Wellington Botanic Garden: Rose Garden, Begonia House and Peace Garden
Centennial Way Walk - Introduction
Welcome to the Rose Garden and Begonia House precinct.
You should be standing on the corner of the Lady Norwood Rose Garden next to a map board. If you face the Rose Garden, you will notice a long glass conservatory on the opposite side of the garden. That’s the Lady Norwood Begonia House. Both the rose garden and begonia house are named after a major benefactor to the gardens, Lady Rosina Norwood. Behind you is a sports ground called Anderson Park.
Before we start, let me introduce myself. My name is Philip Tomlinson. I have been a guide in this garden since 1999, and am currently Vice President of the Friends of the Garden. I also run the Friends website. It is my pleasure to welcome you.
VoiceMap uses GPS to pinpoint your location and trigger the relevant audio. This means you can put your phone away now and relax. I will tell you where to go. There's a route map on the screen, but only use it if you get lost or stuck.
This is going to be quite a gentle tour, and I'll be stopping you a lot to tell you more. Please make use of the benches available while you listen.
Toilets are available in the Begonia House and I’ll describe their location when we get closer.
When you’re ready to start, turn so that the road is on your left and the rose garden is on your right. Then walk straight down the road, heading for the central pathway that cuts directly across the gardens towards the fountain and Begonia House.
Turn right here, onto the central pathway, and find a bench to sit on. Make yourself comfortable while I tell you a little more about this garden. This tour does not involve much walking. It’s a general introduction and is not intended to be an expert botanical visit. For now, please stick to my directions. Once the tour is completed you are welcome to explore the Rose Garden on your own.
The Wellington Botanic Garden was established in 1868 as a national colonial garden for the new colony of New Zealand.
Initially there were three objectives for the establishment of the gardens.
Firstly the government wanted to use it as a trial ground to examine the economic potential of plants, particularly forestry trees. The second objective was scientific—it was to be used for the study and collection of both indigenous and exotic plants. And finally, it was created as an area for recreation and leisure for the public.
For several years, the first two objectives dominated. It was not until the 1880's that the recreational use became significant.
The Rose Garden and Begonia House make up only a small part of this 25.5 ha garden. If you’ve not yet visited the rest of the Botanic Garden, it is well worth it, with its seasonal bedding displays and main botanical plantings, the Treehouse Visitor Centre and historic 1870 plants. Entry to all parts of the garden is free, including the Begonia House.
But for now, have a look around you. This garden follows a traditional design, with 110 beds holding about 3200 roses. A small number are replaced each year.
For many visitors, especially those from overseas, the Wellington Botanic Garden IS the Rose Garden/Begonia House complex. Both the begonia and rose collections are long established, both having been in existence for over 100 years, although they weren't always here. While the main garden has its own special attractions, with its spring tulips and extensive summer bedding displays and botanical collections, many people make this area the focus for their visit.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
Now walk over to the fountain. When you get there, take the pathway that leads off to the right. I'll meet you at the end of that path.
Okay, now stop here and take a seat on one of the benches along the pathway.
This garden contains a general collection of roses. There are both hybrid tea and floribunda varieties. The hybrid tea variety has large flowers, many of which are fragrant, while the floribunda have clusters of individual flowers with a wide range of colours. Few floribunda are fragrant, but they produce more colour all over the plant.
We also have patio roses which are ideal for pots and tubs. These are usually smaller plants with smaller flowers.
There are approximately 80 climbing roses on the pergola surrounding the main beds. We also have shrub roses, which are mostly large growing plants with a variety of flower types.
Look out for both hybrid tea and floribunda varieties of standard roses which are grafted onto a long stem about a meter high.
Turn to face the begonia house. On the right, just outside the pergola, is a trial bed, where plants are tested. Only those performing well under Wellington conditions are planted in the main beds.
The main flowering season commences in November and continues until early autumn. The plants are continually dead headed through the flowering season to promote new growth and flowering. The roses are fed in September, December and March, and pruning starts in May.
An integrated pest management programme is followed, ensuring minimal chemical sprays are used during growth.
In 2015 the World Federation of Rose Societies presented this garden with the Award of Garden Excellence. This international award is in recognition of the quality and extent of this garden, in competition with gardens from 39 member countries.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
Now walk back to the fountain. When you get there, take the first right, this time leading towards the Begonia House.
Stop and take a seat while I tell you some of the history of this garden.
Remember I mentioned Anderson Park earlier? It’s the sports ground behind the starting point of this tour. Well, the site occupied by this Rose Garden, the Begonia House and the sports ground is the result of the most drastic landscape modification ever inflicted on the Botanic Garden. Originally the deep Honeyman's Valley extended from the bush at the back of the glasshouse right through the site of the rose garden and Anderson Park and beyond.
Development of Anderson Park began in November 1906, and by 1910 it was ready for use as a recreation ground. So the long wooded valley became a large dark gully ending abruptly in the wall of fill making up Anderson Park. However, this gully soon became a rubbish tip and was not cleared until the early 1930's.
Once this land was cleared and filled in, it was used for extra sports fields. But during the Second World War it became the site of an American Marine Camp and hospital for some 400 personnel. After the war, it was restored again and used as a sports ground until the building of the Rose Garden began in 1951.
The plan for this complex of gardens was most likely the work of Director Edward Hutt. It was certainly the largest addition to the Botanic Garden established during his directorship, from 1947 to 1965.
Roses do not seem to have featured in the Botanic Garden in the earlier years. The earliest record of roses was in September 1880, when William Bramley, the first head gardener, reported that "a number of his best roses had been stolen", although the number and extent of the collection at that time is unknown. These were grown in the Main Garden, in what is now known as the Sound Shell Lawn.
Later it became known as "the Enclosed Garden". Rectangular beds were divided by new paths. In 1912 it was recorded that the "Enclosed Garden" had been broken into and that roses and other flowers had been cut and strewn about.
The transformation of the “Enclosed Garden” into a rose garden began during George Glen's period in office from 1901 to 1918. There is no direct record of roses being planted at any one time, only a gradual, increasing dominance until the Garden was ready for another name change. In 1917 it was renamed "The Rosary", but was still fenced with restricted access.
This development continued under the supervision of Director Mac MacKenzie. The last of the cabbage trees and rhododendrons were finally removed in 1928, at which time the area was a fully-fledged rose garden. It remained so until the Lady Norwood Rose Garden was completed in 1953.
By 1948, when the plan for the establishment of a rose garden and begonia house had been approved, the newly appointed Director Hutt was already planning the types of roses to be included in the new rose garden. He intended to use species as well as horticultural rose varieties. So, in 1948 he wrote to the directors of the Kew and Edinburgh Botanic Gardens asking for seeds of rose species. Edinburgh sent seeds, and Kew promised to do so the following season. However, there is no documentation indicating that any plants resulted from these requests, nor that species roses ever became part of the original Rose Garden plantings.
The building of the Rose Garden began in 1950 and the Council decided to name it after Lady Norwood in appreciation for the services rendered to the city by her and her husband, Sir Charles Norwood. Lady Norwood donated a fountain for the centre of the Garden in 1956. The original fountain was replaced by the present one in 1977, donated by her children. The new fountain originally stood in front of a bank in London. The Norwoods made several similar donations for the Begonia House from 1939. Judging from the orders for roses in 1951, planting must have begun in 1952.
To shelter the new Rose Garden from north-westerly winds a manuka brush fence was constructed. Later a border of large shrubs was planted along the Anderson Park boundary for the same purpose. In 1961 a pergola was erected around the roses. The zig-zag and brick walls that run up to the present Herb Garden were also erected that year. From 1969 and into the 1970s the area was artistically lit at night, illuminating the roses for the enjoyment of visitors, accompanied with musical and dramatic events.
Sometime during the mid-1950s, disaster struck. A gardener accidentally sprayed the roses with 24D, a hormone herbicide, mistaking it for liquid DDT. This killed all but two beds. All the bushes were removed and that season the garden was planted with annuals until a new batch of roses could be installed. Needless to say no documentation relating to this event in the City Council Archives has been found but it is still one of the horror stories related by staff. No member was sacked as a result of this mishap. Instead Hutt put out a press release to the effect that the roses had fallen prey to a fungus disease and that the plants had been removed to the Berhampore nursery for treatment. However, in reality they all went to the tip and Hutt ordered new ones to be planted.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
Now, let's move on to the Begonia House. Stand up and turn to face the long glass building. Can you see the round, curved glass entrance directly in front of you? The main doors are on the left-hand side of this structure. Make your way there, and I'll meet you just before you go inside.
The Begonia House
Stop here for a moment. I need to point out where I'll meet you next.
Face the glasshouse and turn to your left. Can you see the tables and chairs to the left of the glasshouse? That’s the Picnic Café and I’ll meet you there once you've finished exploring the Begonia House.
Please wait until you’ve finished listening to this section before heading over there. Rather wander around inside while you listen.
Now you can enter into the Begonia House foyer. You should see the retail shop in front of you.
Can you see a glass partition with two doors on your right? Enter through the door closest to the shop.
This area is the tropical section, containing a selection of warm growing plants. Just as you enter there is a collection of bromeliads, members of the pineapple family. Look out for tillandsias growing on a "tree" in the enclosure and below are some orchids and sundews. You should see orchids further along at the epiphyte wall and there's a lily pond at the back of this wing.
As you return to the foyer by the path on the other side of the building, look out for the frangipani.
Then you will need to cross the foyer into the Intermediate House. Here you’ll find cooler growing plants, including the spectacular summer begonia collection. Seasonally you will also see streptocarpus, cyclamen, primula, cymbidium orchids, nerines, impatiens, coleus, and other foliage plants, providing interest all year round. Every week plants are checked and replaced where necessary.
At the back of this wing, there's a wishing well and a ceramic sculpture by Paul Dibble called “Looking and Listening for the Sea”.
You'll find the toilets along the rear wall on your right, with an exit door through which you can find more conveniences in the services building behind the conservatory.
Now, take your time walking through the collection of plants while I give you a little history on this structure.
The first glasshouse was erected in the nursery area in 1898, although the first reference to begonia displays only occurred later, in 1913. Actually, it could well have taken place as early as 1904, when Director George Glen purchased $10 of seed from England. The purchase of seed from this source continued for many years, with more recently up to 5,000 seeds purchased every two years.
Director Glen, who served from 1901 to 1918, had what was considered to be the finest collection of begonias in the Southern Hemisphere. So the tradition of begonia displays in the Garden has existed for over one hundred years.
In the early years the collection of seasonal begonias was only on public display for two hours on Sundays and Wednesdays. After concerns were raised by a local newspaper, the glasshouse was opened on Saturdays as well.
Right up to the erection of this Begonia House in 1961, the glasshouse was used for propagating during winter and as a display house for the tuberous begonias, gloxinias and streptocarpus from September to Easter.
The original Begonia House was very small with only one door and the public had to pass through the glasshouse single file. Even though the House was extended in 1922, the Director at that time insisted that an adequate show house was needed. The Council, however, could not spare the money.
Hutt's predecessor, J G Mackenzie, made two failed attempts at building a winter garden before and during the war. Even though a local businessman, Sir Charles Norwood, made several financial offers, none of these fully covered the cost of a new structure.
Finally in June 1960, Sir Norwood generously donated $40,000 to construct a new Begonia House which would face the Lady Norwood Rose Garden.
So, with the construction of the Berhampore Nursery, the planned Begonia House could now act as a display house throughout the year, and include the most exotic indoor plants.
The original structure covered an area of 1115 sq. metres. The opening took place on 22nd December 1960. A seed merchant bestowed a gift of $2,000 for furnishing winter growing plants. Another benefactor donated a unique collection of nerines—41 varieties, which were virtually unprocurable in New Zealand at the time. The new glasshouse was recognised at the time as the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. The display usually includes about 5,000 separate items.
The use of the Rose Garden/Begonia House complex in summer was extended, especially during the Summer City festivals that were inaugurated in the summer of 1978-1979. These events drew thousands of people. Spectacular events were staged in the Dell and Rose Garden and elsewhere in the city. The Rose Garden and its surroundings often looked like a fairground and by the early 1980's children had frequently claimed the fountain pool.
In 1981 a cafe was added, and in 1989 the Lily House was built to house the fascinating amazonica lily and other hot house specimens. Both these developments were partially funded by the Norwood family. Later the foyer was extended, providing an area suitable for catering events, as well as a retail shop.
As a result of concerns raised after a Wellington earthquake, seismic analysis and strengthening of the structure were recently undertaken.
High toxicity pesticides such as organophosphates have not been used for general pest control in the Lady Norwood Begonia House since 1993. Pest control is now based on Integrated Pest Management. This involves monitoring pest population levels and where necessary, reducing the populations using physical and environmental means, biological control, or low toxicity chemical or biochemical means. Biological control methods are used for twospotted mite, whitefly, and mealybug.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
When you’ve seen enough of the Begonia House, you can head out to the Picnic café I pointed out earlier. If you've forgotten where it is, face the Rose Garden and turn right. It's the little collection of chairs and tables at the end of the path. I’ll meet you there.
Stop here and have a little break. The Picnic Café provides a good interlude. It is open for breakfast and lunch 7 days a week, from 8.30am to 4.00pm. It seats 70 people inside, and 80 outside under the grapevine.
It has a great menu, from snacks to full meals, with wine and beer if required. I highly recommend the coffee. It can be very popular over the lunch hour, especially when a large cruise ship is visiting. So rather plan an early or late lunch to avoid the crush.
If you'd like to make a booking, have a look at the front page of this tour, you can find contact details there.
When you're ready to continue with the tour, you need to turn to face the rose garden. To the right of the garden is a narrow street. Walk along this street, away from Begonia House, keeping the rose garden on your left-hand side. I'll meet you a little further down the way.
Turn right here, just after the brick bus shelter, and follow the path into the Peace Garden. Find a spot to sit, so that I can tell you about this really special place.
[3 SECOND PAUSE]
The Peace Garden has an interesting history, and is tied to the Japanese Gardens that once existed. But parts of the story involve other areas in the garden, beyond the scope of this walk.
The first modest Japanese garden was constructed around the mid 1950s on Myrtle Way, opposite the present hydrangea collection. The cherry tree and other Japanese plants are long gone, but the remains of the pond can still be seen. The Japan Society of Wellington gave the city a lantern as a gift in 1975. It was to be placed in a Japanese Garden, which was due to be constructed on a knoll in the Wetland Garden next to the Duck Pond.
Unfortunately, a number of issues prevented the project from being completed. So, when the lantern arrived from Japan, there was nowhere to put it. Initially it was kept at the Begonia House and later relocated to the wetland site and adapted to house the Peace Flame in 1994.
However, vandalism at the wetland site made the current site a more viable and safer option. The lantern and the Peace Flame were separately gifted to the citizens of Wellington and both deserve to have their history remembered. The lantern was unveiled in 1975, with the President of the Japan Society of New Zealand noting that it represents "the light being shone on the path of friendship and understanding".
The waterfall, pond, brick shelter, wall, and path access from the weather office were constructed in 1971. The Norwood family gift also made the construction of a sloping bank to the south of the waterfall possible. This provided covering of an unsightly cliff where the hill had been cut away and formed the framework for the development of the Peace Garden. The garden was dedicated on June 25th, 1994.
Wellington City and its citizens have always been active in promoting peace, tolerance and understanding in the local community and beyond. The city became a nuclear-weapons-free zone on April 14th, 1982. New Zealand declared that it would become nuclear free in 1984, and the national legislation was passed in 1987. After this the anti-nuclear community worked with Japanese anti-nuclear campaigners to bring the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace flame to Wellington. The flame was originally lit from the fires created by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, three days before Nagasaki. It was presented to New Zealand by the people of Japan as a salute to our efforts to halt the spread of atomic weapons.
The Peace Garden is a lasting reminder to Wellingtonians and visitors of the importance of peace in our communities. It also highlights the important role Wellington plays in maintaining peace, as the capital of a nuclear-free New Zealand.
There are a number of interesting plaques in this garden. Did you notice a piece of stone resting on the entrance wall as you entered the garden? That was part of the Old City Hall in Hiroshima.
Take a few moments to read the plaques. When you’re done, you’ll need to leave the garden the same way you came in. Turn right when you get to the side street and continue walking down the road, away from Begonia House. I’ll meet you at the next turn-off.
Take the next turn-off to your right, just after the sculpture. Follow the path until you hear from me again.
Camphor Laurel Tree
Stop here and have a look to your left. You will see a small hand-made sign pointing to the Nagasaki Peace Camphor Tree, originating from one of the two camphor trees that survived the 1945 bombing of Nagasaki. Although it is named, there is no identifying plaque.
The parent tree, like most others, was burned to the ground in the bombing of the Japanese sea port of Nagasaki on 9 August, 1945. However, the tree regrew and is revered in Japan as a symbol of hope and new beginnings. It sits on the site of a shrine that was almost totally destroyed in the blast.
Three camphor laurel trees, propagated from this tree, were presented to Christchurch by Mayor Itoh of Nagasaki during a visit in May 2002. The gift was in recognition of the support given by New Zealand mayors to the anti-nuclear cause. The tree planted in Wellington was carefully nurtured from a cutting taken from one of those three trees and was given to Wellington by Christchurch Mayor Garry Moore. Mayor Prendergast, who was a member of the worldwide Mayors for Peace Network, planted the tree at the foot of Norwood Path on Monday 27 June 2005.
Now turn and head back towards the rose garden. When you get back onto the street, turn right again and keep walking. I’ll meet you on the corner of the rose garden, just in front of Anderson Park.
End of walk
Now stop here - well done, you made it to the end of the tour!
If you'd like to find out more about this garden, visit the Friends of the Wellington Botanic Garden website at Friendswbg.org.nz. You'll find a section titled "historical"; this will lead you to the people, places and structures that have been mentioned in this tour. You'll also find a lot more about the main garden.
If you wish to visit the main garden, face Anderson Park, turn left and follow the road to the Centennial entrance. Then turn left again, and continue walking along Tinakori Road. The main entrance is only a 5 minute walk away.
If you'd rather return to town, face Anderson Park and follow the road down to the right. Keep going all the way to the entrance of Bolton Street Memorial Park, then continue down the main path. There are some wonderful old-fashioned heritage roses in this area. If you continue on you will reach the Houses of Parliament, and the main shopping street called Lambton Quay.
So, this concludes our walk. Thank you for your attention. Goodbye!