Almost every city and town in New Zealand has at least one public garden.
The majority of New Zealand’s public gardens are ornamental. They usually follow the style of English gardens and estate parks, and typically contain tall trees of northern hemisphere origins, showy borders of evergreen shrubs, brightly coloured perennial and annual display beds, closely mown lawns, and walking paths. Often they have glasshouses, ponds, fountains, aviaries, children’s play areas, and coffee or tea houses.
The band played on
In 1885 a band asked Dunedin City Council for permission to play in the gardens on Sunday afternoons. The council voted against the proposal, with one councillor declaring: ‘[I]f you wish to get something to demoralize the children you cannot get anything more effective than the playing of the band in the public Gardens on the Sabbath day.’ 1
Like most overseas botanic gardens, those in New Zealand were primarily set up by central or provincial governments to trial plants with potential economic benefits, and to study exotic and native plants. From 1850 to 1880 a key function was that of colonial nursery – seeds of exotic trees were imported and raised at botanic gardens, and hundreds of thousands of plants were distributed to schools, hospitals and farmers for use as shelter, ornamentation, and orchard or forestry stock.
In the mid-1880s control of New Zealand’s botanic gardens went to local authorities, who changed their focus to ornamental and recreational purposes. Their scientific and economic functions were taken over by government departments.
Towards the end of the 20th century botanic gardens began to take a greater educational role by offering plant and gardening seminars to the public, and providing information about their plant collections. In recent years some have assumed responsibility for the conservation of regionally threatened and uncommon plants. Most have not had the resources to undertake extensive botanical research or develop new cultivars.
Ownership and management
Public gardens are administered by local authorities under the terms of the Local Government Act 2002, and are funded by ratepayers. Most of the larger gardens and parks are designated as scenic or recreational reserves under the Reserves Act 1977, and have their own management plans that are available for public comment every 10 years.
The largest gardens are run by a manager or curator, who oversees a staff of qualified and apprentice gardeners. Smaller gardens are often maintained by contract staff.
Visits to the gardens
In the 2006/7 year, more than half a million international tourists listed visits to gardens as one of the activities they took part in while in New Zealand. Jack Hobbs, curator-manager of the Auckland Botanic Gardens, was surprised to learn from visitor surveys that the most popular reason for visiting was to feed the ducks. Most visitors are not plant aficionados, but are there to enjoy the paths for walking or running, lawns for games or picnics, playgrounds for children, and cafés for food and drink.