Hamil­ton Gar­dens

The Insider's Guide to New Zealand - - NORTH ISLAND -

Jour­nal­ist Denise Irvine wrote in the Waikato Times that one of the many magic things about Hamil­ton Gar­dens is that “you never know who you will meet there”. On the day she visited there was a Scot­tish clan chief, a new­ly­wed cou­ple still in their fin­ery and a Tai­wanese teenager do­ing star jumps for her Face­book page. Add to that on any day gar­den-lovers (nat­u­rally), kids em­bark­ing on a Tu­dor trea­sure hunt, the odd opera singer, the Soweto Gospel Choir and a group of women mov­ing chooks.

The gar­dens have a chameleon qual­ity. They not only change colours each sea­son, they also at­tract a va­ri­ety of peo­ple, many of whom wouldn’t know a prim­rose from a po­hutukawa. More than a mil­lion vis­i­tors pass through the gates each year, not just for the plea­sure of the panorama but for the fan­tasy and mys­tery and sheer Wikipaedic vol­ume of fas­ci­nat­ing facts. Who knew, for ex­am­ple, that the herb woad was used in an­cient times to dye bod­ies blue? Or that plants that looked like the symp­toms of an ill­ness could cure it? Who also knew that “night soil”, or peo­ple’s poo to put it bluntly, was used to fer­tilise veges in Vic­to­rian times?

The ge­nius be­hind the gar­dens is Peter Sergel who de­cided from the out­set – more than 30 years ago – that he was done with tidy lawns, neat bor­ders and reg­i­mented flower beds. In­stead he has cre­ated the botan­i­cal equiv­a­lent of Te Papa, where plants are the cen­tre­piece for a his­tory of the world. In two hours you can visit In­dia, Italy, Eng­land and Ja­pan, stop­ping off in Cal­i­for­nia to lounge by a pool with Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe. You can also travel back in time to when Maori cul­ti­vated food crops on the same site or to Tu­dor Eng­land, when in­tri­cate knot gar­dens were heav­ily guarded by cen­taurs, sea ser­pents and satyrs.

The gar­dens are grouped in five col­lec­tions: Par­adise, Pro­duc­tive,

Fan­tasy, Cul­ti­var and Land­scape, joined by an in­tri­cate maze of paths and por­tals. Par­adise in­cludes the Chi­nese Scholar Gar­den, where the paths are de­lib­er­ately de­signed to slow you down. Next door are the English Coun­try Gar­den, the Ja­panese Gar­den of Con­tem­pla­tion and the Amer­i­can Mod­ernist, where a mo­saic mu­ral of Miss Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe over­sees a sun-soaked deck and pool. But the price­less gems in this col­lec­tion are the Ital­ian and In­dian gar­dens, the back­drops for thou­sands of ro­man­tic pro­pos­als and suc­ces­sive nup­tials. The Ital­ian Re­nais­sance Gar­den fea­tures pat­terns of na­ture based on the view that num­bers and pro­por­tions are di­vined; the In­dian Char Bagh Gar­den is laid out like a gi­ant Per­sian car­pet. Both gar­dens over­look the river and are the set­ting for sum­mer con­certs where the ci­cadas pro­vide a bril­liant back-up cho­rus.

The Pro­duc­tive Col­lec­tion sounds pedes­trian but it is any­thing but. “Beauty is bought by judge­ment of the eye”, wrote Shake­speare in Love’s Labours Lost. And in the Kitchen Gar­den and Sus­tain­able Back­yard, let­tuces, globe ar­ti­chokes, toma­toes, turnips and herbs look as pretty as beds of roses. This is also where kids can search for bugs, bees and other crit­ters or watch the chicken trac­tor take chooks from bed to bed to do the house­keep­ing. There are no slack­ers in the Sus­tain­able Gar­den. Bees and worms work hard, wa­ter is re­cy­cled and the peo­ple who work there do it for love, not money. Tes­ta­ment to their suc­cess is in the yield; veges ripen here be­fore any oth­ers in the re­gion. Vis­i­tors are fre­quently sur­prised by the size (50 hectares) and splen­dour of Hamil­ton Gar­dens. “More than you ex­pect,” wrote one trav­eller which, strangely, was Hamil­ton’s (much-ma­ligned) ad­ver­tis­ing slo­gan some time back. But the world has no­ticed. Last year the gar­dens were named Gar­den of the Year at the pres­ti­gious In­ter­na­tional Gar­den Tourism Awards in Metz, France. US gar­den-tourism guru Richard Ben­field says they rank in the top five des­ti­na­tion gar­dens in the world and added one word: “Wow”.

Hunger­ford Cres­cent, (07) 838 6782, hamil­ton­gar­dens.co.nz

Peter Sergel

CLOCK­WISE

FROM TOP; The Maori Gar­den with ku­mara pits; the Ital­ian Gar­den; vis­i­tors chill out in the Ja­panese Gar­den; vi­brant colours of In­dia; the suc­cu­lent gully.

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