Word starts to get around in early September: Spring is coming. A friend sends me some intelligence about a street in my neighbourhood that has trees heavy with blossoms, where tūī in great numbers make a production in the branches. I go out especially to see them, and stand under the frothy pink boughs, watching about two dozen of the birds flounce and tumble through the branches, extending their songs into rippling melodies that blend into the bright sunlight.
I go out to look for spring everywhere I can after that, inspecting gardens on my usual routes for signs of the cheery season. By chance, I come across Eden Garden, tucked in against one side of Maungawhau (Mt Eden). I had no idea this garden existed. Secreted away on Omana Ave, it's a garden Frances Hodgson Burnett would be proud of. I arrive one weekday morning, ushered in by freezing spring gusts, and I'm greeted by beds of tulips, shouting the joy of the season.
It's the kind of garden where you can wander down avenues of very old trees, in the shade of the maunga, and feel you are further away, not just down the road from your house. It's old-fashioned, a little quaint, and in the deepest, darkest parts, cobwebs bloom in the trunks of trees and in the rockeries, and it feels as if you're in a fairy tale.
There are bromeliad and native fern glades to admire, glossy with new life, and smelling of fresh-pressed earth, and rain. If you're willing to tackle some steeper slopes and stairs, gorgeous views over canopies of native trees await, the rhododendrons in outrageous and unashamed bloom. While I watch, an enormous kererū falls from the sky into a dive roll, recovering just in time to land on the flimsy branch of a tree.
Many of the plants and trees in the garden have labels tied to them, so you can find out the names of the species you are admiring. This is very useful if, like me, you are more ardent fan than expert. I like to plan my fantasy garden in places like this, and knowing the names of the trees and ferns I will plant one day is very useful. If you want to just sit, as I always do, there are many wooden benches tucked into corners of the garden, up against the wonderful old rock walls, where you can breathe, and feel everything growing.
On my wanderings, I pass an elderly man standing with his hands clasped behind his back, his head tilted to gaze at a very tall old magnolia tree, the silvery pink blooms high against the blue sky. I watch him for a while, locked in a trance with the beauty. He reminds me to look up, and I go round the garden pausing under the spread of blossoms and green arches, taking in the foliage and the sunlight dappling through.
Eden Garden smells delicious, and it's serene in the way you hope a garden will be. It's been here since the 1960s, when a group of enthusiasts converted an old quarry into the space it is now, nestled in against the volcanic rock. There is a small entry fee, and all the proceeds go towards maintaining the garden. It's important to mention that there are very good custard squares in the little cafe on site.
Further afield, the Auckland Botanic Gardens in Manurewa are resplendent this time of year. The grounds are huge, and I wear sports gear, tempted to run full tilt down the beautiful expanse of grass lawns, it's so open and free there. You can walk (or run) for hours if you want to. I saw a family of five really getting into the spirit of it, the children frisking up and down the lawns like small excited ponies.
Like Eden Garden, the botanic gardens are rampant with blossoms and new foliage, and the irrepressible good cheer of springtime. There are gardens full of herbs, native species gardens, a camelia garden, and a garden devoted entirely to magnolias. I pause there, with my arms behind my back, channeling the old man from Mt Eden.
More than 10,000 plants are in the botanic gardens; it's an oxygen-saturated wonderland. It's also a really good place to throw down a blanket and read your book in the sun, feeling full of the tidings of a new season arriving.
I am not done with my spring adventuring however, and make plans for a visit to the Kirikiriroa (Hamilton) gardens, which I hear are so beautiful in spring that they make everyone go half-mad with the joy of the season. After what feels like an eternal indoors winter, I am throwing myself into nature, and sucking up the sunshine and fresh air like a flower.
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