Story: Gardens

Page 3. Estate and homestead gardens

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Some of the new arrivals in New Zealand accumulated a lot of money and land in a relatively short time. They displayed their affluence by building mansions surrounded by landscaped gardens. The grandest were on the eastern sides of the North and South islands, on the vast estates of sheep runholders.

Orari and Mt Peel stations

Orari and Mt Peel stations in Canterbury are fine examples of runholder gardens. They were laid out by owners with a good knowledge of plants. W. K. Macdonald began the garden at Orari in 1856. When J. B. A. Acland took over Mt Peel station there was a small vegetable and flower garden, which he soon extended and redeveloped.

These gardens featured large, productive vegetable plots and orchards, sheltered by hawthorn and holly hedges. Macdonald planted gums, elms, wattles and poplars as shelter belts. Conifer and deciduous trees dominated at Mt Peel station. Acland sourced many of his trees from the UK – some from a relative’s property, and some from Veitch Nurseries, a leading British firm.

Over the years both stations added flower beds, shrubberies, a croquet lawn and rose beds to their gardens. Macdonald had two glasshouses for growing table grapes and raising seeds. Acland had a conservatory in which he grew camellias, grapes, geraniums and ferns.

Buxton’s landscaped gardens

For those who desired a fine garden but lacked horticultural skills, help was on hand in the form of garden designers. These were usually professional nurserymen who planned and constructed gardens as well as supplying plants.

Alfred Buxton was one of the most influential. Between 1900 and the mid-1930s, he and his staff landscaped over 40 rural and city homesteads. Features shared by many of his client’s gardens include:

  • sweeping driveways
  • large lawns in front of the homestead, usually terraced if the site sloped
  • lawn tennis courts
  • shrub borders and informal flower beds
  • formal rose beds
  • rockeries
  • ponds, streams and fountains with rustic bridges, goldfish and waterlilies
  • Oriental plants such as bamboos, chusan palms, rhododendrons, camellias, Japanese maples, Japanese cherries and wisteria
  • New Zealand natives, especially cabbage trees, flax and toetoe.

Grand city gardens

In the first decades of the 20th century the front gardens of a town’s wealthiest citizens resembled those of the large country houses, and required a permanent gardening staff to maintain them.

With the spread of suburbia, most of these large gardens disappeared. A few survivors, acquired by local councils, have been opened to the public and include Brooklands in New Plymouth, Truby King garden in Wellington, Isel Park in Nelson, and Mona Vale in Christchurch.

Wild weeds

Over 30,000 different types of flowering and cone-bearing plants have been introduced to New Zealand since 1769, most as garden plants. Around 2,500 of these have escaped from domestic confinement and grow in the wild. Some have become pest weeds and all have the potential to become problem weeds. To prevent further weed introductions, New Zealand now has very strict regulations governing new plant importations.

Woodland gardens

Large rural gardens were also created throughout the 20th century but, due to high labour costs, most were not serviced by a permanent gardening staff.

Many were developed as woodland gardens, where ornamental shrubs and exotic trees are grown together in arrangements that best display their different forms, foliage and flowers. Two of the finest are Tupare, near New Plymouth, and Eastwoodhill, near Gisborne. Both were created from bare paddocks by knowledgeable gardeners.

Tupare contains many rare rhododendrons growing amongst taller deciduous and evergreen trees. The garden is centred around a steep valley, and incorporates numerous paths and streamside plantings.

Eastwoodhill is New Zealand’s largest collection of exotic trees and shrubs. Spread over 150 hectares of valley and hillside, its conifers, deciduous trees and evergreen broadleaf trees have been skilfully mixed together to resemble some of the finest woodland gardens of the northern hemisphere.


New Zealanders enjoy visiting gardens and, since the 1980s, a number of private gardens have been opened to the public for viewing, either on a regular or occasional basis.

How to cite this page:

Maggy Wassilieff, 'Gardens - Estate and homestead gardens', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by Maggy Wassilieff, published 24 Nov 2008