Hamilton Gardens: More than a path to the Sustainable Backyard

For those of you who read Finding the Sustainable Backyard, I thought it only fair to mention that Hamilton Gardens is more than a long and curvy pathway to the Sustainable Backyard. Hamilton Gardens is an unusual public garden in its own right.

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While at first appearance it looks to be a botanical garden, the visitor will soon discover that the focus is on cultural and historical interpretations of gardens and their design, rather than the traditional botanic garden focus on botanical collections of plants.  Peter Sergel, director of Hamilton Gardens, is trained in landscape architecture so it is no surprise that the design of each garden is carefully considered as an independent work of art reflecting a specific culture and era.  While plants are integral to telling the story of each special garden within the Hamilton Gardens collections, the buildings, temples, paths and bridges claim at least as much attention.  Perhaps it is even fair to say that in some gardens, the plants play a supporting role, rather than a starring one.

Because Hamilton Gardens is a collection of very diverse gardens, from the first traditional Maori garden, Te parapara, to the Indian Char Bagh, Italian Renaissance and Modern American Gardens, strolling the grounds is a multi-cultural experience.  The garden staff, employed by Hamilton City Council, work closely with community groups corresponding to the various garden themes in order to assure the most authentic representation of each garden.

The Gardens officially opened in 1960 and consisted only of the Tropical Display House and 4 acres of lawn, now incorporated into the current plan as “The Victorian Flower Garden.”  The Roger Rose Garden was developed in 1971 for the first World Rose Convention, and the majority of garden development stems from planning that commenced in the 1980’s.

Covering 155 acres, Hamilton Gardens receives about 1.5 million visitors, 2300 hours of sunshine and 48 inches of rain per year.  Wintec, a technical school that includes horticulture, arboriculture, floriculture and landscape design, is sited adjacent to the gardens, facilitating student learning opportunities that also benefit the gardens, and is considered by Peter to be, “one of our best partnerships.”

So how did the Sustainable Backyard come to take up residence at Hamilton Gardens?  The path, much like the winding walkway you must travel to at last arrive at the garden itself, was anything but straightforward.  Interviews with Hamilton Permaculture Trust co-founder Adrienne Grant and former Manager of Parks and Gardens Bill Featherstone will provide insight into the evolution and development of the Sustainable Backyard.  Stay tuned!

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