron Blue Gum’ to his supporters—word of its beneficial properties rapidly spread throughout the world, peaking in the 1870s. According to the Baron, eucalypts could successfully combat malaria in southern Europe, render uninhabitable areas in California habitable, even redeem vast wastes of malaria-poisoned land in North Africa. In Mueller’s hands, there seemed no end to its usefulness. Various distillations and concotions of it could be rubbed on the body, taken internally, even sniffed.
Eucalypts proved especially popular in New Zealand from the 1860s, where they were favoured for their quick growth, utility for firewood, and health-giving properties.
In his 1880 article ‘Planting in Towns’, J. B. Armstrong demanded that, for health reasons, carbon-absorbing plants be introduced into New Zealand’s towns. He highlighted the qualities of ‘the Blue Gum’ (figure 2) as ‘the most active absorber of carbon known’, but also listed a number of other Australian and European species and two from New Zealand.
Another author elaborated on the process that made trees so salubrious. ‘[T]he tree’, he wrote in 1882, ‘operates as a sponge. It sucks up all this unwholesome saturation, distils it, and exhales a part of it, purified, into the atmosphere.’ The author also recommended planting ‘gum trees’, as well as ‘weeping willows or other ornamental trees’.
Tree-planting in cities, it was thought, purified stale, sickly city air. Parks enabled ‘the lover of flowers’, as one contemporary put it, to ‘enjoy himself, and also [provided a space] where the invalid can breathe a little fresh air, mingled with the perfume of the surrounding flowers.’ Provision of city parks, trees and open spaces together with sanitation, town planning and other public works furnished important weapons in the nineteenth-century fight against disease. Establishing parks and planting trees further appealed to the spirit of the age—Romanticism—whose followers worshipped the spiritually and physically regenerative qualities of nature and fervently believed that bringing trees and parks into cities would counter their artificiality and the poor health of inhabitants.
Driven by fears of replicating many of Europe’s urban problems, even before organised European colonisation began in the late 1830s, the private settlement organisation, the New Zealand Company (NZC), had laid out public parks and spaces in its town plans, green havens in its blue prints for a better world for settlers. Dunedin’s Town Belt (figure 3) is one such example. Indeed, most newly established towns in New Zealand soon had land reserved for either a public park or domain, while urban gardens, aside from their value as food producers, also grew ozone-producing plants.
Village greens in New Zealand, declared F. E. Wright in 1873, ‘would have a beneficial influence on the character and stamina of the future inhabitants of the colony’. They ‘should be left in a state of nature, except that the village club might level a place for their games’. In the 1880s, conservationist and politician Thomas Potts (1824-88) argued along similar lines. He recommended setting aside ‘open spaces of land, conveniently situated, open for all, for sanitary and recreative [sic] purposes’.
Park-making and the health-giving properties of those spaces enshrined the ideals of a progressive (white) New Zealand society intent on maximising its resources and improving both its nature and people. ‘Folks sought these shores to better themselves,’ explained a journalist in 1884, not ‘merely [through] the acquisition of wealth; [but also through] the happiness of freedom and health for themselves and their children’. ‘[A]n adequate open space or lung for the well-being of future inhabitants should be dedicated for public use’, declared the writer, and should form an important part ‘of rational and social progress’ in the country. The author believed that environmental reform should improve the human condition and shared with many others the aims of New Zealand’s social reformers who proudly regarded the colony as in the vanguard of ‘rational’ and social progress.
Protecting trees and city parks
While recognising the need to remove trees to make way for cultivation in rural areas, when parks and trees in urban areas were threatened with destruction, settlers objected. In 1866, Dunedin lawyer Francis Dillon Bell (1822–98) reacted angrily to council plans to lease out portions of Dunedin’s Town Belt, originally gazetted in the 1840s before formal settlement commenced. As he explained in a letter to the local newspaper in 1866, its ‘scenery…is unsurpassed for beauty; the ground offers rare facilities for laying out with taste; and the health of the City would be immensely improved by proper use being made of these great natural advantages, and by rigidly preserving the land for the single object it was set apart for.’ Bell maintained that the leasing of the Town Belt should be prohibited on grounds of aesthetics, health and the principles of democracy wherein a minority should not unfairly control the resources of a majority.
So, now that we have time to contemplate the nature on our doorstep, as well as that of our neighbourhood, it’s time for us to consider the origins of some of the parks we are now walking in, or some of the trees and flowers you admire: for some of these are sure to have been planted in the ninteenth century, while the parks you walk in express the idea and concept of the ninteenth-century which believed in the restorative power of nature.
 Ashley Hay, Gum: The Story of Eucalyptus and Their Champions (Sydney: Duffy & Snellgrove, 2002); Ian Tyrrell, True Gardens of the Gods: Californian-Australian Environmental Reform, 1860-1930 (Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 1999), 69-70.
 Robin Woodward, Cultivating Paradise: Aspects of Napier’s Botanical History (Napier: Hawke’s Bay Cultural Trust, 2002), 41-47; also, note, R.C. Cooper and R.C. Cambie, New Zealand’s Economic Native Plants (Auckland; New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 116-131.
 As medical historian Michael Belgrave notes, only by the 1880s was public confidence increasing in ‘professional’ medicine to the extent that many doctors were now able to ply their trade. Prior to this decade demand for medical professionals was so low that many doctors were forced to seek alternative employment. Belgrave, ‘ “Medical Men” and “Lady Doctors”’, 145-6.
 Linda Nash, ‘Finishing Nature: Harmonizing Bodies and Environments in Late-Nineteenth Century California’, Environmental History, 8 (January, 2003): 36.
 Kenneth Thompson, ‘Trees as a Theme in Medical Geography and Public Health’, Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 54, 3 (1975): 518-523 (quotation, 521).
 For an lively chapter on the Baron, see Hay, Gum, 71-103. On its anti-malarial properties note especially, Hay, Gum, 88-90.
 Tyrrell, True Gardens of the Gods, endnote 18 from page 23, referenced on 69-70; see also Thompson, ‘Trees as a Theme’: 524. Its anti-malarial properties generally went unchallenged until the late 1890s, when the importance of the host, the Anopheles mosquito, in transferring malaria was discovered. Michael Warboys, ‘Germs, Malaria and the Invention of Mansonial Tropical Medicine: From ‘Diseases in the Tropics’ to ‘Tropical Diseases’, in David Arnold, ed., Warm Climates and Western Medicine: The Emergence of Tropical Medicine, 1500-1900 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996), 186-198.
 Others he endorsed included ‘the various varieties of Poplar, the Maples, Planes, Elms, &c’, the Tasmanian Wattle, Stringy-bark gum and ‘the Willow-leaved gum and the Peppermint gum’, but also included native beeches and Ribbonwoods. Armstrong, ‘Planting’: 50-53.
 On this vast literature note, for example, Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (London: Harper Collins, 1996); Peter Gay, The Naked Heart: The Bourgeois Experience, Victoria to Freud, Volume IV (Glasgow: Harper Collins, 1998).
 For this theme, Fairburn, ‘The Rural Myth and the New Urban Frontier: An Approach to New Zealand Social History, 1870-1940’, New Zealand Journal of History, 9 1 (April, 1975): 3-21; James Belich, Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders from Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Century (Penguin: Auckland; Allen Lane: London, 1996); Julian Kuzma, ‘Landscape, Literature and Identity: New Zealand Late Colonial Literature as Environmental Text, 1890-1921’ (Ph.D. diss., University of Otago, 2003).
 For a list of these towns, see Grahame Anderson, ‘Wakefield Towns’, in Edward Gibbon Wakefield and the Colonial Dream: A Reconsideration (Wellington: Friends of the Alexander Turnbull Library, 1997), 143-158.
 Winsome Shepherd and Walter Cook, The Botanic Garden Wellington: A New Zealand History, 1840-1987 (Wellington: Millwood Press, 1988); Eric Dunlop, The Story of Dunedin Botanic Garden: New Zealand’s First (Dunedin: Friends of the Dunedin Botanic Garden Inc., 2002).
 F.E. Wright, ‘On the Desirability of Dedicating to the People of New Zealand Small Areas of Ground, assimilating to the Village Greens of England’, TPNZI, 6, (1873): 416.
 T.H. Potts, ‘Out in the Open: On Recreation Grounds – The village green or common’, NZCJ, 8, 4 (1 July 1884): 277-287; Potts, ‘Out in the Open: A Countryman in Town’, NZCJ¸ 12, 1 (2 January 1888): 15-20. Quote from Potts, ‘On Recreation Grounds’: 287.
I have been asked to write about creating a New Zealand native garden from barren sand dunes.
I have always loved New Zealand flora. Our daughter Kristen had a degenerative condition and needed to walk each day, so we would spend time in Botanic Gardens which we both loved. Kristen was nearing the end of her life and my husband gave me the land for my birthday, as he thought it would be a project for my mind and soul when she left us.
The vista at our garden, Te Maimai, is so expansive: it was a matter of creating different spaces, but leaving the dune’s aeolian characteristics intact. Ron Flook suggested a series of mown paths to link the different gardens. Severe wind, frosts, rabbits and pukeko all made planting challenging. I used hardy akeake (Dodonaea viscosa) which thrive in the salt-laden winds and from there we could introduce other coastal and lowland forest trees into the different areas between the dunes. Now we have flowering plants at most times of the year and berries and seeds for the birds in the winter.
Being part of an old wetland area allowed me to plant my favourite flax and then other trees such as my husband’s favourite, Kahikatea, who did not mind having wet feet. Once there were no animals, makura (Carex secta) started to seed again and give that wetland feeling. It has been a series of trial and error in many areas; however, we now have a number of sheltered spots to plant less hardy trees. It is exciting to see the New Zealand ‘look’ reappear after so many centuries of the absence of forest cover.
A friend lent me a wonderful book The Art Album of New Zealand Flora, by Edward and Sarah Featon, published in 1888. It was great to show Sarah’s wonderful paintings with photos of our plants in flower. Many of the paintings had never been separated from the glassine covering the pristine chromolithographs. The first I looked at was my favourite, Golden Tainui, which flowers in the Spring. Now the flax is flowering and the diligent tuis have been drinking the nectar. They do a splendid balancing act. However, by three pm they are drunk and falling off the flax stems.
Golden Tainui: Painting by Sarah Featon
Photo: Gillian Deane
We have four Queen Elizabeth Covenants on the property. A partly dug out waka discovered in one of the wetlands is housed at Te Papa.
We have created gardens for every mood, from the wide views over the Tasman Sea to the sheltered glades to hide from the world in bad weather or in times of sadness.
With the commemoration of the work of the first diligent European botanists who gathered these amazing plants two hundred and fifty years ago, it is fascinating to read of new research like Te Papa’s work on the DNA of plants translocated by iwi over a period of centuries.
I look at civic plantings and wish the annuals were flax to bring the birds to town or Carex secta to give the fashionable Piet Oudolf look, if we are still trying to copy European trends.
Sculpture is by Neil Dawson and is suspended high above a gully filled with native trees
by John Powell, Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Architecture and the Built Environment, University of Adelaide
Let me introduce myself. My name is John Powell and I come to the blog with a primary interest in the fine arts within the Western tradition. My background is in music, landscape architecture and philosophy and, in my research, I enjoy looking for (dis)connections between those disciplines.1
In this post I will explain a little about my present area of research. To begin, I invite you have a look/listen to some of the video below. It shows the fountains playing in the gardens of the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, near Rome, and also contains a performance of Franz Liszt’s piano piece The Fountains of the Villa d’Este.
The video and music raise several interesting questions. Let’s start with two philosophical ones about representation: Can gardens represent anything other than themselves? And, can music represent anything other than itself?2 And, if the answers to these questions are even a tentative “perhaps”, then we can go one step further and ask: can music represent gardens? And can gardens represent music?3 In this post, I will develop some ideas around answering the first part of this last question.
Experiencing gardens and music
We experience gardens primarily through the sense of sight but also through the senses of smell, touch, and kinaesthesia, with taste and hearing playing subsidiary roles. By contrast, we experience music almost exclusively through hearing, although kinaesthesia and sight do play subsidiary roles. To put it plainly, a blind person is typically unable to grasp the essence of a garden and a deaf person (pace Evelyn Glennie) typically cannot experience music in a conventional way.
Experiencing gardens through music
So, trying to communicate in the language of music what a garden is, what emotions and thoughts it provokes, what physical layout it has, and what an experience of it amounts to seems an extremely challenging task. Yet composers as diverse as Liszt, Falla, Delius, Cage, Ives, and Takemitsu have attempted to do so, and some would argue they have succeeded. These and other composers in the Western “classical” tradition have sometimes even set out to describe in their music particular gardens, and the experiences associated with them, and they have found inspiration in gardens in Europe, UK, USA. and Japan, but not, as far as I am aware, in Australasia.
Experiencing gardens and music through time
Gardens and music are both temporal arts.4 Gardens change over time and it takes time for us to experience them; and music is, of course, the temporal art par excellence. So, if music is successful in representing gardens, how does a composer manage to represent these temporal dimensions of gardens? Is music able to represent time(s) external to its own progress and, in particular, times related to the existence of physical places and our experiences of those places? Or, failing that, does a composer simply represent a static “picture” of a garden, thereby missing out on one of gardens’ most important characteristics.
All the questions above hinge on questions of ekphrasis; that is, the understanding or re-presentation of one art form in the framework, constraints, and opportunities of a different (art) medium. We are so used to photographic, filmic, and written accounts of gardens that we seldom question their existence, “accuracy”, or relevance. What I want to do now in my research is to thoroughly question the success or otherwise of musical ekphrastic accounts of gardens. Can a composer successfully represent a garden? Or is she deluded in trying to do so? Or are we listeners deluded when we appear to hear the scents, hear the colours, hear the sun, hear the flowers, and hear time passing in a garden?
 For some earlier research on music and gardens see: Ismay Barwell and John Powell. “Gardens, Music, and Time.” In Gardening: Cultivating Wisdom, 136-47. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
 Liszt’s inscription on the score made it clear his intention was not simply to compose a sound picture of these fountains, but these gardens and the music are a well-known pairing and a useful place to start.
 The Toronto Music Garden, inspired by Bach’s Suite in G major for cello, as performed by Yo Yo Ma, is one well known example of a garden representing music. Many years ago, I read of another such garden, based, if my memory serves me correctly, on a passacaglia by Britten. I have lost track of this garden. If anyone knows of it can they please let me know.
 For investigations into gardens’ temporality see: John Powell. “What Is Temporal Art? A Persistent Question Revisited.” Contemporary Aesthetics 13(2015); Dancing with Time: The Garden as Art. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2019.
James Beattie speaks with the inaugural recipient of our ‘Graduate Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Garden History’, Zoë Heine. A Masters of Science in Society student at Victoria University of Wellington, Zoë provides us with details about her research project, the work that has influenced it, and more!
Tell us about your current project?
My thesis seeks to tell stories located in gardens about the “Anthropocene”. I have selected community gardens to study because they are sites of multi-species interactions, cultivated ecologies and distinct communities. I know that the “Anthropocene” is a contested term but here I’m using it as a convenient word for the way human activity has caused significant disruption to Earth’s systems. My thesis considers how these disruptions require humankind to reconsider what practices still serve us and our companions on this planet.
When I began this project, I was interested in just how one aspect of the Anthropocene was present in gardens; climate change. I wanted to know how gardeners thought about the seasons of gardening and about weather, and how they tied this to climate change. What I found was that this narrowing on one aspect of the Anthropocene was unnecessarily limiting. To quote Donna Harraway, “It’s more than climate change; it’s also extraordinary burdens of toxic chemistry, mining, depletion of lakes and rivers under and above ground, ecosystem simplification, vast genocides of people and other critters…”. As a result, different sections of this thesis consider how a patch of garden might interact with different aspects of these issues.
Pierette Hondagneu-Sotelo (a sociologist) has undertaken various studies in gardens, both private and public, and has proven valuable in framing my study in gardens. In her words – “I love gardens, and I cannot imagine having the self-discipline to research and write on a topic that I do not care about deeply… But I also think gardens reflect prevailing social relations of power, culture, race, class, and gender, and there are significant social and environmental consequences connected to the way we garden”.
I chose community gardens as my specific garden site and used the public info on community gardens to contact all the Wellington gardens. I found eight gardeners at four gardens willing to talk to me. I have interviewed them all once and I am in the process on interviewing them for a second time (for Spring thoughts). The double interview/visit to the garden ties into ideas about seasonal changes and by extension larger cycles of change.
I have used a mixed methodology approach, including oral and environmental history techniques for the interviews. In combination with the interviews I have participated in gardening and made field notes at each site.
I am now trying to write the stories – these are currently loosely grouped into:
Locating the gardens spatially, temporally and theoretically as patches where the Anthropocene can be explored;
How the gardeners locate themselves within the gardens and spatially;
What and how things grow in the gardens – ideas of companions, cultivation, and community.
Whose work has influenced your thinking?
Anna Lowenpaut Tsing and her work with matsuke mushrooms has been foundational in developing my thinking. Tsing has done a lot of work looking at the drivers and impacts behind the Anthropocene. Her work considers how the Anthropocene is often presented as a global phenomenon but in reality it can only be experienced locally. Tsing, unlike other environmental humanities scholars, continues to use the term Anthropocene but adds an extra clarification, calling it the “patchy Anthropocene”. Her work on the matsuke mushroom and its global networks also tie into ideas around what species we ally with, and how we do so.
What do you hope to achieve with the project?
Complete my Masters in Science. I’ve already built some lovely relationships with the community gardens and improved my gardening skills so that is a nice plus.
Write some interesting and engaging stories based in my community garden sites and, with permission of my participants (if relevant), submit them for publication in non-academic settings.
What do you plan to do with the award?
I have spent a portion of it already on purchasing Te Mahi Māra Hua Parakore – a Māori Food Sovereignty Handbook by Jessica Hutchings. I will likely purchase further gardening related texts. The rest will contribute to the printing costs and admin related to completing the thesis project.
By Anna Lawrence, PhD Candidate, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
In December 1874, the secretary of the Wellington Horticultural Society published an invitation in the Waka Maori newspaper (written in both Māori and English) for his ‘Maori friends’ to compete in the Society’s next show at the Odd Fellows’ Hall. In this invitation, he wrote:
As it is not likely that any of my Maori friends would compete for cut blooms or flowers grown in pots, I simply append a list of the prizes for fruit and vegetables.
This assumption that Māori horticulture was restricted to edible produce – with emphasis often on kūmara and other root vegetable crops – was common from the advent of settler colonialism throughout the nineteenth century. This narrative tied neatly into damaging characterisations of Māori as ‘uncivilised’ and lacking the (white) European sensibility so necessary for appreciating the beauty of ornamental flowers and plants.
Whilst there are archival traces of Māori floriculture from the nineteenth century, especially in the context of early Pākehā/Māori encounter, documentary evidence is scarce and almost always revolves around accounts produced by Pākehā. Māori voices are marginal at best, and often nowhere to be found. It was, of course, not the case that Māori were not growing flowers at this time. There is clear evidence from horticultural society show reports in late-nineteenth-century newspapers that Māori were participating in flower shows, with reporters commenting on the skill and accomplishment demonstrated by Māori in their exhibitions of fuchsias, geraniums, petunias and other flowers introduced by European settlers. There are also records of groves of manuka and kakabeak planted around whare, for practical as well as ornamental purposes.
My own PhD research follows these accounts of nineteenth-century Māori floriculture in order to interrogate the role of flowers and flower-growing in Pākehā/Māori relations and the colonial project. As noted by Christine Dann (1992), it is clear that a history of gardening in New Zealand has to rely heavily on oral history methods, especially in the case of Māori gardeners who were unlikely to be recorded in print.
To this end, I am seeking out potential Māori participants for my research who may be willing to talk with me about their ancestors’ flower gardening habits and routines, ideally from the period between 1840-1900 (especially with reference to dahlias!). I would also be very happy to hear from those with Pākehā ancestors who may have recollections about nineteenth-century flower and horticultural society shows, particularly those with Māori participation. If you know of anyone who might be interested in this project, please forward this piece to them and encourage them to contact me.
If you are interested yourself in speaking to me about this project, or want to ask me more questions about my research, please contact me via email at: email@example.com
Dann, C. (1992) ‘Sweet William and Stick Nellie: Sex Difference in New Zealand Gardening and garden Writing’, Women’s Studies International Forum, 15(2), pp. 233-249
‘To the Editor of the Waka Māori’ (1874) Waka Maori, Dec. 29, 10(26), p. 7
In this podcast, James Beattie from the Centre for Science in Society, Victoria University of Wellington, examines the connection between Muslim merchants, Kublai Khan’s Mongol dynasty, opium running, blue and white porcelain, and New Zealand.
The talk and recording was made as part of the History and Historical Research Unit Public Seminar, 4 June 2015, University of Waikato.
by Ian Duggan, School of Science, The University of Waikato
Botanical and other public gardens have been responsible for an extensive movement of plants globally. Less appreciated, gardens have also been responsible for the movement of small animals, hitchhiking with the plants. The 1906 publication “The wild fauna and flora of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew”, for example, compiled a list of animal life recorded in Kew Gardens that was not native to the UK, and included a variety of insects, spiders, worms, and even frogs.
There have been similar introductions of aquatic invertebrates. A freshwater jellyfish, native to the Yangtze river valley, was not just first recorded — but actually described — from the ‘Victoria regia’ tank at the Royal Botanic Society’s Gardens in Regent’s Park, London (this species has since invaded New Zealand). New Zealand has similar examples. A small Japanese copepod species, Sinodiaptomus valkanovi, first described from the botanical gardens in Bulgaria in 1938, was found in the wintergardens in Auckland Domain in the early 2000s. At a similar time, the North American copepod Skistodiaptomus pallidus was recorded in ponds at Auckland Botanic Gardens. Further, Hamilton Gardens has an Australian copepod, Boeckella minuta, present in Turtle Lake. Overall, these findings suggested that garden ponds might be hot spots for invasions globally.
To test this hypothesis, my wife in tow, I visited ten public gardens in 2010, three in the UK and seven in the USA, to determine whether there was a widespread presence of non-native zooplankton in garden ponds; Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh; Oxford University Gardens; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (UK); New York Botanical Gardens; Longwood Gardens, PA; Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham, NC; United States Botanical Gardens, Washington DC; Missouri Botanic Gardens, St. Louis, MO; Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago, IL; and Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago, IL (USA).
Over 100 zooplankton species were found, but interestingly, not a single non-native species was recorded. This indicated that the threat of zooplankton invasions from botanical garden ponds does not appear to be as high as expected. This finding was surprising, given the rich history of gardens in spreading non-indigenous species, but may be indicative of two factors. Firstly, many zooplankton populations that have established in gardens are likely to have died out or had their habitats destroyed in the intervening period. For example, the ponds where the Japanese copepod Sinodiaptomus valkanovi was first recorded in Bulgaria has subsequently been destroyed, making New Zealand the only known place outside of Japan where this species is currently known. Secondly, the probability of new non-native species being introduced to gardens from their native ranges is now smaller than it was in the past; new aquatic plants are likely not entering botanical gardens from the wild.
As such, the prevalence of such invaders in New Zealand garden ponds is seemingly an anomaly. But why? This is a question I hope can be answered by surveying New Zealand garden ponds more widely in the future.