Christchurch: Take a blooming lovely tour

By Janetta Mackay

It's not for nothing that Christchurch is called the Garden City. Year round there's plenty of floral attractions to be found in the aptly named South Island destination.

On the drive in from the airport, up tree-lined avenues and round tree-rimmed Hagley Park to the city centre, there's ample evidence of established planting. In early spring you'll see cherry blossoms, daffodils and bluebells edging the route. Later it's picked out in glorious autumn leaves.

The Botanic Gardens rightly take pride of place in the heart of the city, with Hagley Park skirting around them. That the 164 hectares was set aside for the park by the city forefathers may be a sign of an initial obsession to carve a Little England from what was once a swamp - or simply their need to make a flat landscape more inviting - but in any case it's proven a boon for modern-day residents who walk, jog, play golf and other sports among the flat fields.

There's more than enough room to host an Auckland-sized event like Ellerslie, and all in enviable proximity to the cultural precinct. This allows the floral festivities to better connect with the citizenry who are well used to seeing colourful floral displays along the banks of the Avon.

Out in the suburbs, Christchurch is a city where street garden competitions continue. In industrial areas, some factories still take pride in their surrounds, echoing the well-tended approaches to the old Edmonds factory, long in bloom on cookbook covers.

Charming parks are dotted around town and private gardens in and beyond the city entice visitors when garden tours are held.

Here's a few easy options:

Botanic Gardens
Giant trees, many well over 100 years old, are the backdrop to themed gardens and inviting lawns. The River Avon runs through the 21 hectares of grounds and there's a cafe, ice-cream kiosk and garden information centre at its centre, along with a children's play area and paddling pool.

In spring the daffodil lawns adjoining Christchurch Hospital are spectacular. Roses will still be flowering now despite a long, hot summer and rock gardens and the conservatory are worth exploring.

The "toast-rack" electric-powered shuttle circuits the gardens and a two-day ticket (adults $15, seniors $12) allows visitors to get on and off as they wish. See gardentour.co.nz for details and tickets.

WHERE: Walk 10 minutes (or take the tram) from Cathedral Square along Worcester Boulevard past Christchurch Art Gallery to Canterbury Museum; the nearest park entrance is to the left. Follow the main route another 10 minutes to the information centre or detour on the many walkways.

Mona Vale
This publicly owned historic homestead set amid 5.5 hectares of gardens sloping down to the Avon River is one of the nicest spots to wander in Christchurch. It's a popular wedding and function venue, with a Tudor-revival homestead at its heart, which houses a day-long cafe serving the likes of Devonshire teas.

This month Mona Vale hosted the city's annual Teddy Bear's Picnic, to allow the usual Hagley Park venue to be prepared for Ellerslie. The rose garden is stunning and jointly tended by the Canterbury Horticultural Rose Society and the Heritage Rose Society. Other highlights are the restored fernery (which was originally built for the 1906 Christchurch Exhibition and moved to Mona Vale afterward), the iris garden, lily pond, rhododendrons, camellias and exotic trees.

The land was once owned by the early settler Deans family, then landscaped by the Waymouths who built the house in 1899-1900.

In 1905 "Karewa" as it was known was bought by Annie Quayle Townend, who inherited considerable wealth from her runholder father. She developed the gardens, built a gatehouse, which like the main homestead has Historic Places registration, and renamed the property "Mona Vale" after her mother's birthplace in Tasmania. After her death in 1914, the property changed hands a number of times, and acquired trees, azaleas and rhododendrons through the years. By the mid 1960s the land was under threat of subdivision and the Civic Trust led a public fundraising campaign, which, with council help, secured ownership of what is now a treasured city asset.

WHERE: 63 Fendalton Rd, Christchurch. Ph (03) 348 9660. Open 7.30am until an hour before dark. Free entry.

Five minutes drive from the city, with ample parking or a 15-minute walk across Hagley Park. On the city to airport bus route.

Ohinetahi
One of New Zealand's finest formal gardens, Ohinetahi is the creation of architect Sir Miles Warren, along with his sister and her husband, Pauline and John Trengrove. Carved into a hillside valley at Governor's Bay, they have created a woodland wonder that looks down at Lyttelton Harbour and its barren volcanic hillsides. Appropriately enough for a man responsible for some of this country's most noted public buildings including the Christchurch

Town Hall, plus many private homes, this garden is about structure, "rooms" and sculpture. Terraces and paths lead to gazebos, walls delineate planting, and hedges surround a herb potager.

WHERE: Drive to Lyttelton and around the harbour or over the Summit Rd and around to Governor's Bay, approx 30 minutes from Christchurch. Ohinetahi is 1km from the Governor's Bay shop on the Teddington Rd to Charteris Bay.

Open from September to March. 10am to 4pm. Entry $10, or $5 per person for groups of 10 or more.

Incidentally, the nearby informal private Taunton Gardens are also worth a visit if you make the trip over the hill to Ohinetahi. Governor's Bay pub is a historic resting spot that serves meals.

Ilam Homestead
In the University of Canterbury grounds, this garden is free to visit and is best seen when its rhododendrons and azaleas are in bloom. It was the home of Sir Edgar Stead, noted for hybridising rhododendrons. The original homestead was burned down in 1911 and Stead rebuilt, later selling to Canterbury College on the proviso the garden was maintained. The building was used in the filming of Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, as it had been the actual home of young murderess Juliet Hulme (played by Kate Winslet), whose father was the college rector.

WHERE: Ilam Rd, Ilam.

Gethsemane
Perched high on Clifton Hill above Sumner, Gethsemane looks out to sea and across towards the Southern Alps. It's included here as much for the drive to the seaside suburb with its own little eco-climate as for the garden's grand vistas. Developed as a "romantic garden with a Christian theme" by owners Bev and Ken Loader over 50 years, it is used for weddings and other services. There's a Rosary Maze and a chapel built to look like Noah's

Ark and another trellised one approached under wrought-iron bowers.

WHERE: 27 Revelation Drive, at the top of Clifton Terrace. Open 9am to 5pm daily. Entry $5.

Heading north out of Christchurch, the private Wilson's Mill Garden at Ohoka is less than 30 minutes from the city and features formal vistas and a lake. See wilsonsmillgarden.co.nz

Further north and inland Flaxmere Gardens at Hawarden is noted.

To the south there are good gardens at Ruapuna and an hour away at Ashburton, then further on around Geraldine.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Canterbury Horticultural Society's website gardeninfo.org.nz lists special Ellerslie tours the society is running for from $59 to $108 (including transport and refreshments). Among them are a half-day city courtyard tour, half-day premier tour (including Otahuna, one of Sir Heaton Rhodes' greatest legacies), twilight tour, a High Country full-day tour and other country tours.

The site also has a listing for New Zealand Gardens on the National Garden Register, including a number in Christchurch and surrounds.

Other sites which offer ideas for keen garden visitors are bestgardening.com and gardenstovisit.co.nz.

The city information centre in Cathedral Square also has pamphlets listing city gardens and parks of special interest.

- NZ Herald

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