Sitting snug in a loop of the Avon and surrounded on all sides by green space – mostly Hagley Park – our delightful Christchurch Botanic Gardens have been a key visitor attraction for almost 150 years. The garden’s origins were in 1863 when Enoch Barker, Canterbury’s first government gardener, planted an oak tree in the proposed Botanic Gardens and three more at nearby sites to commemorate the marriage of Prince Albert Edward to Princess Alexandra of Denmark.
The gardens had been a long-time attraction from Stop 5 (Arts Centre Clock Tower) on our city loop tram tour. With the Caterpillar garden tour becoming one of the Welcome Aboard Christchurch attractions, the Botanic Gardens present a growing significance. Recently, I took a little time to chat with the gardens’ visitor services team leader Lynda Burns about on-going developments.
For the enthusiastic team leader it is, “All about enhancing visitor experience and meeting expectations.” For almost a decade, plans have been made to combine visitor and operational facilities in one attractive complex. Hopefully these will be in place for the 150th gardens’ anniversary next year.
The information centre, café, toilets, and a function room (overlooking the river) will form the visitor space along with an exhibition arena relating to the people and landscape of Canterbury and the associated role of the Botanic Gardens.
The operations facility will include a nursery and staff research library with windows allowing public viewing. The complex will be housed is a building appropriately resembling an off-the-shelf glass house. The addition of a new building, near the herbaceous border, will have minimal impact on the present green space.
Lynda says the Botanic Gardens are more than a “pretty park”. Visitors see gardeners working but have little appreciation of roles in research, education and conservation. These are poised to become more obvious to visitors. And there are the amazing plant collections. One example is camphor a tree cutting collection from Nagasaki. Following the 1945 atomic bombing of the Japanese city it was decreed no plant life would emerge for at least 70 years. Despite the prediction, a camphor tree bravely struggled through the rubble and cuttings were subsequently acquired by our Botanic Gardens. One is thriving close to the World Peace Bell.
A Gondwana garden development, presenting the evolving of New Zealand flora from ancient times when most land masses were combined, is presently happening. It will include atmospheric effects to enhance the story. Another plan is for a children’s playground interacting with the Botanic Gardens.
Lynda made it all sound exciting. Watch this space for more news from Christchurch’s most-visited facility.