The Gardens in Hamilton New Zealand: Part 1. Introduction

Part 2. The Picturesque Garden

The Enclosed Gardens in Hamilton, New Zealand, are one of the most exciting creations I have seen in Australia and New Zealand. There seems to be nothing quite like it anywhere else. Unlike the Chaumont garden festival or the Chelsea Garden Show, it is concerned with garden history rather than original invention; indeed, in structure it is like the garden history subject I taught at Melbourne University.

That it came about seems remarkable. It is owned by the Hamilton Council, and is the brainchild  of a Council employee, Dr Peter Sergel, from 1979. He was made director of the Gardens in 1995 and retired in 2019, but is still actively involved with several gardens designed by him and currently under construction. It has strong local support, strongly backed by the council as it is the biggest tourist attraction in the Waikato region. It is run by council staff, but the individual gardens had their own committees and highly specific sponsorship. Because garden history is highly nationalistic, and the gardens specific in their national identity, national governments are prominent among the donors. The funding for the Chinese garden was apparently generous, reflecting the Chinese government’s preoccupation with projecting its power in the Pacific, but the Indian and Japanese governments also contributed to their national gardens, while the American Ambassador to New Zealand chaired the committee for the Modernist Garden. There has been a very wide range of corporate sponsors, and individual donors are credited with particular components of gardens. Apparently local businesses would simply not send in bills for work commissioned from them.

It is significant that it has been created in New Zealand, and it is hard to believe it could have been done in Australia. It reflects the Englishness of New Zealand; in Australia things are required to be cooler and more sophisticated. Probably the equivalent in Australia is the Royal Botanic Gardens at Cranbourne, Victoria, but like so much in Australia it is preoccupied with Australianness and the contemporary, and is conceived in opposition to the Royal Botanical gardens in Melbourne, which is therefore defined as Colonial, Eurocentric, and old. At Hamilton the country is more lush and European, and the plants appropriate to an English, or indeed Japanese or Chinese garden, are comfortable there, whereas at Cranbourne the emphasis is on red sand and dry climate native plants. There is one Maori garden at Hamilton, necessarily not designed by Sergel, but from a certain perspective this might be seen to be discriminatory, given that New Zealand is a bi-cultural country. It could be argued that the Hamilton Gardens are colonialist and backward looking, and therefore provincial. Certainly this would be the suffocating discourse were such a project to be attempted in Australia. So it is refreshing to escape from this through the portal of World History. One of the component gardens is the Picturesque Garden, and picturesque gardens often aspired to represent ‘all times and places’, so intriguingly the whole project can be considered to be a picturesque garden, with garden compounds instead of individual fabriques.

The gardens form two main groupings. The first, and first to be made, is the Paradise Collection, which consists of a Japanese Garden of Contemplation, a Chinese Scholar’s Garden, an Indian Char Bagh Garden, a Renaissance Garden, an English Flower Garden and a Modernist Garden. There is a Fantasy Collection, which consists of a Surrealist Garden,  Productive Garden, Tudor Garden, Tropical Garden, Chinoiserie Garden, Concept Garden, Mansfield Garden, and a Baroque Garden not yet made. There are other ‘Collections’ of more traditional botanical gardens type not discussed here, and a Productive Garden that includes a Te Parapara (Maori) Garden and, for some reason, the latest garden, and Egyptian garden which seems to have little about it that is productive but a great deal of recreated architecture. Similarly the categorisation of the Tudor garden as a ‘fantasy’ garden at first sight seems strange, since it is next door to the (Italian) Renaissance Garden, until one realises that we are being directed to read its knot parterres, architecture, and heraldic figures on poles  as fantastic rather than historical.

In practice, though, all the gardens are recreations of historical garden styles in one way or another, even though the Surrealist Garden and Mansfield Garden are attempts at gardens that express an idea, Chaumont style. These are occasionally interrupted by features like a walled kitchen garden (both the recreation of an English type but also productive) and the Maori garden (historical, but about Maori productive practices), as well as a stunning tropical garden that does not quite fit any category but which any plant-centric garden would be proud to have without categorisation.

Physically, there are a series of courtyards, from which the various gardens radiate. What I did not expect was that most of the gardens are not single spaces, but often two or three, so that they unfold in ways that can be surprising.

What concerns me here, as in other postings, are questions of imitation and models. As gardens that embody particular national and historical garden styles, these issues invariably come to the fore. And because these gardens are based on particular models they prompt a highly particularised attentiveness that leads to detailed critical analysis that is not possible with most contemporary gardens.

In subsequent posts I will look at individual gardens or issues that these gardens suggest, beginning with the Picturesque Garden, which raises some interesting questions.

Fig. 1. The Tudor Garden, Hamilton Gardens. (David R. Marshall 2022.)

Part 2. The Picturesque Garden

This entry was posted in All Posts, Architecture, Art, Baroque Gardens, Chinoiserie, Comment, Design, Elizabethan Architecture, English Gardens, Fabriques, Garden History, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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