I usually visit the Christchurch Botanic Gardens not quite knowing what I'm looking for, and come home with nothing but duck photographs, or a mass of magnolia close-ups. To improve my random garden reporting, this spring I decide to take a guided tour.
The Peacock Fountain
I meet my guide Barbara at 1:30 pm by the museum. She gives me a map and some bookmarks, and off we go! First, to peer at the Peacock Fountain, restored from Victorian days and repainted. The locals hate the colours - New Zealanders are a bit scared of painted colour in the garden.
Like our native birds, they prefer to echo the drab of the bush. However, as a recently returned tropical island traveller, I adore turquoise blue, though I am still too timid to paint my own garden fences thus...
Spring Flower Colour
Colour in annual bedding displays, however, is totally acceptable, with the brightest petal and flower colours, and some alarming combinations. I take some photographs of the polyanthus and tulip beds, mainly to shame my own tulips (they have a flowering life of about three days).
A Knobbly Tree
My guide tells me the cutest, quirkiest garden stories. For example, the only branch ever to fall earthwards and hit a visitor was from a Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus - the unfortunate target was a visiting Baptist minister! Oops.
Spring is a beautiful season. I enjoy the early cherry blossom, the drifts of daffodils, and the Magnolias covered in their bluey-pink blooms. It seems such a squash, fitting all those flowers onto a tree branch. Magnolias are nothing if not generous, when it is their time!
The real stars of the Botanic Gardens are the huge trees from all the corners of the temperate gardening world. Many of the deciduous trees are still forming their leaves.
Then we walk past a grove of tree-sized Camellias, at the end of their blooming season, the ground covered with a colourful flower mulch. If only I'd come a few weeks earlier!
We visit a special garden named after Kate Sheppard, an early New Zealand suffragette. Restful seats, square stones, and lots of right angles surround a collection of fragrant shrubs and flowers. My guide knows all the Latin names - I say 'Winter Sweet', she says 'Chimonanthus'...
A Kate Sheppard Garden Seat
New Zealand Natives
I never come to these Botanic gardens expecting to see tracts planted in native bush - nature does this so much better. My guide shows me two contrasting areas - one is a paint chart of different types of green, full of species New Zealand natives. What a variety of textures!
New Zealand Hybrid Natives
In a totally different place the more colourful hybrid flaxes, cordylines and hebes show off their shining spikes and leaf forms. This is a mathematician's dream garden, full of angles and symmetries - the hebes are particularly geometric. The other side of the path is planted with dull Australians - no style, very scruffy! Hee hee...
Thanks to my guide I have lots of new knowledge - I now know important dates and facts in the history of the gardens. Prince Edward's Oak is held together with internal metal reinforcing rods - just like an old man. New Zealand has a native Gunnera with leaves smaller than fingernails - what would my huge waterside Gunnera think of such a relative? Native black ducks walk on the river bottom, and enjoy the tussock planting on the water's edge. See? I know stuff!
Path Through the Gardens
But has being guided around the Botanic Gardens improved my standard of roving garden reporting? Hmm...
My guide Barbara was a trained volunteer, one of the Friends of the Botanic Gardens. Every afternoon at 1:30 you can meet a guide and be taken around. It will make your visit a million times more enjoyable - and Barbara is the best!