Blog Posts

Hobbiton: New Zealand’s Most Popular Garden?

by Ian Duggan, University of Waikato

hobbiton 5 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 2

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.

Hobbiton fake tree

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.

Health and Wellbeing in Parks and Nature in 1800s Aotearoa New Zealand

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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’.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

no-nb_bldsa_1c060 001
Fig 1. Ferdinand von Mueller (Public Domain)

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.[8]

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’.[9]

Figure 2: Blue gum; photo by Ian Brooker and David Kleinig, CC BY 3.0 au

City parks

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.’[10] 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[11] and fervently believed that bringing trees and parks into cities would counter their artificiality and the poor health of inhabitants.[12]

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.[13] 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.[14]

Figure 3: Dunedin Town Belt (Photo by Grutness at the English Wikipedia; CC BY-SA 3.0)

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’.[15] 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’.[16]

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’.[17] ‘[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.[18] 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.[19]

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.’[20] 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.

James Beattie is a historian of gardens, environment and health, and works at The Centre for Science in Society, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

This work draws from the following article:

Colonial Geographies of Settlement: Vegetation, Towns, Disease and Well-Being in Aotearoa/New Zealand, 1830s-1930s’, Environment and History, 14, 4 (November, 2008), pp.583-610: DOI: 10.3197/096734008X368457


Referenced Material

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] Linda Nash, ‘Finishing Nature: Harmonizing Bodies and Environments in Late-Nineteenth Century California’, Environmental History, 8 (January, 2003): 36.

[5] 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).

[6] For an lively chapter on the Baron, see Hay, Gum, 71-103. On its anti-malarial properties note especially, Hay, Gum, 88-90.

[7] 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.

[8] 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.

[9] ‘Sanitary Influence of Trees’, NNZS, 1, 4 (November, 1882): 69.

[10] New Zealand Herald (NZH), 21 May 1880, 6.

[11] 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).

[12] 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).

[13] 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.

[14] 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).

[15] 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.

[16] 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.

[17] 8, 4 (July, 1884): 277-287 (quotation, 281).

[18] 8, 4 (July, 1884): 278.

[19] On these ideals, note Erik Olssen, Building the New World: Work, Politics and Society in Caversham, 1880s-1920s (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1995).

[20] Otago Daily Times, 17 December 1866, 5.


Te Maimai: The creation of a New Zealand native garden from barren sand dunes

by Gillian Deane

Wetlands at Te Maimai

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.

Te Maimai property, 25 years ago

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.

Clouds over wetlands at Te maimaiBeing 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.

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.

Mist at Te Maimai

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.

Can Music Represent Gardens?

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.

Some questions

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?

Stay posted!

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

Gardening in the Anthropocene: A Q&A with MScSoc student Zoë Heine

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!

Zoe Heine photo for application
Zoë Heine.

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.

Zoe in the garden
Zoë in the garden.

Following the Flowers – call for Māori participants for oral histories

By Anna Lawrence, PhD Candidate, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
Manuka bush flowers
Manuka bush flowers: By Tomas Sobek – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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.

Kakabeak flowers: By Avenue – Own work, GFDL,

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:

Accent Dahlias: By Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0,


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

A Garden on a Plate: Willow Pattern Design and World History

image004In 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.

For a downloadable version, click HERE

For more information, see: Beattie, J. (2016). China on a plate: A willow pattern garden realizedStudies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes36(1), 17-31. doi:10.1080/14601176.2015.1076664


How common are ‘exotic’ invertebrates in public and botanical garden ponds?

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.

copepod england
Copepods, collected in England (I Duggan photo)

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.

Sampling a pond at Longwood Gardens, USA (K Duggan photo)

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).

Craspedacusta sowerbii, a global invader originating from China (Barry O’Brien photo)

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.


For more information, see: Duggan, I.C. & Duggan, K.S. (2011), Are botanical gardens a risk for zooplankton invasions? Biological Invasions 13: 2997-3003.

‘Expanding Horizons’ – Australian Garden History Conference, Wellington, 25-27th October


Readers might wish to register to join in a tempting gathering this spring at Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, focussed on New Zealand’s rich garden history. A first ‘offshore’ conference of the Australian Garden History Society, this seeks to take advantage of 2019 being the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the Cook and Banks expedition to New Zealand’s shores (followed by Australia’s the following year). It also seeks to lure both Kiwis and Aussies along.

Two days of lectures (and Q & A opportunities) include a line-up of speakers combining kiwi and Australian voices. More historical talks include Professor Tim Entwisle on Banks’ botanical expedition, Dr Duncan Campbell on the history of New Zealand’s landforms, Dr Louise Furey on evolving perceptions of Māori gardening, Bee Dawson on Missionary gardens, Associate Professor James Beattie on Chinese market gardening and plants, Lady Gillian Deane on two women artists’ perspectives on the New Zealand flora, and John P. Adam and Louise Beaumont on early New Zealand landscape architect Mary Watt (Lysaght).

More practical subjects are covered: Clare Shearman will speak from experience on working in (and evolving) historic gardens, Fiona Eadie will speak on the amazing array of New Zealand plants in our gardens and Stuart Read on keeping botanic gardens relevant in today’s world.

A conference dinner will be held at Te Papa on Saturday 26th October.

62049415_10156152585987751_7117959801132285952_oTwo days of garden visits will showcase Wellington garden icons one day: Otari-Wilton’s Bush native botanic garden and the Wellington Botanic Garden. And cross the Remutanga Ranges to two large historic country gardens in the Wairarapa. An optional extra day on Monday 28 October explores three gardens on wider Wellington’s outskirts in Upper Hutt and the Ohariu Valley: a mix of old and young, all of high standard with enthusiastic and knowledgeable owners.

For the dead-keen, there is a multi-day South Island garden post-conference tour on offer, which has a rich array of gardens between Canterbury and Otago, from sea level to subalpine.

And further temptation: prior to this conference, Botanic Gardens of Australia and New Zealand hold their conference in Wellington – between the two conferences, on Wednesday 23rd October BGANZ and RNZIH and AGHS co-host a seminar which may be of direct interest: come earlier, stay longer, enjoy more!

For more info and to book, check out:

Direct conference and South Island Tour booking link:

Conference Brochure:

Printable Conference Registration Form:

Printable accommodation information:

Lynne Walker’s South Island post-conference tour Itinerary:


Wellington’s Garden of Beneficence (Huiyuan 惠園)

by Duncan Campbell, New Zealand Contemporary China Centre, Victoria University of Wellington
Heaven’s Well

Gardens are quiet and beneficent places. They provide a sheltering space set apart from the world but not entirely removed from it, offering respite rather than escape from the impatient and pressing demands of our day-to-day lives. In our urban circumstances, particularly and if only briefly, they allow us to reengage with the rhythms of nature, to experience afresh the sounds, smells, touch, and sight of flower and tree, insect and bird, of water both flowing and stilled.

More than twenty years ago, a group of engaged and energetic Wellington-based Chinese New Zealanders decided that the city needed a Chinese garden and established the Wellington Chinese Garden Society (惠靈頓園林協會) to promote the idea. Now, finally, the garden that was designed by Wraight + Associates in conjunction with Athfield Architects and myself, intended as one part of the revitalization of the harbour-front Frank Kitts Park, has overcome all the various legal challenges that it faced and has been granted resource consent. Much delayed fund-raising has recommenced, with a view to work on the garden starting sometime next year.

The Tea Pavillion

In China, historically, the private gardens of the late imperial period were where scholarship was engaged in, where poems and essays were both written and read, where calligraphers and painters discussed their art and viewed, in keeping with the turn of the seasons in the garden outside the windows of their studies, the great examples of the art of the past. The garden was where one listened to the music of the Chinese lute or qin 琴 or watched the latest Kunqu opera, a cup of tea or wine in hand. For those of a somewhat more scientific bent of mind, the garden was the great schoolroom wherein, through careful, year-long observation, one learned of the principles or, in Chinese philosophical terms, the li 理 that, from the Song dynasty onwards, were understood to weave the basic pattern of the world around us. “People say that ‘Heaven and Earth are the Mother of All Things,’ but if things are not observed carefully, their origins not scrutinized thoroughly, they are to us like the mushroom that arises at dawn only to die by nightfall,” writes Chen Jingyi 陳景沂 in around 1256 in the “Preface” to his splendidly entitled Complete Genealogy of All the Plants (Quan fang beizu 全芳備祖), a book that is often described as the world’s first botanical dictionary. He continues: “Why is it that bamboos are hollow and trees solid? Why do some plants sprout in spring and die away in autumn whilst others live throughout all four seasons without any change? It is the principles that underlie these changes that is the most difficult thing to understand.” For others, the lifecycle of the plant life of a garden offered more general and historical lessons for as “the flowers bloomed and then faded away, the trajectories of their lives are surely no different from the ruts along which travel the birth and death, the waxing and the waning of kingdoms,” claimed the late Ming essayist and calligrapher Chen Jiru 陳繼儒 (1558-1639).

The Pai Lau

As a public garden that seeks to be of our time and this place, by way of contrast with these traditions, the design brief for Beneficence (one meaning of the first Chinese character in the transliterated Chinese name for Wellington, hui 惠) called for “a unique, contemporary Chinese garden that [will] symbolise the history of the Chinese people in Wellington, the Chinese migrant experience, and the contribution of the Chinese community [to] the enrichment of the cultural experience and fabric of the city.” In response to this brief, the design of garden did not seek to replicate the form and meaning of the gardens of China’s past, but rather to engage creatively with design features such as symmetry, axiality, hierarchy, suspension, and disclosure that were quintessential to the gardens of the past in China. What is it, then, that Beneficence, once built, might offer the inhabitants of Wellington and other occasional visitors to the city’s fine harbour front? It will enhance the existing relationship between city and sea, add interest and an element of drama to the journey between the two; it will afford a designed and pleasant place to sit and converse, take lunch or read a book; it will be a living commemoration of the history of the Chinese New Zealand  communities, of their connections with this place and their memories of the ancestral lands from where they came. As the embodiment of a contemporary understanding of the quintessential traditional Chinese expression of the ideal of the interrelatedness of humankind and nature, the garden will offer to all who enter into it with all their senses attuned to its particular rhythms the momentary respite that serves to reinvigorate.