Good news for the new year

Goodness knows we’ve all earned a bit of good news after the dreary and deadly year that was 2020, so I thought I’d start my new year of postings with some good-hearted stories from our world of plants and gardening.

When I lived in London the sight of mounted police never failed to impress – clip-clopping past my central London office or occasionally even past my west London home. But how about having them stride all over your garden? Just the ticket, say the good people at the Barbican Wildlife Garden, who invited Clyde and Iris, both cross-large horses, to wander about for 30 minutes.

“Grazing animals play an essential role in maintaining traditional wildflower meadows because their hooves create dips and furrows that help push seeds into the soil and create microhabitats. More than 97% of the UK’s wildflower meadows have been lost since the Second World War,” reports The Guardian. Read more here.

Image: Auckland University Press

Karl Maughan is one of New Zealand’s most successful contemporary artists and I’m sure most Kiwis would recognise his paintings of gardens, usually depicting rhododendrons in flower, even if they don’t know the artist. Auckland University Press last month published a coffee table book about his work, edited by Hannah Valentine and Gabriella Stead. Read a Stuff profile of Karl marking the publication (note that Gordon Collier’s garden, Titoki Point, was near Taihape and is no longer open to visitors).

Dr Peter Sergel, the driving force behind Hamilton Gardens since 1979, has resigned, although will be back for a bit this year on a part-time basis to finish off a couple of projects. Under his stewardship, Hamilton Gardens become a major visitor destination with about one million visits each year, and in 2014 won the International Garden of the Year Award. Read more here and see some stunning photos of the gardens.

Recognising the downtrodden … a Guardian report from earlier last year highlighted the More than Weeds campaign where an “international force of rebel botanists armed with chalk” have started writing the names of the flora growing in urban pavements and walls across Europe. “The idea of naming wild plants wherever they go – which began in France – has gone viral, with people chalking and sharing their images on social media.” Read more here.

And with that, I’m off to pull a few weeds! Mind how you go and take heed of any water restrictions in place at your place …

Pacific Rosebowl Festival 2019

Today I was pleased to join the invited judges in the Rogers Rose Garden for the final day of voting in the Pacific Rosebowl Festival, the 18th held since the festival moved from Auckland to Hamilton.

At the awards presentation festival trustee and MC Pippa Mahood paid tribute to Hamilton Gardens’ director Peter Sergel, her fellow festival trustees, head gardener Alice Gwilliam (the rose gardens were a credit to her and her team), the NZ Rose Society (which was holding its national show in the next-door hall), festival director Emma Reynolds and her colleague Maddy Barnsdall.

And, of course, she got us a bit misty-eyed with mention of the late, great rose breeder Sam McGredy, who passed away just a few months ago and helped initiate the Rosebowl Festival in Auckland then assisted the move to Hamilton, always attending the annual awards. “The Auckland Botanic Gardens said having the festival move was the best thing that ever happened to their garden, and the sentiment was the same for us,” Peter Sergel said. “Sam’s mana and presence were an immeasurable part of its success here.”

The McGredy family was represented by Sam’s three daughters – Katherine, Maria and Clodagh – and several ‘grandies’, with news shared of Sam’s newest great-granddaughter, Molly, just a few days old.

Everlasting Hope. Photo: Sandra Simpson

New Zealand Rose of the Year, Best NZ-raised Rose & Best Shrub Rose: Everlasting Hope, bred by Rob Somerfield (Te Puna, near Tauranga) and named for the Canterbury branch of the Post-natal Depression Trust. It was released last year. Click here to visit Rob’s website.

Diamond Design. Photo: Rob Somerfield Roses

Best Hybrid Tea Rose: Diamond Design, bred by Rob Somerfield. Released in 2012.

Skyla Rose. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Best Floribunda Rose & Most Fragrant Rose: Skyla Rose bred by Rob Somerfield. Released this year, the rose was named for 7-year-old Skyla Rose Keating who died of a rare form of brain cancer in 2017.

Woollerton Old Hall. Photo: David Austin Roses.

Best Climbing Rose: Woollerton Old Hall, bred by David Austin and released in Britain in 2011. It’s named for a magnificent garden in the UK, developed by its owners and open to the public.

Midsummer. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Children’s Choice Award: Midsummer, bred by Tantau (Germany) and released in 2008.

The Somerfield family were out in force to celebrate Rob’s successes at the Pacific Rosebowl Festival, from left, Rob’s wife Linda, his mum Valerie, dad Richard, Rob, and his daughters Amanda and Kate. Kneeling in front is Kate’s partner David Wright. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Concept Garden in the flesh

The Concept Garden, the newest garden at the Hamilton Gardens complex, opened in February and forms part of the Fantasy Garden collection.

The first step is to enter the garden – and what fun! A Narnia-ish giant, yellow wardrobe blocks the way. Approach the doors, though and motion sensors will start opening them.

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How do we get into the new garden? Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Through the back of the wardrobe of course! Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Concept Garden has been partly inspired by two Maori proverbs (whakataukii):

He peke tangata, apa he peke titoki … The human family lives on while the branch of the titoki [tree] falls and decays. One interpretation of this proverb is that as the population grows the land uses depicted in the garden grow at the expense of special trees, environments and waterways.

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Maori traditionally smeared the dead with kokowai (red ochre) to give them a high status – the trunks of the titoki trees in the garden have been painted with ochre as a mark of distinction. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Whatungarongaro te tangata toituu te whenua … As man disappears from sight, the land remains.

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The steel pipe will gradually rust away, so demonstrating the truth of the proverb. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The other inspiration behind the garden was taken from the old New Zealand School Atlas and the small, coloured squares (key) used on land-use maps. Pasture is represented by grass, native bush by Muehlenbeckia astonii, urban areas by white Flower Carpet roses, horticulture by citrus trees, tussock grassland by Carex buchananii, coniferous forest by Pinus mugo, scrubland by Leptospermum scoparium (teatree or manuka), wetland by the native rush Apodasmia similis (oioi) and water bodies by the central pool.

Taller plants have been planted below ground level to create the checker effect.

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White Flower Carpet roses (urban) and Pinus mugo (forestry (foreground). Photo: Sandra Simpson

But what’s that over the hedge? An airship? We had to find out more.

The ‘Saucy Sue’ gondola and its paraphernalia forms part of the Huddleston airship, a steampunk-inspired piece of fun that apparently glides silently through the night delivering plants and pruning hard-to-reach hedges for the gardening team.

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Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Huddleston is in good time for the release of Mortal Engines at the end of this year, a movie co-produced by Sir Peter Jackson that will surely make everything steampunk perfectly cool.

New gardens in the making

The rest of us may have taken the long, wet winter off from tending our plots but at Hamilton Gardens it was not only business as usual in the public-access areas but also behind the scenes.

On a visit to speak to the Friends of Hamilton Gardens AGM in mid-September I was given a brief peek at some of the yet-to-be-unveiled gardens by the facility’s director Dr Peter Sergel and accompanied by Judy Holdsworth, a Friends committee member.

Meeting in the refurbished Visitor Centre, the first thing to note was the new timelines painted on the walls – one recounts the history of the land the gardens occupy, while the other tells the story of gardening through the ages and as depicted in Hamilton Gardens.

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Since my visit a hole has been cut in the floor below the photo of the dump so visitors may see the layer of refuse beneath their feet. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The earliest re-created garden at present is the Italian Renaissance (dating from about 1500), part of the Paradise Collection, but there are four proposed gardens which takes the timeline back even further – Byzantium Forecourt, Mediaeval Garden, Roman Portico and Ancient Egyptian Garden.

Out in the gardens there is a glimpse of one of the new Fantasy Gardens with tentacle-like arms (that will move) rising over a wall. Peter leads us to a door I’ve always wondered about, unlocks it and takes us into what will be the Surrealist Garden. It’s an Alice moment as suddenly everything is about five times normal size!

Judy Holdsworth, a Friends member, stands in front of the Surrealist door. When the garden opens it’s hoped to show movies on it. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The giant figures, known as the Trons, range in height from 5 to 8m and will be covered in ivy which is busy climbing the base towards the arms. This garden is due to open in January 2019, but it rather depends on how quickly that ivy moves.

The Trons will soon be covered in ivy. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A new courtyard (which I wasn’t allowed to photograph, but trust me, you’ll love the steampunk installation when it opens on January 31) will offer access to the new gardens as they open – Surrealist, Concept (about land-use in New Zealand, due to open on January 31) and Katherine Mansfield.

“Every garden should be a surprise,” Peter says, “hence all the doors, courtyards and hedges. Visitors shouldn’t be able to see what’s coming next.”

The Concept Garden Peter describes as depicting something “not necessarily beautiful or useful but still with a message to it, a message which must be found by the viewer”. This garden will refer to the landscape in which it sits and uses an old whakatauki (proverb) as inspiration: He peke tangata, apa he peke titoki (the human family lives on while the branch of a titoki falls and decays).

The Mansfield Garden, due to open in October 2018, uses descriptions from her short story The Garden Party and comes complete with a colonial home (Judy’s making lace curtains for the windows), a concrete upright piano, tennis court, and a marquee full of sculptural food, as well as extensive plantings. Peter notes that this garden, taking 1907 as its year, has attracted more sponsors than any other in Hamilton Gardens’ history. Thanks to the Friends and the Waikato Veteran and Vintage Car Club, there will also be a specially built replica 1908 Ford Model T parked in the driveway.

The Katherine Mansfield Garden is coming together. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Eventually, there will be nine Fantasy Gardens, all related to an artform. Already open are Tudor (Celtic art) and Chinoiserie while still to come are the Surrealist, Concept, Katherine Mansfield. Further in the future are Mediaeval (poetry), Augmented Reality, Baroque and Picturesque (based on the Mozart opera The Magic Flute).

It will have taken three years – and some $7.2 million – to bring the projects I saw to fruition. Major funding for the current projects comes from Hamilton City Council, the Lotteries Commission and sponsors, but a number of the crowd-pleasing details in the Gardens have been donated by the Friends, including a new scarecrow sculpture in the Kitchen Garden. Friends also work in the Visitor Centre, grow and sell plants to raise funds and the group has been working with Waikato University students on campaigns to raise awareness of Friends and increase membership.

The Friends fundraise for all kinds of things – including this Strawman statue by Lloyd Le Blanc of England which was installed in 2016. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Hamilton Gardens draws many visitors – 4000 a day over summer – and the council continues to raise the vexed question of an entry fee on a regular basis. At present entry is free so if you haven’t been before, put it on your must-do list for this summer.

The Garden Party

Hamilton Gardens recently hosted a Katherine Mansfield Garden Party as part of its Arts Festival and as a way of promoting (and fundraising) for the forthcoming Katherine Mansfield Garden.

The new garden will include elements from Mansfield’s 1921 short story The Garden Party and a recreation of the facade of her childhood home in Tinakori Road, Wellington (she was born Kathleen Beauchamp) – karaka trees, beds of white roses, a lily pond, tennis court and a marquee. I have seen a figure of  $800,000 mentioned in terms of creating this garden. The new Fantasy Collection gardens – Picturesque, Concept, Surrealist and Mansfield – have rolling openings with the Tudor Garden debuting in January 2015.

Waikato Horticultural Society’s meeting on May 25 features an illustrated talk by Bernard Breen about the plants of Katherine Mansfield’s era. He will also talk about the new garden. Visitors are welcome at these meetings for a small charge.

This 2011 article reveals a little about the garden at Katherine Mansfield’s Birthplace in Wellington where the house and garden are open to visit (entry fee).

Although the garden and party are referred to in glorious language in the Mansfield story, the tale has a darker element too – the death of a workman who lives in a cottage near the large Sheridan home.

Here are a couple of photos from the garden party in Hamilton and a passage from the story. Thanks to the Katherine Mansfield Society, the full text of The Garden Party, is available online. Read it here.


Soon after that people began coming in streams. The band struck up; the hired waiters ran from the house to the marquee. Wherever you looked there were couples strolling, bending to the flowers, greeting, moving on over the lawn. They were like bright birds that had alighted in the Sheridans’ garden for this one afternoon on their way to – where? Ah, what happiness it is to be with people who all are happy, to press hands, press cheeks, smile into eyes.

Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Darling Laura, how well you look!”

“What a becoming hat, child!”

“Laura, you look quite Spanish. I’ve never seen you look so striking.”

And Laura, glowing, answered softly, “Have you had tea? Won’t you have an ice? The passion-fruit ices really are rather special.” She ran to her father and begged him. “Daddy darling, can’t the band have something to drink?”

And the perfect afternoon slowly ripened, slowly faded, slowly its petals closed.

“Never a more delightful garden-party …” “The greatest success …” “Quite the most …”

Even the Bicycle Patrol popped in. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Award for Hamilton Gardens

Hamilton Gardens has won the 2014  International Garden of the Year award from the annual Garden Tourism Conference, last year held in France.

The conference’s Garden Tourism Awards are presented to organisations and individuals who have distinguished themselves in the development and promotion of the garden experience as a tourism attraction. See the full list of winners here.

The gardens, on the outskirts of the city, are always worth a visit – and with five new gardens planned (the Tropical Garden is the first to have opened, that took place last year, with the Tudor Garden well under way and the Chinoiserie planted) in four years there is plenty going on to draw repeat visitors.


The new Tropical Garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson


The sculptures in the Tudor Garden are by Anneke Bester, who lives near Auckland and has worked for the ruling family of Dubai. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read more about Anneke Bester here.

Tropical Garden opens

The new Tropical Garden has opened at Hamilton Gardens, the first of three new gardens in development.

Read all about it here. I like the way the garden is part of the Fantasy collection – the fantasy being, Hamilton Gardens director Peter Sergel told me a couple of years ago, that the climate in Hamilton could support a tropical garden.

Rose vote results

The clear winner of last week’s vote for the Favourite Rose at the Robbins Rose Garden was (drum roll please) … Blackberry Nip, Rob Somerfield’s first rose.

Next equal were Hamilton Gardens (Sam McGredy’s last rose) and Peace.

Ned Nicely, parks co-ordinator with TCC and a rose lover from way back, says that he intends to have a bigger and better voting event next year but that he was happy with the results of what was a quickly organised first event. “We need to hold it a bit earlier too so that the roses are in their first flush.”

Aztec Gardens, the contractors who look after the Tropical Display House next to the rose garden, organised prizes and the prize draw for those who cast votes.

Rose bushes: Erin Bennett, K J Hay, Ian McKenzie, Daniel Perry, Elena VIggiano-Cleland. Wine: Danielle Bernsten, Karen Grant, Yvette Hickman, Joy Moore, Karen Novak. $20 cafe voucher: Russell Bennett, Faye Dowling, Helen Green.  Garden accessories (fertiliser, gloves and sprinkler): Darryl Violich, R Cook. Special Draw: Ian Foster (wine, gloves, secateurs and fertiliser).

Special thanks to: Megan Webber, head gardener.