A gardening klutz's guide to gardening beauty

22:19, Mar 16 2014
hamilton gardens
BLOOMING WONDERFUL: Beautiful colours on display at Hamilton Gardens’ Indian Char Bagh Garden.

I'm not a gardener. Not at all interested in planning, planting, hoeing and sowing, and I'm somewhat bemused by the fact that I seem to be in charge of a home garden and a small patch of native bush.

I muddle along, with a bit of help. My next-door neighbour Diana, a skilled gardener, has rescued my pocket-handkerchief front lawn and a fledgling rimu from a near-death experience this hot and dry summer, and she and others kindly feed me with excess produce from their abundant vegetable plots.

The best thing I can do is grow herbs, and when the garden spins out of control I sometimes dream of living in an apartment with a balcony, my only responsibility to plants being a few tubs of essential herbs. And cultivating good friends with lemon trees.

For a gardening klutz, though, I know quite a lot about the genre. I just don't practice what I know. The knowledge comes from some years previously, when I edited the Waikato Times gardening pages. This was challenging for a non-gardener, I did a lot of reading, and also learned from our expert gardening writers.

Sometimes I amaze myself with what I can dredge up. Like last weekend at the stunning new tropical garden at Hamilton Gardens, where I was able to identify quite a lot of the plants. My sister-in-law (another keen gardener), who was with me, had temporarily forgotten the name of a swathe of fleshy green things, and I contributed airily, "oh, they're Chatham Island forget-me-nots. At least, I hope they were.

We also walked through the painstakingly executed Maori Te Parapara Garden, where there was no sign of the neglect mentioned this week by Ngati Wairere historian Wiremu Puke. While it may have been disappointing for Mr Puke to visit at a time when some maintenance was due, I can't begin to imagine how hard it must be for garden staff to stay on top of every weed and every aspect of building maintenance on such a big, demanding site.


Anyway, I digress. Because I want to say here that even though I'm not a gardener, I admire other people's work in this department, especially at Hamilton Gardens, which has claimed a piece of my heart.

Each time I walk into the Gardens, I quietly salute the vision and the fact that no one could have predicted just how beautiful and popular this place would become. Or how extensive the development would be.

So I'm delighted with Mayor Julie Hardaker's new fast-track proposal to complete five more themed gardens, and improve key facilities, within four years.

Hardaker's proposal would see two-thirds of the costs met by the Lotteries' significant projects fund, with council's one-third contribution funded by a targeted rate per property of $10 a year, for four years.

The latter bit, the $10 levy, has drawn its share of detractors, with some people unhappy about being pinged an extra 10 bucks on top of their rates for something they don't often visit.

While much has been written about the Gardens being the city's most used facility, and the region's must popular visitor destination (and the knock-on effect for accommodation, hospitality and retail providers), it's easy to overlook that this is a fine legacy for future generations of Waikato families.

You can quickly spend $10 on a burger and chips, or coffee and a scone, or part-payment for a movie ticket. But targeting Hamilton Gardens for $10 annually, for the next four years, ensures the integrity of its vision is maintained and supported, that our children's children will continue to have a magic space to enjoy, and to be proud of.

The Gardens are already regarded as unique in New Zealand, probably in the world. The aim was to create something different from traditional botanical gardens which typically have collections of plants; in Hamilton, the planners turned this on its head and developed collections of gardens with appropriate plants, a concept not known on this scale anywhere else.

The five collections - Paradise, Productive, Fantasy, Cultivar and Landscape - focus on history, context and meaning, with each area painstakingly researched, designed, built and planted true to country and continent of origin.

It is well-acknowledged that the Gardens' vision lies in the hands that have steered it for a long time, the highly creative (and extremely modest) Peter Sergel, who came to work at the Gardens in the late 1970s, and was appointed director about 19 years ago.

Sergel typically turns any praise and attention directed at himself on to the huge community support, and the team effort, that he says underpins the work and success. Everyone involved should take a bow, they will be buoyed by the mayor's proposal.

I was at the Gardens twice last weekend; on Saturday to visit the tropical garden, on Sunday for the Italian Festival. Before that there were concerts and other entertainment at the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival, before that there have been picnics, walks, and attendance at many different events down the years.

I love it. I don't have to do a single tap of work in the place, or worry about the weeds and whatever. It's laid out in all its beauty for me, and thousands of others. For anyone who has any doubts about the extra funding, I'd simply say go and check it out. You might change your mind.