Gardening the Garden City

WILL HARVIE
Last updated 05:00 22/02/2013

When irrigation pipes burst at the Mona Vale Gardens on February 22, 2011, gardening staff resorted to carting buckets of water from the Avon River to sustain the plants.

Whatever else hasn't happened since at the Christchurch City Council-managed estate, the flowers have bloomed, the roses were pruned and the shrubs trimmed.

As a symbol of a city striving for rebirth and renewal, the gardens of the Garden City are as good as they come. If we couldn't repair or rebuild, we could at least garden.

"People are thrilled that the gardens are open and kept up to a good standard," says Nicky Brown, who supervised Mona Vale before and after the February quake and has since got responsibility for many other heritage gardens in the city.

The mansion house at Mona Vale is closed, but visitors can still find a spot in the grounds to read a book, have a picnic, or get a bit of quiet, she says. "It doesn't look like the eastern side of the city."

Her boss, Jeremy Hawker, says visitor numbers at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens are "almost back to normal" at about 1.2 million a year. He expects numbers to jump once a new visitors centre is completed in time for the gardens' 150th birthday in December this year.

The $16.4 million centre will house a new cafe, interactive displays, a library and archive, a herbarium and nursery, seminar rooms, as well as staff and storage areas.

The largely glass building will be "light and airy" and is "in the spirit of classic garden architecture found in the city's own Cuningham House and Kew Gardens in the United Kingdom", the council said when approving the project in December.

The original budget of $10.3m was wiped out by higher post-quake building code compliance, and higher materials and labour costs. Council also reduced the size of the building from 3600 sqm to 2900 sqm to rein in costs.

Elsewhere in the city gardening has continued, but in the now-familiar pattern - a tale of the two cities. In the east, gardening business was "well down" immediately after the February quake, says Portstone Garden Centre owner Chris Smith.

Uncertainty for eastern and hillside homeowners meant that gardening didn't seem worthwhile, he believes.

Trade is slowly growing back for the Ferry Rd business, he says, and the landscaping side of the company has picked up markedly in recent weeks.

On the west side of the city, trade "dropped right off", says Terra Viva garden centre owner Peter Worsp. But trade recovered quickly for the Roydvale Ave business as customers replaced broken pots, birdbaths and such, and did "temporary" gardening - buying colourful annuals for pots rather than bigger ticket roses, shrubs or trees.

That "solid gardening" business has come back and Terra Viva is "going well ... and we're very grateful," Worsp says.

Back at Mona Vale the fernery is still closed but Nicky Brown looks forward to busloads of visitors from cruiseships docked at Lyttelton.

She got a good response from locals to a new prairie-style planting of ornamental, English and other grasses. A new mauve and purple border has also drawn praise. "It's a good sight to see," she says.

- The Press

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