It was an offer that I could not refuse. When my buddy Dave asked me to tag along with him on his 30th trip ‘Down Under’ I had to say ‘yes’. He had, after all, asked me about 28 times in the past. Dave has professional business in New Zealand and I have a very keen interest in gardens. So off we went early this winter for a trip of a life-time. My personal goal was to visit some of the botanical gardens and public parks in the urban areas of this very green country. In one week we visited Queenstown, Christchurch and Auckland botanical gardens and I must tell you, they are pure magic.
In my view, the quality of the public parks and gardens in a municipality reflects the level of respect that it has for its constituents. With this in mind, the Queenstown Gardens tells me that the locals and visitors are both respected and spoiled in the best possible way. The town itself is located in the mountainous south end of the large, south island. It is a Mecca for young skiers and trekkers. The Queenstown Gardens is 14 hectares or 36 acres. It juts out into the cold waters of Lake Wakatipu (average temperature 11oC), like Stanley park juts out into Burrard inlet in Vancouver. These gardens feature a floral tribute to Captain Scott and the men who died during the Antarctic expedition of 1912. The gardens include an extensive rose collection, which was about 10 days from full-on flowering when I was there in late October (their spring), lots of flower bulbs provided pyroglyphics of colour and best of all a collection of rare and beautiful trees, some stretching 150 feet into the clear blue sky. Add to this an old-fashioned bowling green (which was clearly getting lots of use), tennis courts and an extensive labyrinth of paths dedicated to ‘Frisbee golf’. Very cool. You could walk the entire park at a good clip in about 45 minutes. I stopped to smell the azaleas and rhododendrons, which reminded me so much of the Public Gardens in central Halifax. I believe that the growing zones have a lot in common. Viewing the Queenstown Gardens rose collection has inspired me to plant more roses in my 10 acre garden. I have learned from experience that roses enjoy a well-prepared soil. I will amend each planting hole with peat-based PRO-MIX® Garden Mix. It contains MYCOACTIVE® Organic Growth Enhancer to produce vigorous growth and healthy plants. Garden Mix also contains controlled release fertilizer to provide nutrients for up to 9 months. It may take a few years but my roses will soon remind me of my visit to Queenstown.
Perhaps you will recall a couple of earthquakes that devastated Christchurch, New Zealand in 2011. While the city continues to rebuild, it is remarkable to note that the historic Christchurch Botanical Gardens is very much intact. Many trees thrive in the benign coastal climate, including Douglas Fir and Redwood Cedar from the Canadian west coast. Rhododendrons were in full bloom the day that we arrived and lilacs spread their spring time fragrance at a time when I would normally be battening down the garden hatches at home in Toronto. The Christchurch Botanical gardens feature the meandering Avon River (which offers gondolas for hire, captained by professionals, much like Venice, Italy). Plus a water garden, a children’s garden, a large rose garden and a brand new conservatory with an excellent café and interactive garden museum.
Auckland Botanical Gardens
My passion to tour Kiwi public gardens was anything but a test for my travelling companion, a good natured friend indeed. His enthusiasm for plants and flowers and public outdoor spaces was almost as unbounded as mine. The botanical gardens in Auckland are amazing. Another example of how well the Kiwis respect the principles of enhanced public spaces for the common good. I have visited botanical gardens elsewhere that required a paid admission that did not come close to this one (all 3 of the botanical gardens that we visited where were free of charge). The conservatories alone are worth the visit. The ‘cool’ greenhouse featured an array of flowering plants that was eye candy for anyone and fodder for shutter bugs. Schizanthus, snapdragons, lupines and Queen Anne’s lace (yes, the weed that grows so prolifically here in Ontario) was everywhere and displayed so thickly that I was tempted to go back for a machete to make my way through. I only exaggerate a wee bit. The tropical greenhouse/conservatory was jammed with hot house delights including native orchids, palms, bananas and exotic proteas. If you can’t quite picture this, never mind. Suffice it to say that this was another ‘machete’ experience, just greener. The Auckland botanical garden is a treat to walk and explore, like all of the public green spaces that I enjoyed while there. Perhaps the early New Zealanders should be thanked for the forethought to put this land aside and make the enormous investment in botanical gardens in the very early days of urban development. Or perhaps their British forebearers should be thanked. In any case, I wonder where the same British foresight was when the Town of York, which would become the City of Toronto, was in its embryonic stages of development. A lesson learned.