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Illustrated Guide to Christchurch and Neighbourhood

[The Public Gardens and Hagley Park]

The public gardens (or Government Domain) are situated in a bend ox the Avon on the western side of the city, and immediately adjoining it, with the main entrance opposite the end of Hereford-street, only about five minutes' walk from the centre of the town. Along the side of Antigua-street a strip of ground has been left unfenced in front of the gardens, and planted with a splendid avenue of sycamores and elms, which afford pleasant shade during the hot days of summer. The garden comprises about eighty acres, laid out in the picturesque style, and is almost surrounded by the river, which forms a splendid feature, being lined by fine thriving trees of various kinds, the weepingwillow predominating, and laving its beautiful drooping branches in the deep, clear water, produces that pretty effect so beautifully described by Shakespeare—

"There is a willow grows aslant a brook
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream."

The garden was laid out about eighteen years ago, and affords a fine instance of the triumph of art over nature, seeing that the soil is of an extremely sterile nature, consisting of a thin layer of sandy loam over a deep bed of loose, dry shingle, and liable to extreme droughts during summer. The main walk, sixteen feet wide, runs all round the garden, following the windings of the Avon, and is the most delightful promenade about Christchurch, being crowded on Sundays and holidays with pleasure-seekers. The garden may be said to be only in a half-finished state, as, owing to the want of funds, the original design of the present page 77Curator has never been completed. However, this incompleteness does not in any way detract from the value of the garden as a recreation ground, but from its scientific value only. It is intended that the garden, when completed, shall contain groups of plants arranged in a geographic manner—i.e., that all the hardy sorts of plants from one country shall be brought together into one group, so that they may be seen at a glance. At present the only groups completed are those representing: Australia, Japan, Great Britain, and New Zealand, all of which contain plants of great rarity, beauty, and scientific interest. That of New Zealand contains about 500 species, and is especially valuable, seeing that our native flora (which is totally distinct from that of all other countries) is being rapidly exterminated by the progress of settlement; and this collection will therefore aid in the preservation of many plant forms which would otherwise shortly become extinct.

Besides these geographical groups, it is intended to form groups of all the principal natural orders of plants to facilitate the study of botany, and so help forward that liberal system which the people of New Zealand have adopted at so much selfsacrifice. A good many of these groups have been partially completed, the most striking being the group of the pine tribe, or pinetum, which contains about 170 sorts of young conifers, mostly in a thriving condition, covering about fourteen acres of ground. Of course the collection is far too young to possess any such grand specimens of conifers as are to be seen in the great: show places of England, but no English collection of the same age can surpass it. There is a finely-formed specimen of the Chilian pine, Araucaria imbricata, over twenty feet high, which flowered last year; a unique specimen of the rare Aibes bifida, of Japan, numerous fine cedars, and the usual kinds of pines, yews, silver firs, spruces, etc., all growing well. It is hoped that this pinetum will enable intending planters to see what sorts of trees are most fitted for cultivation in Canterbury, and be the means of avoiding much useless expenditure of labour and money in the future.

There are in the garden many thousands of thriving trees from all countries, except the tropics, and our space is insufficient to mention any; but the most interesting among the most beautiful are a number of sorts of Japanese maples, varieties of Acer Polymorphum, which are very attractive, on account of their exquisite foliage, producing many shades of colour. There is a splendid specimen of the royal tree of Japan, Paulownia imperialis; another of the cork oak, which yields the cork of commerce; several fine specimens of the tulip-tree of North America; a large sugar maple, several splendid Wellingtonias, page 78etc. British and Australian trees are represented in large numbers, and in numerous forms.

Some thousands of roses on the beds and borders form the principal attractions during the early part of summer, but suffer much from the droughts later on, and their health is only maintained with difficulty. The fashionable bedding out system has not been much practised as yet, owing to the paucity of glass and the scarcity of funds; but in laying out the lawns ample room has been left for the formation of beds, ribbon-borders, etc., for the display of such things whenever money may be found for the proper maintenance of the garden. About four acres was devoted to a nursery for the propagation of forest trees for distribution to public bodies, such as Road Boards, etc. In some years as many as 150,000 trees have been so distributed, but owing to the almost entire absence of funds of late years the nursery has had to be abandoned. Latterly attention has been given chiefly to economic plants and hardy herbaceous plants. Of these latter about a thousand species have been introduced almost entirely at the Curator's own expense, and the collection of these is now by far the finest in the colony, although the soil is a very unpromising one for such things. An immense quantity of native seeds and plants have been sent to other countries, and the naming of native and exotic plants for correspondents in various parts of the colony forms no small part of the work of the garden.

Of economic plants very many kinds have been introduced and freely distributed throughout the colony in exchange for native plants and seeds. During the present year about 1000 olives will be distributed, besides some hundreds of white mulberries, American vines, etc.

Enough has been said to show that the miserable pittance hitherto expended on the garden has been expended to the best advantage; but, small as the funds have been, they show a tendency to decrease, owing to the fact that as the population of the city increases the sheep pasturage of the park (the only source of income) becomes of less value. It is to be hoped that some way of increasing the funds may be discovered, otherwise the garden must deteriorate, and the work hitherto done be wasted. If the necessary funds were forthcoming the garden might do much to aid in founding new industries. Various horticultural and agricultural experiments might be carried out, and the cause of education be furthered by the teaching of botany, and the introduction of beautiful and useful plants.