Blog Posts

‘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.

War and Peas: Women, gardens and World War Two

By Zoë Heine (MScSoc student at Victoria University of Wellington)

I come from a long line of women who have gardened, both bouquets of flowers and baskets of vegetables. When I turned to garden history last year I was drawn to stories about women in the garden. One aspect that has received little attention is the role women played in vegetable growing during World War Two. The stories I found were tangled with ideas of gender, race, and politics.

My first impression was that for some the war brought no change from the norm. Alice W, a Māori woman interviewed in Lauris Edmond’s Women in Wartime1, talks about how her whānau did all their own gardening and grew kumara, watermelon and corn. “We always grew our own food, war or not.”2

Alice W lived rurally, and other sources reinforce that vegetable growing was still an essential part of New Zealand rural life for women. Jenny Gibson, a land girl, worked on a farm owned and managed by Anna Aubrey. Gibson remembers a “very large flower and vegetable garden surrounding the lovely homestead, all maintained by women”.3

Closer to town, Māori women had been working in the Chinese Market gardens for years. A primary source relating to this are racist letters to the paper outraged at the potential for Māori and Chinese inter-marriage. “The beginning of a hybrid race, Chinese and Maori, is an unhappy fact. Does anyone in authority care a dump [sic] about it?”4

Workers gathering Auckland Weekly News, October 08, 1941 George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19411008-29-4′

The war led to more Pākēhā women taking up work on both private and government run market gardens. This provided more opportunity for dubious viewpoints about race to be expressed in the newspapers. Signed off as “Astounded”, a letter to the New Zealand Herald questioned why Pākehā would be recruited for this work. “Shop and office girls cannot stand the sun and wind,” claimed the writer. “Why not direct the Māori girls, who are more suited for the work?”5 ‘Astounded’s viewpoint, however, did not go unchallenged. Lydia McPhee also responded after being both astounded and shocked. “If this job is not suitable for our girls, it is not suitable for the Māori girl.”6 This debate shows the contrasting ideas about race and female physicality that existed in New Zealand at the time.

Workers gathering Auckland Weekly News, October 08, 1941 George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19411008-29-4′

The war undoubtedly led to a change in other’s home gardening patterns. In a first-person account recorded by Edmond and titled “Teenager”, a daughter reflects on her mother’s work during the war.7 With five children and a husband overseas, her mother “dug up the back lawn and planted it in vegetables, read books about vegetable gardens, and established compost bins. She provided sparkling fresh vegetables for us out of that garden during the whole of the war”.

Across the country, women led garden groups were set up to contribute to the war effort. Christchurch Councillor Mary McLean kick-started the first women’s land army in Christchurch. These women were recruited from the Christchurch Business and Professional Women’s Club (CWLA) and thus fully occupied during the week. They were willing, however, to “give their spare time at week-ends [sic] to the cultivation of land and the growing of such vegetables as will be of nutritional value for those in need.”

Alongside the land army, McLean promoted the idea of a civic vegetable campaign and the associated committee. This resulted in a debate with another councillor. Councillor Lyons is quoted as saying, “Don’t go for the fanatics and the ultra-feminists of the community,” and throwing further shade over the proposed group’s experience in gardening he guessed that “mighty few possessed a shiny spade at home.”8 McLean at the least knew her way around a spade. In 1942 CWLA already had 9000 cauliflower seedlings and 5000 leeks growing in their vegetable plots.9 With over 100 women involved the CWLA provided vegetable parcels to orphanages, soldiers’ families and pensioners throughout the war before fading away with the end of the war in 1945.

These stories just scratch the surface of the different roles women had during World War Two. The period is particularly relevant as climate change gives us pause to reflect on gardening habits evolve in times of crisis. I, for one, would love to see more research into this topic.

[1] Edmond, Women in Wartime, 142 – 146

[2] Ibid. 144

[3] Bardsley, The Land Girls, 71 Dianne Bardsley’s The Land Girls.

[4] “In a Chinese Shack,” Auckland Star, August 8, 1935, 6

[5] Astounded, “Workers for Vegetable Gardens,” New Zealand Herald, November 23, 1943,

[6] Lydia McPhee, “Workers for Vegetable Gardens,” New Zealand Hereld, November 27, 1943, 6,

[7] Edmond, Women in Wartime , 172

[8] “Heated Council Debate: Civic Vegetable Campaign,” Press, October 20, 1942.

[9] “Good news,” Press, January 30, 1942