- Author: Sheri Pueblo
New Zealand is known to be a gorgeous destination to experience uncrowded beautiful coastlines and rugged mountains which bring various climate zones and all 4 seasonal changes. Hamilton is 1½ hours south of Auckland, in a temperate area of warm summers, cool wet winters and occasional frosts, Zone 9 hardiness -4°C (30°F) - 29°C (85°F). The mighty Waikato River flows next to Hamilton Gardens with walking and bike paths that meander along the area. These beautiful, free public gardens are definitely worth a stop-over for at least a couple hours to explore. It includes many separate themed garden areas, a visitor center, café, performance areas and clean restrooms. The optional self-guided tour pamphlet costs $2 NZ which goes to support the gardens that are funded by the community and thousands of volunteer hours.
Historically the gardens were a city dump back in the 1960's, a sand quarry, go-cart track and long before European settlement, this was the home to a Maori chief Haanui and the indigenous people of the region. The site has been beautifully shaped into award-winning gardens and into the most popular attraction of the North Island's Waikato district, seeing over a million visitors per year. “Our collection of gardens don't just address the context, meaning and history of gardens, they also reflect the evolution of civilization”.
The Paradise Garden collection represents structured enclosed garden design traditions such as a Chinese Scholars' Garden, Japanese Garden of Contemplation, Modernist Garden, and my favorites were the English Flower, Indian Char Bagh, and Italian Renaissance Gardens.
The Productive Garden Collection highlights relationships of people and plants. It honors local Maori culture with Te Parapara Garden that features plantings of their staple food Kumara (sweet potato) and traditional elevated food and tool storage houses (Pataka). Kumara rot in wet soils so the mounds improve drainage, the riverbank sandy soil is ideal. I've grown sweet potatoes in Hammil Valley, placing starts in shallow trenches and drip irrigation. My challenges are critters eating the end of the vines and getting plants shipped to California. The Maori stored tubers in underground pits for the next year's planting.
I loved the large Herb garden, featuring Medicinal, Pot Pourri, and Culinary sections full of different plants. I felt inspired by all the useful means nature and herbs have to offer and couldn't keep myself from rubbing and smelling various plant leaves and flowers.
The Fantasy Garden Collection represents “different genres of garden fantasy each with a direct relationship to one of the arts”. A recently opened Surrealist garden featured moving parts of topiary pieces and distortions of scale. The (Katherine) Mansfield Garden honors this N.Z.'s writer who is credited with inventing modern New Zealand literature and has features from her book “The Garden Party”.
There are also outer Tropical, Rose, and Victorian Gardens and new theme gardens in development.
My recent visit was the end of summer for the Southern Hemisphere during an unusually hot and dry summer drought for the North Island, but the Gardens were still beautiful and worthwhile. I certainly plan to return in a Spring season to experience the different blooms and plant vigor.