Blog Posts

Oh, ‘Chute! Santa’s near miss with the Auckland Wintergarden Glasshouses

By Ian Duggan

Construction of the Wintergarden glasshouses in Auckland Domain was initiated during World War I. The Temperate (or Cool) House was erected first, between 1916 and 1921, for the year-round display of flowering plants. Although planned at the same time, the Tropical House was not added until the late 1920s. Both houses, designed by leading architects William Henry Gummer and Charles Reginald Ford, are described as a pair of barrel-vaulted steel and glass structures, separated by an enclosed courtyard.[i]  Still standing and a popular destination today, the Wintergarden glasshouses came under threat by aerial bombardment in 1937, though not from some wartime enemy. Instead it was from Santa Claus, parachuting in to the Domain to deliver presents. Besides the potential damage to the facilities, this story could also have spelled the messy end of Santa, in front of hundreds of children.

In early November 1937, Auckland City Council granted a request from Farmers Trading Company Ltd to allow the landing of a parachutist, attired as Father Christmas, in the Domain. Nevertheless, as the Auckland Star noted, it was “reported to the council” – though it is unclear from the article, by whom – that it actually had no power to stop anyone landing on the Domain anyway.[ii] Advertisements began appearing in newspapers soon after; “Real life Santa Claus will jump from his ‘plane and come down by parachute”. “When will he be here?” the advertisements asked, and perhaps more ominously in hindsight, “Where will he land?”.

“Where will he land?” Advertisement from New Zealand Herald, 5 November 1937, P19

Initiated in 1934, by 1937 the Farmers Christmas parade had already become an important event on Auckland’s calendar. However, the founder and general manager of Farmers, Robert Laidlaw, was already keen on adding something that would deliver more of a splash, devising a somewhat more newsworthy method for Santa’s arrival. According to the 2011 book “Man for Our Time: Robert Laidlaw, The Founder of Farmers”, his initial intention was to have Santa parachute into Auckland Harbour, to be picked up by a speedboat. The advertising manager, however, was more circumspect, worrying that Santa would be smothered by the parachute before the boat could reach him. As an alternative, Laidlaw suggested landing at the Domain. At first, the Council forbade the event, worrying that it might endanger the lives of the spectators.[iii] Nevertheless, they soon acquiesced, with the jump set for 20 November.

Advertisement, Auckland Star, 19 November 1937, P12

When the day had passed, the landing was labelled as “a narrow escape”, as the parachutist – George ‘Johnny’ Sellars – was reported to have barely missed one of the glasshouses. The incident was reported in a number of paper, thus:

Jumping out of an aeroplane when it was only 1000 feet above the Auckland Domain on Saturday morning, a well-known parachutist, Mr G. W. Sellars, had a narrow escape from serious injury when he was able to sway his parachute just in time to avoid crashing through the glass roof of part of the Winter Garden. As it was, he landed heavily in a small garden plot beside a concrete path, and jarred himself considerably… Mr Sellars was to land on the outer domain as Father Christmas, and was then to help in the distribution of toys on the ground… The aeroplane was so low that the spectators, of whom there were several thousands on nearby banks, were able to distinguish the parachutist’s form very clearly as he stood on the wing before jumping off. There was a fairly strong south-west-erly wind at 1000 feet, and this immediately blew Mr Sellars from the direction he intended to take. Then, as he came down to the shelter of the surrounding trees, the still air caused him to drop more quickly and he landed very heavily. While the parachute was falling, Mr Sellars could be seen vigorously attempting to counteract the effect of the wind and so to land on level ground. He obviously saw the danger of falling into the Winter Garden, and fought to swing the parachute away from it. Until he was within a few yards of the roof, however, it seemed almost certain that he was going to fall on the glass, and it was only on the last few seconds that he was able to avoid it.”. [iv]

“Santa Claus Arrives by Parachute” – Sellars, dressed as Santa Claus, descending over the Wintergardens. New Zealand Herald, 22 November 1937, P6

So Sellars avoided collision, but where did he land? The story continues:

“He [Sellars] then disappeared from the view of the spectators and fell into the garden patch between the two hot-houses. Only a few moments before two gardeners had been bedding plants there, and by the time Mr Sellars had disentangled himself from his parachute and hundreds of children and adults had dashed up to see what had happened, the garden was almost wrecked. Mr Sellars meanwhile had found that his Father Christmas beard had been twisted awry by the fall, and he limped into shelter to fix it before returning to help with the gift distribution—which he did, in spite of his nerveracking experience.”[v]

While this contemporary report outlines his landing in a garden, a later account from the book “Man for Our Time” giving Robert Laidlaw’s perspective provided a slightly different, dramatized version of the near collision and landing: “Robert held his breath. Santa was heading on a collision course with the Wintergarden glasshouses… As Robert watched the spectacle play out before him a single thought raced through his mind: ‘I’m going to be the first person to kill Santa Claus’”.  This account gives a different landing spot, stating “Santa flew over the roof missing the glass by inches and seconds later there was a tremendous splash from behind the buildings. He had landed in the middle of the lily pond”.[vi] This report, while certainly adding to the mythology, should perhaps be taken with grain of salt, given the landing area differs from that in the contemporary accounts, while the date of the incident was also given incorrectly there.

Regardless, Sellars himself denied he was in any such danger, disputing the newspaper reports, stating that the aeroplane was flying at an altitude of about 2000 feet, and that he was capable of avoiding the glass house at any time during the descent:

My landing on the thinly-wooded slope below the Outer Domain was made purposely” said Mr. Sellars. “The dense crowds on the banks and in the centre of the ground made it seemingly impossible for me to land without injuring somebody—perhaps a child. Furthermore, I was not injured in the slightest by the fall, which, contrary to the report, was one of the lightest I have ever made. By spilling air from the parachute, thus increasing the speed of the descent, or by allowing the ‘chute to guide me over the glasshouse, I had it within my power to evade the glasshouse easily. There was not, at any time, the slightest danger“.[vii]

Sellars following a successful jump at Mangere. New Zealand Herald, 17 August 1936, P6

So, Sellars claimed he was never in any real danger. But was he a source that could be trusted? Hundreds of newspaper reports can be found on Sellars’ parachuting exploits through the mid- to late-1930s, as at this time he was something of a New Zealand celebrity.  Do these suggest he would provide an honest self-appraisal?

Well, no serious injury was sustained during this jump, as he parachuted – again dressed as Santa – only one week later at an air pageant at Te Kuiti.[viii] However, he did have a tendency to play down his near misses. In June 1937, for example, at an event held at Wigram, Sellars stepped out on to the wing ready to make his jump: “to his horror, he saw that the pilot chute, which draws out the main parachute, was issuing from the pack and streaming behind in the slip stream. Realising the danger of the parachute becoming tangled in the tail of the aeroplane, Sellars quickly jumped, and was fortunate enough to fall clear and descend safely”.[ix] Following up with the press, however, he – in familiar fashion – stated he was never in any real danger: “There was no question of any possibility of fatal results to my jump”, he declared, followed by a statement of his belief that his parachute apparently had been tampered with.[x]

A year earlier, in July 1936, Sellars landed in the Manukau Harbour, and was found standing up to his armpits in a creek, before his timely rescue by rowing boat. In his retelling of this experience, he said he was dragged under the water by the unopened parachute, but he unfastened the harness and regained his feet. It was stated he was lucky he did not land in the deepest part of the creek or in the mangroves.[xi] This is especially true, given his admission in other sources that he was unable to swim.[xii] His inability to swim also provides another good reason why it might not have been a great idea for Sellars’ Santa to have descend into Auckland Harbour rather than the Domain.

So who was this parachuting Santa, W.G. Sellars?

George Sellars was born at Green Island, Dunedin, educated at Balclutha District High School, and started a career as a railway fireman.[xiii] He took up flying in November 1931, and was reported to be an airman who was not troubled by superstition – he made his first aeroplane flight on Friday the 13th that year.[xiv]  Influenced by watching several parachute descents by Flying Officer J.S. “Scotty” Fraser, Sellars decided to become a professional parachutist. In 1935 he passed the Royal New Zealand Air Force test at Wigram aerodrome, becoming only the second aviator to pass, and only the first after Fraser.[xv]  

Widely reported in the papers, a number of incidents occurred during Sellars’ career besides the Wintergardens miss and near drownings. For example, in February 1936, making his first descent at a pageant at the Hood aerodrome, Masterton, Sellars landed in a tree. Not able to avoid it, he landed on the top branch, fully ninety feet above the ground. It was reported that he was fortunately not injured, but it took him a fair amount of time and patience to untangle the parachute. Sellars was said to have been given a “rousing sendoff when he gamely went aloft for his second jump”, but on this occasion he also missed the landing site and came to settle in an orchard a few hundred yards from the hangar.[xvi]

“Parachutist Treed”, Poverty Bay Herald, 9 March 1936, P12; H.L. Cornish Photo.

Unperturbed, in July 1936, Sellars – against his own better judgment – undertook a descent at Mangere, Auckland, in a heavy downpour of rain, with 45-mile per hour wind speeds at ground level. Although he maneuverered his parachute so that he set down in the middle of the landing field, he was unable to release himself: “lying helpless on his back, he was towed by the ‘chute for about two hundred yards before he could unfasten the buckle and let it go. The empty pack on his shoulders protected him, however, and although both he and the ‘chute got plastered in mud neither suffered any worse damage”.[xvii]

On yet another occasion, at Carterton, he was caught in some high-tension power lines.[xix]  However, he was involved in his most serious accident to this point in January 1937, when making a descent at Otaki Beach. Carried by strong winds, he was thrown violently against the vertical face of a sandhill, and was completely knocked out by the impact. Sellars did not regain consciousness for two hours, “and when he did he was surprised to find himself in bed, a doctor and a representative of the police standing by the bedside. All he could remember about the parachute jump was the approach of a sandhill. Apart from a headache, Mr Sellars suffered no ill-effects”.[xx]  Unsurprisingly, it was reported that year that no insurance company in New Zealand will accept him as a risk.[xxi]  These stories are but a few among a variety of mishaps reported. Nevertheless, Sellars did have his successes also. For example, he attained the Dominion record of more than 7000 feet for a parachute drop[xxii], which was not broken until 1951.[xxiii]

Luck soon began to run out for Sellars, however. An ominous warning came during a breakfast encounter in early May 1938, when a woman – not knowing who he was – declared: “I see this fool Sellars has been jumping out of an aeroplane with his parachute again. What a fool of a man he is. He ought to know that he will do it once too often and kill himself. You mark my words, he’s done it often enough now; he won’t get away with it much longer.”[xxiv]

In May 1938, he got away with it one last time, landing on the steel roof of a car at an event at Mangere, after leaping from 1500 ft. On this occasion he escaped uninjured, apparently without a bruise; the car itself was hit with such force that the body was dented.[xxv] But soon after, in July, the prediction, and sadly Sellars, came to pass.

Sellars fell to his death on 2 July 1938, approximately seven months after the Wintergardens incident, before a thousand people at the Westport Aero Club’s pageant, and just a few days after he made his 200th descent.[xxvi]  His was the third parachuting death in New Zealand at that time, the previous one coming two years earlier – that of his initial inspiration, “Scotty” Fraser.[xxvii] Sellars was described at the time of his death as a single man, aged only 28.[xxviii]

“Mr G. W. Sellars making a parachute descent at Wigram aerodrome”, Press, 8 June 1937, P14


[i] Domain Wintergardens, Heritage New Zealand:

[ii] News of the Day. Auckland Star, 2 November 1937, P6

[iii] Hunter, Ian (2011). Man for Our Time: Robert Laidlaw, The Founder of Farmers. Hunter Publishing.

[iv] A Narrow Escape. Ashburton Guardian, 22 November 1937, P4

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Hunter, Ian (2011). Man for Our Time: Robert Laidlaw, The Founder of Farmers. Hunter Publishing. ISBN 9781927181003.

[vii] Reprot Denied. Auckland Star, 22 November 1937, P8

[viii] The Air Pageant, King Country Chronicle, 29 November 1937, P5

[ix] Parachute Thrill. Evening Star, 24 June 1937, P10

[x] No Real Danger. Evening Star, 25 June 1937, P8

[xi] Parachutist Makes a Wet Landing, Northern Advocate, 13 July 1936, P6

[xii] Parachute Jumping To-morrow. Manawatu Times, 19 December 1936, P7

[xiii] Parachutist Killed. Press, 4 July 1938, P10

[xiv] Local and General, New Zealand Herald, 2 January 1936, P8

[xv] Parachute Test. Press, 20 June 1935, P17

[xvi] Landed in a Tree, Wairarapa Daily Times, 2 March 1936, P4

[xvii] Dragged in Mud. Auckland Star, 7 July 1936, P15

[xviii] Parachutist Injured. New Zealand Hearald, 30 August 1937, P10

[xix] Parachute Tragedy. Evening Star, 4 July 1938, P7

[xx] Local and General. Manawatu Herald. 18 January 1937, P2

[xxi] Art of Parachute Jumping. Evening Star, 22 October 1937, P3

[xxii] Parachutist Killed. Press, 4 July 1938, P10

[xxiii] Press, 30 January 1951, P8

[xxiv] Otago Daily Times, 13 May 1938, P8

[xxv] Struck Car. Auckland Star, 23 May 1938, P10

[xxvi] Parachutist Killed. Press, 4 July 1938, P10

[xxvii] Parachute Tragedy. Evening Star, 4 July 1938, P7

[xxviii] Parachutist Killed. Press, 4 July 1938, P10

John Cooper’s “World Famous” Topiary Gardens

by Ian Duggan

Topiary skill… is less common in New Zealand than in older countries, for most people hold that a tree is a thing to be burnt and not clipped into a semblance of a bird, a beast or a politician [Auckland Star, 1932].[i]

“Quaint garden…”, Taranaki Daily News, 18 May 1931, P 5 (no known copyright restrictions)

Topiary – the art of cutting hedges and trees into ornamental shapes resembling animals, decorative objects and geometric forms – was never widely practiced in New Zealand, with few local examples mentioned in our newspapers up to the 1950s. However, there is the odd exception, such as this one from Onehunga, Auckland, in 1932:

“There is a very quaint instance in a garden facing the Esplanade, the waterfront road at Onehunga. On a grassed terrace there is a complete set of furniture for a tea party of three. The table is a Pinus insignis [now Pinus radiata] with its branches flattened and trimmed flat to represent the round top. The chairs, one at each side and one at the back farthest from the road, are ingeniously “built” out of Elaeagnus. The bare stalks represent the legs, and the leafy branches have been coaxed into the exact shape of seat and back, with an inviting hollow for the shoulders. The suite would have delighted Peter Pan and Wendy, and it is more than probable that if there are any fairies in the borough of Onehunga they must haunt the spot on moonlight nights and hold wonderful banquets there”.[ii]

Despite this article appearing in six newspapers, scattered between Auckland and Christchurch, this garden never received a second story.

The most widely reported topiary gardens in local newspapers were those of Mr John Cooper (b.1863; d.1942) of Newman, a small settlement located 4 km north of Eketāhuna in the Wairarapa region, which were often accompanied with photos. This garden, on the route used by travellers between Wellington and Wairarapa[iii], obtained a good amount of coverage through the early 1930s, and was said by one newspaper report to have been “world famous”. [iv]

In 1931, for example, the Manawatu Times reported: “This unusual sight is to be found in the garden of Mr. J. Cooper, at Newman, Eketahuna. Macrocarpa hedges, kept closely clipped, appear in the guise of tables, chairs, animals, and haystacks, sheep, deer, and birds are to be found on the lawns”.[v]

“An unusual garden at Newman…”, Evening Post, 20 December 1933, P 19 (no known copyright restrictions)

Similarly, the Dominion in 1934 notes: “A garden in the ancient topiary style is one of the outstanding sights between Eketahuna and Pahiatua. The gardener, who skilfully clips his conifers to the shapes of tables, chairs and animals, has spent many years developing his effects.”.[vi]

Unsurprisingly, the gardens were quoted as being “the source of considerable interest owing to the unusual shapes into which various bushes and shrubs have been trimmed”.[vii] Among the most celebrated visitors was Lady Bledisloe, the wife of the Governor-General.[viii]

John Cooper was born in Mākara, west of Wellington, in 1863. He was the son of Mr William Cooper, who – it was reported in John Cooper’s obituary – “arrived in New Zealand in 1856 from St. Helena, where he was one of Napoleon’s guards, being an officer in the British Imperial Army”.[ix] At least, that is how the story went. As descendent Paul McDonald points out, William wasn’t even born until after Napoleon had died, with the family narrative (including his rank of officer) likely all part of a fabrication formulated to obscure William’s wife Eliza’s African ancestry.

John Cooper’s early life was spent bush-felling in the Mākara, Wairarapa and Bush districts, and he followed in his fathers military footsteps, when at 17 he was on active service at the colonial attack on Parihaka, and later became a member of the Eketāhuna Mounted Rifles.  Cooper moved to his famous garden site around the time of his 1893 marriage to Miss Charlotte Dowsett, of Newman.

New Zealand Herald, 16 February 1934, P 8 (no known copyright restrictions)

During his time in Newman, John took an active interest in the affairs of the district, including being a director of the local School Board, a member of the Domain Board, and he served as a Sunday School teacher at the local Methodist Church for some period. His topiary gardens were a retirement project, after he stood back from active farming in 1920.[x] Most of his attention to the gardens followed the death of his wife, Charlotte, in 1931.[xi]

Cooper’s time at Newman came to an end in 1938, when it was reported he would be leaving to take up residence at Rotorua.[xii] In a 2004 book on his gardens, author Margaret Lucas noted that the motivation behind the move was that if his topiary gardens were a success in such an off-the-beaten-track location, it was sure to do well in a major tourist centre.[xiii]

To Malfroy Road in Rotorua, he was accompanied by his youngest son, Len, and Len’s wife Vera. It was reported that Cooper’s intention was to transplant his topiary from Newman to Rotorua. Indeed, in the June 1939 issue of the Australian magazine ‘Pix’, Len was featured with topiary in the Rotorua garden, including a topiary swan and wheelbarrow – just three months after being planted – which featured alongside examples of topiary gardens from Australia, the United States and The Netherlands.[xiv] However, Lucas reports that most of the plants had died en route.[xv] Nevertheless, the Rotorua experience was not to last long. Following the outbreak of World War II, Len was required back on the farm, and the Rotorua garden was abandoned.[xvi]

Advertisement, New Zealand Herald, 25 October 1940, P 11

John Cooper died in a private hospital in Pahiatua in August 1942. At the time of his death, very little apparently remained of the topiary at Newman, besides a suite of furniture deemed too large to have been transplanted to Rotorua; this was trimmed until the Cooper farm was sold in 1960.[xvii] Following a number of years of abandonment, the house was restored in the 1970s, and named ‘Glendon’. The story of its restoration can be found in the book “Glendon: Topiary & Tranquillity, A History of Two Gardens”, by Margaret Lucas.[xviii]


[i] The Passing Show, Auckland Star, 25 February 1932, P 6

[ii] Growing Furniture, Auckland Star, 30 August 1932, P 6

[iii] Auckland Star, 9 April 1935, P 5

[iv] Manawatu Standard, 25 August 1942, P 2

[v] Quaint Garden, Manawatu Times, 15 May 1931, P 8

[vi] Dominion, 15 May 1934, P 7

[vii] New Zealand Herald, 16 February 1934, P 8

[viii] John Cooper and Lady Bledisloe standing alongside topiary, circa 1930s, Masterton District Council.

[ix] Manawatu Standard, 25 August 1942, P 2

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Obituary. Mrs John Cooper, Pahiatua Herald, 29 September 1931, P 7

[xii] Personal, Pahiatua Herald, 10 June 1938, P 4

[xiii] Lucas, Margaret (2004) Glendon: Topiary & Tranquility: A history of two gardens, Heritage Press Ltd, Palmerston North, NZ

[xiv] Sculptor’s Art in Living Shrubs, Pix. (Australia), v. 4, no. 1, 1 July 1939, pp 46-47

[xv] Lucas, Margaret (2004) Glendon: Topiary & Tranquility: A history of two gardens, Heritage Press Ltd, Palmerston North, NZ

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Ibid.

Upcoming Talk (Hamilton, NZ): Common Ground: Garden Histories of Aotearoa, 24 November 2022

On 24 November 2022, at 6-7pm, author and gardens enthusiast Matt Morris will talk about his book: “Common Ground: Garden Histories of Aotearoa” – a history of gardening in Aotearoa NZ from 1200-2020AD. He will also share information about two new book projects he is working on, on related themes.

Matt Morris has always lived in Christchurch. After completing a PhD on Christchurch garden history he began working in the Sustainability Office at the University of Canterbury, where he has remained since 2009. He is deeply involved in community-led food resilience initiatives (which he has worked with for over 20 years) and has surrounded his home in New Brighton with fruit trees and vegetables.

Chartwell Room, Hamilton Gardens, $5 door charge and raffle.

Upcoming Talk (Hamilton) – ‘Cultivating Relationships: Colonial Women and their Married Life in the Garden, 1850-1914’

Recent historical trends have seen the emergence of the garden as a space through which to examine the social and cultural history of particular groups and places. This talk will examine marriage in colonial New Zealand through the lens of the garden.

Looking at the way in which couples interacted in the garden throws new light on colonial life and relationships. This talk will focus on the point of view of women and, through their own words and experiences, show how vital the space of the garden was to the development of colonial society.

Annette Bainbridge will present her talk “Cultivating Relationships: Colonial Women and their Married Life in the Garden, 1850-1914” at The Chartwell Room, Hamilton Gardens, at 6 – 7 pm on the 4th November.

$5 door charge and raffle.

What’s in a name? Bacchus and the ‘paddle plant’

Annette Giesecke, Centre for Science in Society, Victoria University of Wellington

Almost without fail, I select native plants when adding to my small garden landscape, being conscious of the need to maintain habitats for precious native fauna. I happen also to find New Zealand native flora both fascinating and beautiful. The small-leaved Muehlenbeckia astonii [‘shrubby tororaro’] – its wiry, architectural branch structure having evolved in response to bracing winds; cold, dry environments; and, possibly, pressures from browsing moa – is a particular favourite.1 Nonetheless, I am seduced by exotics from time to time. Most recently, it was Kalanchoe thyrsiflora, known commonly as the ‘paddle plant’, that caught my eye and found its way onto my porch (Figure 1). In this case a combination of shape, colour, and name made this plant irresistible… especially its name.

Figure 1: Kalanchoe thyrsiflora. Photo by Forest and Kim Starr, Wikimedia Commons.

The paddle plant looks something like a super-fleshy Rosa centifolia [‘cabbage rose’]. Native to South Africa, the paddle plant is a succulent with rounded leaves that are greyish-green and have striking, wide red margins at least part of the year. As its scientific name betrays, the plant bears ‘thyrsus-shaped’ flowers. The Latin species tag thyrsi-flora literally means ‘thyrsus-flowering’. But what is a thyrsus? Greco-Roman religion provides the answer, which has its roots in the cult of the Greek god Dionysus.

Figure 2: Head from a statue of the young Bacchus/Dionysus. First half of 1st century A.D.
Bronze with silver. Accession number 96.AB.52, the Getty Museum (open source content).

Dionysus, called Bacchus by the Romans, is today widely known as the god of wine, but this reflects only part of the god’s identity in antiquity.2 As it happens, Dionysus also was not a Greek god in origin. Rather, he was native to the ancient Near East from where he was imported to Greece. From Greece he was later introduced to Rome. As for his sphere of influence, Dionysus originally was a vegetation deity. Specifically, he represented sap, the life-sustaining liquid in plants, and for this reason he was viewed as being responsible for luxuriant growth in all plant life (Figure 2). Over time, Dionysus became associated with a range of life-sustaining fluids derived both from plants and from other sources in nature, for example wine, honey, and milk. In his play The Bacchae, the Greek tragedian Euripides (5th century BCE) described the arrival of Dionysus in Greece, as well as the nature of his worship, in detail. From the first, Dionysus was extremely popular, and his cult spread like wildfire. Little wonder, as Dionysus was the ultimate ‘democratic god’. In his eyes all were equal: slave and free, male and female, young and old, even human and animal. The god offered people a welcome release from the worries, hardships, and constraints of daily life, all facilitated by drinking a bit of wine. In earliest times, his celebrants would drain their cups (thereby actually partaking of the god that wine embodied), don a fawnskin, clutch a thyrsus, and head for the hills or other wild places in order to commune with nature in ecstatic dance (Figure 3). Something of a magic wand, the thyrsus was a fennel stalk topped with a clump of ivy. According to Euripides, a thyrsus could be used as a weapon, especially against those who disrespected the ‘foreign’, gender-fluid, shapeshifting god (the long-haired, effeminate Dionysus could assume the shape of a serpent, a bull, fire, and even a burgeoning grape vine). Alternatively, the thyrsus could be used to work miracles. When struck with a thyrsus, the earth flowed with streams of milk and honey.

Figure 3: Marble relief with a female celebrant of Dionysus holding a thyrsus. Adaptation of work attributed to the sculptor Kallimachos. Period: Early Imperial, Augustan, ca. 27 B.C.–A.D. 14. The Metropolitan Museum, New York. Fletcher Fund, 1935, Accession Number: 35.11.3 (open source content).

In a state of manic ecstasy – literally ‘standing outside oneself’ (ancient Greek ek-stasis) – the gods’ worshipers snatched up small animals, tore them apart while alive (Greek sparagmos), and ate them raw (omophagia). While appearing barbaric to modern sensibilities, this ritual gave worshipers access to fresh blood, another liquid incarnation of the god. Over time, however, this form of worship was considered ‘over the top’ even by the Greeks. As they became more urbanized, new, more restrained forms of worship were introduced. The city of Athens took the lead in popularizing theatrical productions as the chief public form of honouring this much revered and popular god. As wine drinkers will know, this beverage is conducive to blurring reality and encouraging shifts in behaviour. In view of this fact, a connection between playacting and Dionysus, the wine god, can quite naturally be made.

Figure 4: Kalanchoe thyrsiflora, illustration by Matilda Smith. 1899-10-01. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, “original illustrations and published plates”, p. 7678.

In any event, the thyrsus would remain one of Dionysus’ most important symbols throughout antiquity. Depiction of a thyrsus alone could suggest the presence of the god. What, then, of the paddle plant? When flowering, this plant produces a metre-long stalk atop which vibrant yellow, fragrant flowers cluster (Figures 4 & 5). The resemblance of this Kalanchoe’s flower stalk to a thyrsus is striking, hence noted Irish botanist William Henry Harvey’s publication (1862) of this plant as the thyrsus-flowering Kalanchoe, Kalanchoe thyrsiflora, in his Flora Capensis; being a systematic description of the plants of the Cape Colony, Caffraria, & port Natal (1862).3

Figure 5: Kalanchoe thyrsiflora in flower, with the parent plant dying back. Photo by Paul Venter, Wikimedia Commons.


1. Will Harvie, “Moa had minor role in evolution of twiggy native shrubs”, 12 Jul 2021

2. See for example, Annette Giesecke, The Mythology of Plants: Botanical Lore from Ancient Greece and Rome (Getty Museum, 2014), pp. 66-75.3.

3. The full citation of this work is: William Henry Harvey & Otto Wilhelm Sonder. 1859–1933. Flora Capensis; being a systematic description of the plants of the Cape Colony, Caffraria, & port Natal. 7 vol. in 11. Kalanchoe thyrsiflora appears in Fl. Cap. Vol. 2: 380 (1862).

Hamilton’s Parana Park: “A Haven from the Busy Rush”

By Ruth Wackrow

When proud Hamiltonian and champion of the Waikato region George Parr died on 26 February 1929, one of Kirikiriroa Hamilton’s best loved parks was born. In his will, Mr. Parr generously bequeathed his home and the three acres of land it sat on to the people of Hamilton with the intention of it becoming a convalescent home and playground for children and families to enjoy.[1] Although it was ultimately decided that the house would not be appropriate for a convalescent home, Parana Park was developed into a popular family destination that people are still enjoying almost 100 years later.

Parana Park Hamilton, 1936. © 2005 University of Waikato Library. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Parr was born in St. Helens, Lancashire, and moved to Hamilton with his parents as a young boy. The family initially settled in Cambridge, but subsequently moved to Hamilton, where his father – Mr. John Parr – later became mayor. After leaving school, George and his brother Robert acquired a grocery business in Hood Street, which they ran until George retired. He was said to have taken an active part in “the public life of the town”, and was the president of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce for several years. However, Parr never married, and left no children. [2]

The task of creating the Parana Park recreational area was given to the Hamilton Beautifying Society, who immediately began formulating plans. The Society’s 1931 annual report shows that much of the initial work was undertaken by returned soldiers, such as cutting down the old orchard, clearing away hedges, ploughing the entirety of the park and seeding it with grass, building a substantial aviary with ponga, making preparations for a children’s paddling pool, creating paths down to the river and grading the approach to the proposed bridge between Parana Park and adjoining Memorial Park. [3]

By the beginning of 1932 the children’s paddling pool was completed, chairs had been placed, gas and water lines provided, and beautiful gardens formed. Shelters with small tables, coin operated gas rings, and the shade from large trees all made for an excellent picnicking destination. [4]

The park’s “rolling lawns and magnificent flower beds, which form a colourful setting for the profusion of stately trees”, was considered one of the most beautiful areas in the burgeoning town. One visitor reported that the “Rhododendrons and various other shrubs make a fine showing”. [5]

A ponga house had also been built to grow a large variety of begonias in beds and hanging baskets, the health and beauty of which were admired. Although begonias were previously thought to be delicate hothouse plants that were best grown in individual pots in New Zealand, frilled, crested, double, single, crisper and crispata begonias were all flourishing in beds and the pendula variety was in pots hanging from the roof. This way of growing begonias in New Zealand had “opened up a new field in the cultivation of these plants” and was “a sight worth going many miles to see”. However, it seems that in early 1932 many residents of Hamilton were still totally unaware that such a beautiful site was available to them, and visitor numbers were low. It was said that “When the public of Hamilton fully realise the attractions of Parana Park there will doubtless be more use made of it”. [6] This prediction was soon proven to be correct, as in February 1933 it was reported that the park was “rapidly becoming a popular resort”. [7]

Improvements to the land were nearing completion in April 1933 and a foot bridge over the small stream that divides Parana Park and Memorial Park, made from Te Kuiti limestone, was finished. Two marble memorial tablets were laid in the bridge, which commemorated the late George Parr and the late Annie McPherson. [8] Ms. McPherson generously bequeathed almost £3000 to the Hamilton Beautifying Society to be used on work at Parana Park. It was felt that an ornamental bridge would be an ideal way to spend the money as it would greatly improve public access to the park. [9] 

The bridge that connects Parana Park and Memorial Park in 2022. Photo Ruth Wackrow

In August 1933 around 25 boys from the Kahukura Boys Club marched down Victoria Street to Parana Park where they planted liquidambar trees. A ceremony was held with some citizens of Hamilton and the mayor Mr. J R Fow spoke about the history of the park and commented on the beauty and utility of the trees. [10]

Parana Park had become a “haven from the busy rush of main-street traffic, where the children can play in safety while their parents rest under the shady trees”, [11] a vision Mr. Parr would have surely loved.

Nevertheless, the beauty and good health of the plants was tempting to some in other ways. In December 1935, two boys aged 11 and 12 were charged with the removal of plants from the park, which they sold to residents around Hamilton. The court commented that the residents should be aware and take more care as they could themselves be charged with receiving stolen goods. [12]

It appears that the theft of plants continues to be a threat to this day, as there is at the time of writing a sign between the stone bridge and the children’s playground which reads: “Please don’t steal our plants”.

In 1937 one seedling of oak and one of a tanekaha tree were planted to celebrate the coronation of King George VI by St. Peters Guide Company. The trees were donated by the Hamilton Beautifying Society to celebrate its 13th birthday. Eighty visitors attended. [13]

In addition to the various birds in the park’s several aviaries, there were also pens of white rabbits and guinea pigs, which added to the parks popularity. [14] There are still aviaries in the park and the birds remain popular with children. In 1937 a wallaby, which was one of Parana Park’s most loved attractions, escaped through a hole in the wire netting and a lively chase ensued.  After an exhausting effort by the two park-keepers and several residents who lived near-by, the animal was eventually caught and put back in its pen. It was noted that the wallaby was very fast and elusive. [15]

Aviary at Parana Park Hamilton in 2022. Photo Ruth Wackrow.

The children’s paddling pool proved to be extremely popular on hot days and in 1937 its design was altered for safety reasons after several complaints were laid. [16] One parent called the pool a “trap for children” after her son had been caught by surprise by the steep sides and depth of the water and had become a “duckling up to the neck, above which appeared a shocked and whitened face”. [17]

Terraced stairs were created around the entire pool replacing the steep sloping sides, and more trees were planted around it. [18]

Once reopened the pool was once again crowded on the weekends, and a fine display of wood hyacinths, spring growth on trees and grass in good condition was observed, making the area a fine place for children to play. [19] The paddling pool is still extremely popular during the warmer months, with “hot weather, high use and “unhygenic [sic] activity”” seemingly comprising its greatest contemporary danger. [20,21]

The Paddling Pool at Parana Park, Hamilton, 2022. Photo Ruth Wackrow.

In 1937 a pergola was completed, the begonia house was rethatched and the creek was cleaned out. The year started with a very wet summer, resulting in a lot of heavy vegetation growth that the staff needed to work hard to control. An astonishing 30,000 plants were propagated in the early months of the year for use in the beds. [22]

An additional 100 pongas were planted in 1939 to add to those already in the area, adding to the abundance of native plants. [23]

During the 1930s and 1940s many groups delighted in using the park for various garden parties, school fetes and church fundraising events for organisations such as the League of Mothers, [24] St Paul’s Methodist Church, [25] St Aidan’s Church, [26] the Salvation Army, [27] Girl Guides and Brownies, [28] and the P and T Ladies association. [29] There were reports of heavy-laden stalls which sold cakes, sweets, and ice-creams, and games and competitions were put on. The South Auckland Pipe Band played several times over the years to which school children performed folk dancing for entertainment. On one occasion Norman Tate, a man “better known to thousands of school children in Australia and New Zealand as the Fun Doctor” [30], arrived expecting to relax at a garden party, but was recognized by the excited children and was compelled to perform his popular juggling act. [31]

Whitiora, Frankton and Hamilton West Schools often held and attended events at the park. Hamilton West School held its garden fete at the park in November 1933 to help raise money for the school. The South Auckland Caledonian Pipe Band played while the children performed folk dancing, and as well as the usual stalls and competitions there was a conjuring act, comedy pieces and a “King of the Ugly Men” competition, which was won the schools headmaster, Mr. Hall. [32]

A similar event was held by Hamilton West School in 1934 where “the weather was delightful, and the park presented a gay and animated scene”. [33] There was a large attendance of parents and hundreds of children in bright clothing had a wonderful time. However, this event was deemed to have an unsatisfactory outcome by the Hamilton Beautifying Society.

Mr. Wallis, then foreman of Parana Park, told the Society that it was the first time a school had organised a picnic at the park and that they were continually climbing trees, running up and down banks and that damage was inevitable; more control should have been exercised over the children. [34]

However, the Headmaster of Hamilton West School and the Chairman of the school committee refuted the claim that the children had damaged the park; “special precautions were taken to ensure that the beautiful park was treated with the care it deserves”, strictest supervision throughout the entirety of the grounds by staff, the Parents Association and members of the School Committee was maintained and “the children themselves, who on all occasions take a particular pride in their conduct, behaved in every way, in keeping with the tradition of Hamilton West School”. [35]  Saying that they were insufficiently controlled and caused damage to the park was a misrepresentation of facts. One boy did climb a tree, but under supervision to retrieve a model airplane, and no damage was done to the tree. Mr. Wallis was asked to assess the damage after the fete and found none and admitted that the park was left in good order.  

Despite this admission, it was decided at the Beautifying Society’s meeting to not “sanction the use of Parana Park in future for organized school picnics”, saying that it was an inappropriate venue for 300 or 400 children, but good for the use of individual families. [36]

Memorial tablet commemorating George Parr on the bridge at Parana Park, Hamilton, 2022. Photo Ruth Wackrow.

In 1942 a proposal by W. H. Paul, chairman of the Hamilton Beautifying Society, was made for the creation of an open-air theatre, similar to one in London’s Regent Park. [37] After some discussion it was agreed upon, and in 1943 the theatre was completed, the first of its kind in New Zealand. The theatre was made up of a grassed raised stage, wings of lawsonia hedges, and a backdrop of poplar. It could hold over 1000 spectators and took three years to construct. [38]

Mr T. Horton, Supervisor for Parks New Plymouth, visited in 1945 and gave his praise to the beauty of the gardens at Parana Park – and especially the open-air theatre – saying it was giving a lead to the whole country by creating an open-air theatre that was as beautiful as it was useful to the cultural life of the town. [39]  The open-air theatre was used for the first time by the Hamilton High School girl’s drama club when they gave a reading of J. M. Barrie’s ‘Quality Street’. [40] However, the theatre was not officially opened until March 1947. Performances by the schools of Hamilton included four picturesque ballets, music, dances and verse speaking. Over 700 people attended, and the proceeds went to Hamilton Plunket Society. [41] The theatre was well used during the 1940s and ‘50s, but sadly has since been removed.

At present there is a large variety of native and exotic plants at Parana Park and a kōwhai themed children’s playground. However, there is little to acknowledge the precolonial Māori ownership of the land, or that it was taken in 1863 during the invasion of the Waikato by colonial forces in the ‘New Zealand Wars’. It is situated opposite Rangiora hill, now the site of the Anglican St. Peters Cathedral, and upstream of Miropiko Pā. Both are important sites for local Māori. [42]

In less than one decade Hamilton will celebrate Parana Parks’ 100th birthday. It is still very well utilised by the public, a fact that Mr. Parr – and all those who made such an effort to turn Parana Park into the place it is today – would be proud of.

A view towards the Kōwhai themed playground, Parana Park, Hamilton, 2022. Photo Ruth Wackrow.


[1] Bequests to Hamilton, Waikato Times, 2 March 1929, P8

[2] Obituary, Waikato Times, 26 February 1929, P6

[3] Beautifying Society, Waikato Times, 22 April 1931, P10

[4] Beautifying Hamilton, New Zealand Herald, 7 May 1932, P16

[5] Beautifying The Town, Waikato Times, 4 January 1932, P6

[6] Parana Park, Waikato Times, 21 January 1932, P8

[7] A Garden City, Waikato Times, 7 February 1933, P3

[8] Waikato Times, 8 April 1933, P5

[9]  Memorial Bridge, Waikato Times, 12 March 1931, P6

[10] Port Waikato Club, Waikato Times, 4 August 1933, P3 

[11] Glory of Summer, Waikato Times, 14 December 1935, P9 

[12] Theft of Plants, Waikato Times, 21 December 1935, P7 

[13] Coronation Trees, New Zealand Herald, 13 September 1937, P12 

[14] Improvements to Park, New Zealand Herald, 30 March 1933, P11

[15] Poverty Bay Herald, 23 February 1937, P2

[16] Parana Park, Waikato Times, 5 August 1937, P8

[17] Paddling Pool, Waikato Times, 30 April 1937, P9 

[18] Bathing for Children, Waikato Times, 16 September 1937, P8 

[19] New Paddling Pool, Waikato Times, 19 October 1937, P6

[20] Is Parana Park Making Your Kids Sick? Waikato Times, 25 February 2013

[21] High Bacteria Levels Close Children’s Water Feature in Hamilton Park, Waikato Times, 5 February 2020

[22] Borough Amenities, Waikato Times, 29 December 1937, P6 

[23] Waikato Times, 19 September 1939, P6

[24] League Of Mothers, Waikato Times, 25 February 1931, P5 

[25] Women’s World, Waikato Times, 24 November 1936, P3

[26] Garden Party, Waikato Times, 31 March 1939, P8

[27] Children’s Fete, Waikato Times, 5 December 1936, P8 

[28] Guides’ Field Day, Waikato Times, 1 November 1937, P3 

[29] P. & T. Ladies’ Association, Waikato Times, 13 November 1937, Page 16 (Supplement)

[30] Mr Norman Tate, Sun (Auckland), 29 December 1928, P12

[31] Garden Party, Waikato Times,18 November 1933, P8 

[32] Garden Fete, Waikato Times, 27 November 1933, P8

[33] School Garden Party, New Zealand Herald, 27 November 1934, P3

[34] Picnics in Park, Waikato Times, 29 November 1934, P8

[35] Parana Park, Waikato Times, 1 December 1934, P7

[36] Use of Public Park, New Zealand Herald, 30 November 1934, P15

[37] News of the Day, Gisborne Herald, 11 December 1942, P2 

[38] Open-Air Theatre, Waikato Times, 12 October 1943, P4

[39] Visitor’s Praise, Waikato Times, 3 October 1945, P4 

[40] Open-Air Theatre, Gisborne Herald, 17 October 1945, P6

[41] Open-Air Theatre, Otago Daily Times, 17 March 1947, P4 

[42] New Zealand Parliament, [Volume:670; Page:17080], Nanaia Mahuta, Hamilton City Council (Parana Park) Land Vesting Bill — In Committee

Gardens Scenes on New Zealand Stamps

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

Miss Moore’s school garden, 1910 – 1924

By Claire Bibby

On September 1st, 1910, Miss Elise Moore, teacher at Hinerua school, wrote in the school logbook -“25 present. Children are starting a garden today, to be worked on their intervals, but I cannot find time to help them as I am busy all lunch hour correcting spelling & seeing that mistakes are written out & that sums are got right.”[1]

Miss Elise Moore, teacher, and the Hinerua school children and wider school family holding flowers from the school garden.

For 14 years from April 1910 to May 1924 Miss Moore taught at Hinerua School. Her logbook shows that gardening was on the school curriculum throughout this time and used to teach academic and physical skills, to care for tools and to provide research data for regional crop performance. The garden provided opportunities for connectivity with the local community (who helped in the garden) and with pupils from other schools (through horticultural competitions). The garden also connected the school with the local farm boys who went to War.

Hinerua school, which opened in 1909 and closed in 1924, was situated on a small hill at the base of the Ruahine mountain range in Central Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. A mountain stream flowed nearby. The nearest village was Ongaonga, 15 miles distant and the nearest town, Waipawa, about 25 miles away. The pupils were farming children from Blackburn and Hinerua. During the formative years weekly attendance was around 22-27.

Elise Moore, born in Clyde in 1875, was one of five children.[2] Her father Samuel Moore had been a Police Inspector escorting gold in Australia and New Zealand.[3] Miss Moore was educated in Lawrence and became a teacher, eventually becoming the principal of Kanunda Girls College in Adelaide, Australia.[4] Wanting to return to New Zealand, she took the first position available, which was Hinerua School.[5]

The Hinerua School site was windy and cold with poor afternoon sun. Miss Moore recorded the children suffering from rheumatism, influenza, colds, and bad backs. Rain, snow, sickness, home help and farming duties affected attendance.

With perseverance the school gardens developed. Henry Hill, the school inspector, visited on 17th June 1911 and reported “The little gardens made by the pupils are neat and tidy and the grounds have been planted with several varieties of pines for shelter and ornamental purposes.”[6]

Hinerua school garden. Undated.

Neighbouring farmers helped. In July 1911, Mr Fargher brought posts for a garden fence. The next day brothers Ernest Adams (age 19) and Bertie (age 17) built it. In the future, both boys would enlist for World War I service, survive, and return to the district.[7] [8]

On 14 March 1913, Miss Moore recorded “Mr Adams kindly lent us a horse & sledge to cart soil from the sheep dip yards…” She went on to write: “17th-20th March   Much time has been given to gardening this week so as to get the gardens into order for the year. The digging is very hard and there are not many children strong enough for it.  At present gardening is interfering with our regular schoolwork but I am hoping that once the gardens are formed the children will be able to keep them in order in their intervals & dinner hours. Half an hour’s gardening is done by Std V each week from 10.30 to 11.”

Inspector Hill visited the school in May 1913 and found it closed. 

“On inquiry I was informed that Miss Moore was suffering from influenza & that most of the children were suffering from mumps,” he wrote. “The ground about the building drains the surface water under the school. Good health of the children can hardly be expected under the conditions.”[9]

He observed “The children’s gardens are neatly arranged and pansies, phlox, petunias, violets and several other varieties of flowers were in full bloom. Several beds of strawberries are neatly laid out. Everything is ready for Spring.”[10]

He added on his August inspection “…there are strawberry beds that almost tempt an Inspector to visit the place on another occasion!”[11]

A year later in his August 1914 report, Inspector Hill wrote “The externals of this school are highly commended to the Committee, Mistress and pupils. The flower gardens are full of primroses in full bloom & form a pretty sight adding a charm to the surroundings. There are beds of strawberries & the plantations are in good order & present a healthy appearance…This small outlying school continues to present features of special interest in the training of children. The family life is fostered, and there is a delightful tone in the school. All the external arrangements are a reflex of the internal. The children are happy and work with diligence and fair success… The training in preparing a table for the children’s lunch is worthy of general adoption in all country schools.”[12]

Hinerua picnic 1917. Hinerua School is in the background. The teachers house which accommodated Miss Moore is in the foreground. Source Ongaonga Museum.

Then, disaster. In October big winds struck the school. Miss Moore recorded the outcome in the school log.

“7th Oct. As the gale was still bad in the morning it was considered advisable not to hold school.  Much of the asphalt has been carried away & our gardens have suffered badly.”

“8th Oct. The day was so hot & the ground so dry after the wind that I decided not to take gardening.”

“30th Oct. Vegetable seeds which children had planted have been blown away during gale – the potatoes & artichokes which were planted from 5 to 6 ins. deep were uncovered.”

“3rd Nov. Another gale has again uncovered the potatoes & destroyed the beans that were up.”

“10th Dec. School was closed in the afternoon because of the raging gale.  School during the morning was very trying owing to the noise caused by the wind. Some of the little ones were very frightened.”

The wind sent sparks from the school chimney into the adjoining paddock and set logs on fire. The fire spread quickly and the neighbouring farmers and school boys had difficulty in putting it out.

At the end of 1914 Miss Moore sent a letter to the Education Board requesting, for the second time, a register for the Elementary Agriculture class.

She wrote “I have not been able to get in 40 weeks of instruction in gardening this year as the weather has very often not been suitable on gardening day.”  She thanked the Board for seeds and tools and asked for a wheelbarrow.

The 1915 records show the school had 5 spades, 1 potato fork, 2 rakes, 3 hoes, 1 watering can, 1 trowel, 2 small forks and 1 wheelbarrow.

In addition to learning how to grow and prepare food from garden to table, the school log inform the flower garden was used for teaching art, empathy, and compassion.

In May 1915 Miss Moore wrote “Children made paintings of a Japanese anemone from natural flower and sent them to a schoolmate in Waipawa Hospital, who is recovering from a serious operation.” 

The children gathered flowers which they “carried with a letter of welcome and gratitude to a returned wounded soldier.”

One class photograph shows the children holding flowers and another shows the children posing with tools in the school garden of brick edged beds with flowers and paths between.

There were few gardening entries in 1916 owing to a year of terrible weather and illness. Gales set the chimney on fire for the second time. Three farm boys were farewelled for military training. On Dominion Day in September, instead of taking a holiday, the children came to school. They began to clear around some of the trees planted on the school hill, naming each tree after one of their local soldiers. They would take the Dominion Day holiday in October when the three farm boys-turned-soldier returned home for final leave.

In December the Ongaonga Horticultural Show was held. The school entered the children’s competitions for maps, freehand drawings, brush work and writing, and achieved prizes. These competitions were entered annually, with Miss Moore once cycling eleven miles into Ongaonga with the entries to ensure they arrived in time.[13] [14]

A local farm boy, Lance Hardy, was killed in action in France in 1917. When two returned soldiers were welcomed back to Hinerua in 1918, Miss Moore and her pupils established The Lance Memorial Fund in his memory. The money raised was forwarded every month to the Salvation Army and alternately to the Y.M.C.A to provide refreshments for soldiers. Perhaps some of the money come from selling school vegetables as Miss Moore was required to furnish a return on the sale of garden produce. Net sales were also reported in the local newspaper.[15]

In 1920 the Education Office asked for a scale plan of the garden for the Director of M. & T. Institution so that the years experiments would be a permanent office record for reference. The Office wrote “In all school gardens it will be necessary to limit demonstration work to one or two but not more than three classes of crops. There are many problems still unsolved with onions or potatoes or maize or marigolds according to the district. It is these problems that ought to be tackled in the school garden and the estimates obtained ought to be of use to the community.”

Miss Moore kept records of the potato yield for each garden plot including the child responsible, the potato type (Maori Chief, New Era, Northern Star or Dakota Red) when the plot was planted and manured, the type of manure used, the date the plot was harvested and the potato weights.

At the end of 1921 school Inspector R G Whetter described the flower plots as exceptional.[16]  By 1923, Hinerua School’s golden years of gardening were on the wane. The school year had opened with three pupils, averaging six in the first quarter. Before the year was out, no boys were on the roll.

The Education Board sent seeds of salvia, gaillardia, pansies, stocks, coreopsis, sweet peas, asters, wallflower, larkspur, cosmos, petunia, zinnia, antirrhinum, godetia, and miniature sunflower, which were dutifully planted out.

In July the children planted seeds of onion and lettuce and made experiments with cress. At the end of the year, Mr W.C. Morris, Supervisor of Agriculture visited and gave a talk on weeds and grasses. Miss Moore wrote to him apologising for the neglected gardens, advising his talk had inspired the girls to clear the gardens. In early 1924 they made a nature study collection of weeds and grasses.

On May 8th Miss Moore wrote that the Education Board was of the opinion the school should be closed as the average attendance had fallen to three. Settlers were meeting to discuss the situation.

“May 30th   I have been appointed to Makaretu North School & am leaving for there tomorrow,” she wrote.

She commenced at Makaretu on June 2nd, remaining there until the end of 1932, after which she retired to Palmerston North where her sister and brother lived. She died in 1942.

Clive Alder Hinerua School site 2021. Clive’s father, Cecil Alder, and Cecil’s two brothers and four sisters attended Hinerua School. Photo Claire Bibby.

The Hinerua school buildings were removed, and the grounds reverted to farm paddock. Today what remains are the shelter belts of Macrocarpa that the children planted, spring bulbs, and the odd brick that once edged the garden beds.

Clive & Steph Alder at the Hinerua School plantation of Macrocarpa (Cupressus macrocarpa), 2021. These are likely some of the trees planted and maintained by the school children. Photo Claire Bibby.

The school log and school inspector reports remind us of the glory days of school gardening, epitomised by Inspector Hill’s description in 1913 – “It is like an oasis, an educational oasis, in a lonely isolated spot.”[17]

The bridge opposite the school in 2021. Photo Claire Bibby.

[1] Hinerua School logbook 1909-1924 Accession number 674/966/38149 Knowledge Bank Hawke’s Bay Digital Archives Trust

[2] Birth, Death and Marriage Historical Records

[3] Manawatu Standard, Volume LVII, Issue 182, 3 July 1937, Page 8 Obituary Miss Marion Moore

[4] Manawatu Standard, Volume LXII, Issue 180, 1 July 1942, Page 3 Obituary Miss Elise Moore

[5] Ibid

[6] Archives NZ. Inspector’s and Examination Reports, Annual Returns Hinerua R22355623, 17 June 1911

[7] Online Cenotaph Record Ernest Adams

[8] Online Cenotaph Record Bertie Adams

[9] Archives NZ. Inspector’s and Examination Reports, Annual Returns Hinerua R22355623; 7 May 1913

[10] Ibid, 7 May 1913

[11] Ibid, 20 August 1913

[12] Ibid, 28 August 1914

[13] Hinerua School logbook

[14] Waipawa Mail, Volume XXXVII, Issue 8415, 3 December 1920, Page 1 Spring Blooms Ongaonga Horticultural Society

[15] Waipawa Mail, Volume XXXVI, Issue 7750, 18 July 1916, Page 2 Ongaonga (Own Correspondent)

[16] Archives NZ. Inspector’s and Examination Reports, Annual Returns Hinerua R22355623; 5 September 1921

[17] Ibid, 20 August 1913

What’s in a name? Punic apples, red trees, and botanical nomenclature

Annette Giesecke, Centre for Science in Society, Victoria University of Wellington

The eruption of Mt Vesuvius in the year 79 CE was indisputably a calamity for the residents of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other settlements around the Bay of Naples. Yet the misfortune of these individuals has provided later generations with an invaluable window into daily life in the Roman world. Houses, their roofs collapsed but complete with cookware, furniture, toys, and, in some cases, their inhabitants, were preserved by Vesuvius’ pyroclastic flow. The houses’ gardens, of course, did not survive, but carbonized pollens and seeds, together with root cavities left in the hardened volcanic ash, have revealed that every Pompeiian house, however large or small, had a garden. Additional evidence for the character and appearance of these gardens has been gleaned from the many Pompeiian frescoes depicting densely-planted landscapes. Interestingly, identifiable plant species and, in some cases, even cultivars still appear in domestic gardens and other designed landscapes today. For example, a fresco from the so-called House of Venus in the Shell, depicts a garden planted with roses (Rosa gallica), southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum), myrtle (Myrtus communis), cherry plums (Prunus cerasifera), strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo), oleander (Nerium oleander), pine (Pinus spp.), and ivy (Hedera helix) (Figure 1). 

Figure 1: Garden fresco, House of the Marine Venus, detail, first century CE. Pompeii.
© Werner Forman. Courtesy of Getty Images.

Roman garden plants may be recognizable and familiar to us, but do the names we today assign botanical specimens correspond to names used in antiquity? Take the pomegranate, Punica granatum, for example. The modern English “common” and Latin “scientific” names for the pomegranate do, in fact, derive from classical antiquity. In classical Latin, the fruit was known either as malum punicum or malum granatum (also melogranatum). Malum is the Latin word and mēlon the Greek for “apple” (which could be used for a range of tree fruit). Granatum derives from granum, “grain,” and means “(multi-) grained”, alluding to the fruit’s numerous grain-like seeds (see Figure 2). The adjective punicus, strictly speaking, refers to Phoenicia in Asia Minor but was more frequently used with respect to Carthage, the Phoenician colony in northern Africa, the birthplace of Hannibal and long Rome’s mortal enemy; the pomegranate was believed to be of African origin. The Romans thus called the pomegranate by at least two names, “Punic apple” and “many-seeded apple.” The Greeks, incidentally, called the pomegranate rhóā but also referred to it as mēlon.

Figure 2: Pomegranate (Punica granatum). From Professor Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé, Flora
von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz
, 1885, Gera, Germany. © Kurt Stueber’s online library. Courtesy of

While this plant’s modern names are indeed derived from the classical, it is important to note that they do not reflect actual ancient usage. The common English name “pomegranate” is a combination of Latin pomum, “fruit,” and granatum, “many-seeded.” The modern scientific name Punica granatum (the feminine ending -a being appropriate for a fruit-bearing and thus “feminine” tree) borrows from both malum punicum and malum granatum but reflects modern plant taxonomy, the science that finds, identifies, describes, classifies, and names plants by designating, among other things, a plant’s Family (group of genera that share a set of underlying features); Genus (group of one or more plants sharing a wide range of characteristics); Species (group of plants capable of breeding together and producing offspring similar to themselves); Subspecies (naturally occurring distinct variants of a species often in isolated populations and indicated by the abbreviation “subsp.” followed by a descriptor); Variety (minor subdivisions of a species differing slightly in botanical structure and indicated by the abbreviation “var.” followed by a descriptor); and Cultivar (distinct variant or hybrid known only in cultivation and indicated by a name in single quotes).[i] In particular, Punica granatum is a binomial, adhering to the formal two-part naming system indicating genus and species established by Carolus Linnaeus in the eighteenth century to classify all life.

In antiquity, plant names were neither consistently binomial—indeed, they were often not—nor were they necessarily consistent even within a given culture or language. In fact, some plants were not named (if wild and not “useful”), and others were known by multiple names: by Latin names, Greek names, and names given them in their places of origin and in the language of that region, for instance[ii]. This is not to suggest that names assigned in antiquity were random or meaningless, far from it. Rather, it is the case that naming is a direct reflex of the desire to “own,” and this desire is predicated on usefulness. It is also the case that plants’ names, however flexible, appear largely to have reflected their physical characteristics, their place of origin, or their agency in medicinal or alimentary contexts. An example, is Artemisia spp. (“spp.” indicating a range of species), perhaps most likely the species vulgaris known commonly as “mugwort”? Here again the Linnaean name is derived from its ancient Greek name, artemisía, which was employed to treat gynecological conditions and was named after the goddess Artemis, goddess of childbirth.

It is not the case, however, that ancient names always found their way into modern nomenclature, and they can be misleading to a modern reader of an ancient text. The rhododendron is an example. What we know today as Rhododendron spp., a genus of some one thousand species of woody plants in the heath family (Ericaceae), is a very different plant from what Roman encyclopedist Pliny the Elder in the sixteenth book of his Natural History called rhododendron (from the Greek meaning “red tree”), namely the Nerium oleander, a shrub or small tree in the dogbane family Apocynaceae—though both, notably, are shrubs or small trees that can bear red or reddish flowers:

Belonging to this last class, there are the following trees that do not lose their leaves:the olive, the bay laurel, the palm, the myrtle, the cypress, the pine, the ivy, the rhododendron …. The rhododendron, as its name indicates, comes from Greece. By some it is known as the nerium, and by others as the rhododaphne. It is an evergreen, bearing a strong resemblance to the rose-tree, and throwing out numerous branches from the stem; to beasts of burden, goats, and sheep it is poisonous, but for man it is an antidote against the venom of serpents. (Natural History 16.33.79)[iii]

Yet elsewhere, Pliny uses rhododendron to name what has been identified in modern times as Rhododendron ponticum:

In the country of the Sanni, in the same part of Pontus, there is another kind of honey, which, from the madness it produces, has received the name of “maenomenon” [maddening]. This evil effect is generally attributed to the flowers of the rhododendron, with which the woods there abound; and that people, though it pays a tribute to the Romans in wax, derives no profit whatever from its honey, in consequence of these dangerous properties. (Natural History 21.45.77)[iv]

Do the names we assign botanical specimens correspond to names used in antiquity? The answer, then, is “sometimes in part, and sometimes not.”

Excerpt (adapted) from Annette Giesecke, “Plants and Culture in Antiquity”, Introduction to A Cultural History of Plants in Antiquity, A. Giesecke ed. and contrib. (Bloomsbury: London, 2022), pages 7-10.


[i] Brickell, Christopher, and Judith D. Zuk. 1997. The American Horticultural Society A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. New York: DK Books.

[ii] Hardy, Gavin, and Laurence Totelin. 2016. Ancient Botany. London and New York: Routledge.

[iii] Pliny the Elder. Natural History, Vol. 4: Books 12-16. Edited and translated by H. Rackham. 1945. Loeb Classical Library 370. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

[iv] Pliny the Elder. Natural History, Vol. 6: Books 20-23. Edited and translated by W. H. S. Jones. 1951. Loeb Classical Library 392. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.