Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 8 (November 1, 1937)

The Glory of Gardens — And Their Meaning — Our Immigrant Friends of Flower and Tree

page 9

The Glory of Gardens
And Their Meaning
Our Immigrant Friends of Flower and Tree

I would like to form a small cavalcade of the explorers and geographers of the past. I would have Walter Raleigh and Captain Cook, Marco Polo and the Cabots, but I would add to the company, the old Elizabethan poet Andrew Marvell, who wrote of Phillida and English gardens; Francis Bacon, and perhaps Samuel Johnson who hated Scotsmen and Americans with abundant heartiness. I would like them to see New Zealand where Maori and pakeha live in amity and a common culture, but, most of all, I would like them to see English trees and Devonshire violets, Kentish lilacs and lake country daffodils, living in friendship with the scarlet rata, the yellow kowhai and the dropping green foliage of the rimu. I would like them to see that the work of men's hands and hearts, has made in every nook and clearing throughout New Zealand, a happy marriage of blossom and leaf from old lands and the new. They would recognise, at once, that this feature of our country's panorama was the final and conclusive proof of our purely British origins and our love of things English.

I was explaining at length to my fellow passenger in the New Plymouth express that we were officially proud of all the wrong things. I had not cited Rugby, of course, but I had mentioned with some emphasis our prowess in butter production and our hot springs as subjects that could be conveniently dropped for quite awhile.

As the train slipped out of the Stratford Station, there was on the left a tiny formal garden, bordering a clear mountain stream. It had neat paths, shrubberies, and there was a splash of colour here and there where beds of bulbs were breaking into bloom. Our sightseeing had been dominated by Mount Egmont up till then, and there was no gainsaying the flawless beauty of that towering snow-white cone in its serene symmetry. It seemed to me that the exquisite little park that thus slipped by our carriage window had a meaning worth explaining and elaborating.

New Zealand is known all over the world as a pocket universe of natural wonders. Our caves, lakes, fiords, mountains, and thermal regions parallel anything of the same sort anywhere else in the world. Here they are packed into so small a compass as to make possible the seeing of a compendium of scenic marvels in a few days' journey.

We have let the world know all about these in no uncertain manner and our enormous trout and eighteen point stags are pictured everywhere. I have never seen anywhere that New Zealand has got due credit for the possession of a unique array of formal parks and gardens. It is not generally known that the smallest of our scores of boroughs has at least one exquisite recreation ground, the work of human devising, and the joy of enthusiastic garden lovers.

Places of three or four thousand folk will often have three or four, ranging from an acre or two of parterres, formed paths and flower-decked shrubbery, to areas of fifty acres or more with native bush interspersed with decorative, planned gardens.

It is certainly a delight to live in a natural wonderland where Nature displays with prodigal richness every purely beautiful or strangely weird vision. But listen to John Ruskin in “The Two Paths.”

“As I passed, last summer, for the first time through the North of Scotland, it seemed to me that there was a peculiar painfulness in its scenery,
(Rly. Publicity photo.) A glimpse of Naumai Park, Hawera, North Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
A glimpse of Naumai Park, Hawera, North Island, New Zealand.

caused by the non-manifestation of the powers of human art…. Nor though I had passed much of my life amidst mountain scenery in the South, was I aware before how much of its charm depended on the little gracefulnesses and tendernesses of human work.”
I am glad to be able to claim that New Zealand, still less than a century old, would entirely satisfy John Ruskin in this regard. In the most remote spots in our lake lands or our mountain regions we find dainty and carefully tended ornamental gardens where alien flowers fly their many coloured ensigns in the midst of our ancient Polynesian flora, and their delicate blooms face the untouched wildernesses of rock and snow, of high cliff and still waters. To take at random, I mention Pembroke, page 10
(Rly. Publicity photo.) Hamilton Railway Station in its setting of palms and shrubs, North Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Hamilton Railway Station in its setting of palms and shrubs, North Island, New Zealand.

Franz Josef, and the otherwise prosaic hydro-electric works at Waikaremoana.

But it is possibly in our smaller settlement centres that the devotion of New Zealanders to park and garden planning has reached its unique distinctiveness.

I have it on the authority of a Dublin University expert on horticulture that nowhere on the earth's surface is there a relative number of pretty pleasure grounds, catering to tiny populations. “A place that is barely visible unless the day is clear and the car going slow will prove to have at least one well-kept, well-designed and attractive pleasaunce,” he said.

There is no fear of a bad Sunday morning, becalmed in any New Zealand hamlet. There will be at least one public garden worth a visit, with picturesque qualities and something new to show.

Let us examine the causes of this distinguishing characteristic of New Zealand; they are natural and logical having regard to the underlying structure of our settlement history. First of all, our people almost wholly came from “England's green and pleasant land” and her sisters, Ireland and Scotland.

The first thing that strikes every New Zealand visitor to London is not the fact that it justifies the name of the “Big Smoke.” A percentage of the buildings are black and soot-stained, but everywhere there are parks, gardens, and flower-filled enclosures. A few steps from a teeming street, roaring with traffic, takes one to an old-world “place” in which in the springtime, daffodils and jonquils star the neat plots, and lacy shrubs flower in ancient peace.

All England, as well, is full of “Grantchesters” where green fields are bordered by quiet streams and where there may be

The little high-walled garden that encloses

Lawns white with dew, a crimson snare of roses

The deep-grassed fields where cows, with serious eyes

Watch the blue dance of Devon butterflies.

The people from the small towns of England formed the larger proportion of our forebears. It is not at all strange that they set about, as a first task, making the garden that reminded them of Home. Any family records are filled with reminders about seed to be sent out, thanks for slips of rosemary sent or rose cuttings carefully tended all those weary months. How anxiously those little plots were watched and what joy there was when the pansy leaf showed or the primrose could be
(Rly. Publicity photo.) The Station Garden at Rakaia, South Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
The Station Garden at Rakaia, South Island, New Zealand.

really identified. And here is the second reason for this feature of New Zealand life. English, Scottish and Irish flowers, plants and shrubs found friendly soil here. They seemed to want to help to recreate the sweet scents and garden sights beloved by these pioneer folk.

The English habit of surrounding its playing fields with flowers and trees has reached intense development in New Zealand. I wonder what would have happened to cricket in England without the village green. Did you know that in Christchurch there is a village green which is known wherever cricket is played and has even attained that final cricketing triumph, mention in Wisdens? Its history is so typical of what New Zealanders do so as to unconsciously prove their sheer Britishness, that I give it shortly.

Some few miles from Christchurch there was a level small paddock at the foot of the Cashmere Hills. A few enthusiasts among theatre employees conceived the idea of making a cricket pitch, and, week after week, the little band journeyed out there and went to work. You may have heard of the artless American lady who asked the gardener of a Cambridge College how the lawns got their emerald green. “Well, Miss,” he said “We rolls ‘em and mows ‘em for a thousand years.”

The years are not needed in New Zealand. The magic of sunny hours and warm rainfalls produces growth of grass and creeper that invests places with an air of centuries of existence, in a very short space of time. The cricket ground was drily named the “Valley of Peace,” as no feminine foot was allowed to tread the sward. A few years have worked magic. To-day there page 11
(Rly. Publicity photo.) Victoria Park, Stratford, North Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Victoria Park, Stratford, North Island, New Zealand.

is a perfect cricket pitch, with an outfield of green velvet. Prize shrubs adorn the grounds, immaculate paths line the banks of the stream and tall trees ring the whole ground. There are picturesque pavilions and there are gaily coloured deck chairs as beloved by cricketers almost as gaudy blazers. All the visiting teams, English, South African and Australian have played there. Hammond and other great ones have their names on the Honours Board and I have seen Woolley giving priceless instruction to a young theatre hand on how to deal with an “inswinger.”

There is a direct connection between the game of cricket and the creation of a garden. It is another game altogether in such a setting, and becomes the emanation of the essential Englishman who loves the things of the open air in a sense that neither he nor any man of any other race understands.

We have faithfully followed this quality of English sport in New Zealand. But before I pass to that feature, I recall the enthusiast who established Kowhai Day in Feilding. With eyes glowing he buttonholed for years citizens at every corner and handed them his precious kowhai seeds. To-day the pretty town in October is showered with golden blossom from Square to farthest boundary.

But Feilding is useful as an illustration of another phase of the New Zealanders passion for gardens. There is, of course, the municipal park, and the racecourse, too, has a proud show. New Zealand has been defined as a string of magnificent racecourses with nice country towns attached. The courses themselves would well be described as a string of ornamental gardens with race tracks attached. From Riverton to Waterlea, from Otaki to Te Aroha, the local racecourse has a glory of garden or shrubbery. Who has not heard of the superb Rose Avenue of the Whangarei Racing Club, or the botanical wonders of Tauherinikau, with its trees named and described.

The facetious visitor might easily talk of “Hacks among the Hydrangeas,” “Pacers mid the Primroses,” or “Racehorses and Roses.”

At many metropolitan courses it would be safe to say that more patrons visit the flower beds than the loose boxes.

Similarly in other branches of sport, the New Zealander has invested his grounds for playing games with garden settings. At random I mention, neat
(Rly. Publicity photo.) A corner of the Botanical Gardens, Wellington, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
A corner of the Botanical Gardens, Wellington, New Zealand.

Rangiora where there is a small paradise for bowls, tennis, and croquet, and a rich show of flower beds. That prosaic word “Domain” or the worse phrase “Recreation Reserve” in such places as Temuka or Otautau describe what is in point of fact a miniature parkland full of surprise beauties. The main point of many of these elaborate gardens is that they are maintained with care and devotion though they may only be visited by the public once or twice a year. I instanced the beauties of the elaborate gardens of the Hawke's Bay Show Grounds.

Perhaps old Francis Bacon would have been most interested of all in this garden planning love in New Zealand—its universal hold on every man and woman—its opulent results in the making of beauty. Hear him about gardens and you will get a glimmering as to how long this British love of gardens has been in existence.

“God Almighty first planted a garden; and, indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures, it is the greatest refreshment to the spirit of man; without which buildings and palaces are but gross handy-works; and a man shall ever see that, when ages grow to civility and elegancy, men come to build stately, sooner to garden finely; as if gardening were the greater perfection.”

By many he is counted as the world's greatest intellect “to claim undisputed empire over men's thought” and yet what a mass of garden lore is mingled with that enormous store of classic erudition.

“For March there came violets, especially the single blue which are the earliest.”

“Roses, damask and red are fast flowers of their smells”; “Strawberry page 12 page 13 leaves dying with a most excellent cordial smell.”

And here's a panorama of spring flowers:

“The double white violet, the wall-flower, the stock-gilliflower, the cowslip, flower de luces, and lilies of all natures, rosemary flowers, the tulip, the double peony, the pale daffodil, the French honeysuckle, the cherry tree in blossom, the damascene and plum-trees in blossom, the white thorn in leaf and the lilac-tree.”

It is a strangely sweet truth that all the flowers in his list, or for that matter in English prose or poetry, all the owners of lovely flower names that have earned the benison of the makers of English rhymes or the weavers of English romances are here in New Zealand. Why, old Sir Francis would find a goodly sprinkling of them in the Hawera and Rakaia Railway Station gardens, to take a random pair.

Our soil suits them; our skies please them; they smile from our garden beds with supreme happiness; they are at home. It is the same with English trees. They nestle into our landscape with an air of comfort and quiet content.

And so I finish with a line or two from Iris Wilkinson's lovely verses, “The English Trees.”

“But on our shore

The English trees are stranger trees no more

The golden youth that signed our fathers' page

Won all green England for our heritage.”

What's this? Nearly 50 per cent, of smokers in the Old Country being slowly poisoned by nicotine? That's what a Harley Street specialist says anyhow, and if it's true of England it's true of other parts of the world because tobacco loaded with nicotine is found everywhere, although there is far less evidence of it in New Zealand than in other countries, for most smokers here now-a-days smoke “Toasted” which, grown and manufactured within the Dominion, contains less nicotine than any other tobacco in the world for the simple reason that the manufacturers' own toasting process—the only one, remember—so neutralises the nicotine in the leaf that most of it vanishes. There's no “bite” left in it. Does toasting do anything more than purify? Most assuredly it does! The peculiarly delicious bouquet of these blends as well as their unforgettable flavour are largely due to toasting. Hence the ever increasing demand for Cut Plug No. 10 (Bulls-head), Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Cavendish. Riverhead Gold and Desert Gold. There are no tobaccos in the very least like them.*

The Marina Parade, Napier, North Island, New Zealand.

The Marina Parade, Napier, North Island, New Zealand.

The Station Gardens at Napier.

The Station Gardens at Napier.

(Rly. Publicity photos.) A scene in the Botanical Gardens, Wellington, North Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photos.)
A scene in the Botanical Gardens, Wellington, North Island, New Zealand.

page 14 page 15
Head of the Margaret Glacier, traversed on the route to the Forgotten River Valley, South Island, New Zealand.

Head of the Margaret Glacier, traversed on the route to the Forgotten River Valley, South Island, New Zealand.