Seminar and conference summary

Christchurch and Akaroa
April 2016


Jack Hobbs, Micheline Newton, Rebecca (Bec) Stanley and Julia Watson from Auckland Botanic Gardens (ABG) summarise highlights and learnings from the Botanic Gardens Australia NZ (BGANZ) seminars; RNZIH Banks Memorial Lecture & New Zealand Gardens Trust (NZGT) conference 2016.
Laurence Speedy (ABG) also attended the NZGT conference.



RNZIH Banks Memorial Lecture
Presenter: Prof Brian Murray | Reporter: Jack Hobbs

On 13 April Prof Brian Murray delivered a lecture entitled ‘Cytogenetics and ornamental plant breeding: an ongoing partnership’.

Prof Murray was senior lecturer in the Department of Botany (subsequently the School of Biological Sciences) at the University of Auckland from 1984 until his retirement. Much of his presentation focussed on the cytogenetic work he did with Dr Keith Hammett to assist the development of new hybrids not achievable using traditional breeding techniques. Prof Murray also assisted with the Hebe breeding programme at the Gardens that produced the ‘Wiri’ hybrids.

Cytogentetics is essentially the study of chromosomes that carry heredity material. Chromosomes vary greatly in number, size and origin. Prof Murray cited Picris with 2n = 10, whereas for Olearia angulata 2n = 432.

Understanding chromosome numbers, structures and behaviours (and in some instances manipulating chromosome numbers) enables the development of new gene combinations (genotypes) that can result in hybrids with unique characteristics.

Prof Murray emphasised the significance of hybridisation between crops and their wild relatives where this can be achieved, and he described some interventions that took place to overcome genetic barriers. Some of the work he undertook with Dr Hammett enabled crosses to take place that would otherwise have been impossible. He described his work on several ornamental crops such as dahlia, sweet pea, clivia and pinks (Dianthus).

Dr Hammett is widely acknowledged as a world leader in the development of sweet peas. The introduction of yellow flowered Lathyrus into his breeding programme transformed the sweet pea. Only six if the 160 described Lathyrus species have yellow flowers, and of these L. belinensis has crossed successfully with L. odoratus. F1 hybrids from this cross did not produce yellow flowers, resembling more wild types in appearance. However subsequent crosses with these F1 hybrids produced numerous colour variants including colours not previously seen.

Dr Hammett also sought to develop yellow flowered pinks (Dianthus). Dianthus knappii is the only yellow flowered species although some carnations have yellow flowers. Prof Murray is using colchicine to increase the number of chromosomes in D. knappii.

Clivia is less genetically complicated from a breeder's perspective as all known species have the same chromosome number. Dr Murray explained the cytogenetic work that identified C. miniata and C. nobilis as the parents of C. cyrtanthiflora.

The modern Dahlia was derived from a cross between D. pinnata x D. coccinea, and is known as D. x variabilis. It is octoploid meaning it has 8 chromosome sets. Most species have 32 chromosomes, although tetraploids with 64 chromosomes occur. Exceptions include D. merckii (36 chromosomes) and D. dissecta (34 chromosomes).

Understanding and where necessary manipulating these chromosomes has enabled crosses to take place that otherwise are impossible.

BGANZ Council meeting and seminars
Reporter: Bec Stanley

The Council meeting for BGANZ was held at Christchurch Botanic Gardens the afternoon before the seminar day. The theme of the seminars was research (social and scientific). Peter Sergel presented the research he does prior to designing and building a new garden based on telling the story of gardens described by Peter as “the context, meaning and history of gardens”).

Julia Watson and Mich Newton presented ABG research on our visitors and the importance of using data from visitor surveys to shape what we do. Bec presented the plant research we are doing.

Leanne Killalea updated us on the research at Wellington BG, Jeremey Hawker from Christchurch BG outlined their visitor research based on events and the opportunity the present to bring visitors to the garden.

We were then shown a range of tree health machinery from a contractor that does work at the Gardens in Christchurch – a tree spade and a purpose built machine to inject air into compacted soil. The gardens have many very old trees and there is a programme to increase their longevity as much as possible including regular soil aeration.

NZGT conference, Akaroa

Garden tourism
Presenter: Dr Richard Benfield | Reporter: Julia Watson

Dr Richard Benfield is Professor of Geography at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, USA where he teaches courses in tourism, particularly in connection with culture and conservation, with an additional focus on garden tourism. Richard was the invited guest and key note speaker at the NZGT conference. As one of the only garden tourism researchers in the world his insights are very valuable.

Garden tourism is one of the most popular tourism activities today, around the world. In the United States, more people visit public gardens (approximately 100 million) than visit Disneyland and Disneyworld combined! In New Zealand, garden tourism is in the list of top-ten tourist activities, and yet it is not listed as an activity on the NZ tourism website front page – an oversight that Richard noted would be important to rectify.

Garden tourism is not just for the baby boomer generation, with the median age of garden visitors being 39 years, and 34% of millennials growing their own garden produce. Richard identified several key areas for further focus, including the fact that magazines are still an important part of promoting gardens and that we need to do more research on garden tourism in NZ in order to supply NZ Tourism with the data on how important this industry is to tourism in NZ.

Richard’s insights were both perceptive and encouraging, and he highlighted some key steps forward for us as an industry that will be useful for future work.


Presenter: Barbara Lea Taylor | Reporter: Mich Newton

This was a personal reflection on the life of one of this country’s best known writers on heirloom roses. For many in the room it was a chance to ‘tip their hat’ to someone who has had a strong influence in gardening in New Zealand and learn about how she came to be a gardener and garden author.

Hinewai Reserve
Presenter: Hugh Wilson | Reporter: Bec Stanley

Hugh Wilson manages Hinewai Reserve on Banks Peninsula 1250ha of regenerated forest that came up under gorse and broom or Kanuka. It is privately owned & managed but completely publicly accessible. He gave us an entertaining run down on the geological history of the peninsula and painted us a picture of Akaroa 225 million years with active volcanoes & dinosaurs.

While the peninsula was mostly cleared of native vegetation for farming Hugh focusses on ‘not what's lost, but what's still here’ and nurtures the plants which he describes as ‘itching to get back to this place again’ through the gorse. His method of fostering native regeneration through a canopy of gorse was controversial 30 years ago, but much more widely accepted today because of what’s happened at Hinweai. There’s “nothing gorse likes better on marginal land than being controlled - but can't stand being shaded”. Hugh says “every ecologist understands this but farmers didn’t at the time”. One farmer wrote in the paper “heaven help us from fools and dreamers” which Hugh now realises was a compliment.

The Native Forest Restoration Trust has now bought a neighbouring farm (Purple Peak Curry Reserve) which Hugh, and his two other colleagues, are now also managing.

History of Akaroa gardens
Presenter: Prof Helen Leach | Reporter: Julia Watson

Helen Leach, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Otago University, provided a fascinating history of Akaroa gardens through her lineage in the area, dating back to the mid 1800’s.

Helen wove a story of garden intrigue replete with images of Akaroa planted in orchards, nurseries and gardens from the time of early settlement and interspersed with newspaper clippings reporting on local horticultural shows and flower displays. Horticultural shows dating back to 1869 were very popular with lots of categories for all types of fruit, nuts, flowers and vegetables. Lots of old and unusual citrus varieties in Akaroa were introduced from France in the 1800’s.

Akaroa clearly has a rich gardening history which continues today.


Garden tourism workshop
Facilitator: Dr Richard Benfield | Reporter: Julia Watson

At the conclusion of the conference, Dr Richard Benfield summarised the key points and action steps that he believed NZGT and garden organisations should take. Richard emphasised that the NZ garden tourism product is unique in what it offers to the tourism market. NZ has a private home owner personal garden offering that is not very common in the rest of the world. We are on the verge of a new paradigm where lots of people are traveling the world and we will be receiving them here in NZ. He suggests that NZGT (and gardens as a whole) manages this change and is ready to receive an influx of garden visitors.

How can we help visitors find us? All of our websites need to be top class and all our signage throughout towns and in gardens needs to be clear and easy to find. We also need to ask NZ Tourism to make sure they do garden research to get a measure of the value of this market, with possible help from local universities and researchers. Each individual garden needs to keep a record of visitors to contribute to this data.

Richard also identified cruise ships as an important visitor and income source – they need gardens as a shore excursion. In conclusion, garden organisations need to be proactive and united in their approach to the tourism market, and to harness the value of the growth in this arena.


Mich Newton: As a trustee of NZGT a key priority agreed on following the conference and member forum discussions was the coordination of garden member data collection and the use of this data to support an improvement in the profile of garden visiting as an activity within New Zealand Tourism and regional tourism organisations.

Dr Richard Benfield also gave a talk in Auckland prior to the conference where the audience included representatives from ATEED. The Auckland region members of NZGT are getting together to feed back the learnings to those who could not attend plus encourage all members in Auckland to collect data that we can take to ATEED to gain increased profile in their tourism promotions.


Garden Visits
Christchurch Botanic Gardens | Reporter: Bec Stanley

Conference delegates had a whistle stop tour of the conservatories (orchids, cactuses and flowering plants) and rock garden at the Gardens. In comparison to ABG this Garden has more an arboretum feel with many very spectacular trees over 100 years old.


Jack Hobbs: Christchurch Botanic Gardens remains one of the regions most loved treasures and with around half its visitors tourists it is an important contributor to the local economy and culture. It has a long history and passionate community involvement and it is now going through the complex process of addressing the challenges of delivering on contemporary expectations.

Mich Newton: Coming from a garden that promotes sustainable practices for gardening the use of sprays both in the Rose Garden and the Christchurch conservatories was challenging. There was no obvious insect life in the Rose Garden in comparison to ABG. I am intrigued to know how we would manage an indoor conservatory setting here at the Gardens.

Broadfield NZ Landscape Garden | Reporter: Jack Hobbs

250 Selwyn Road, Weedons

Broadfield Garden is a large (about 3.5 hectares) predominantly formal garden set on flat Canterbury land with fertile soils. It was originally designed by Robert Watson and has been developed over the past 20 years by owner David Hobbs. It features a 120 metre long formal border with artistic combinations of native plants set against an impressive Podocarpus cunninghamii hedge. Other parts of the garden featured azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, Cornus, maples, and perennials. Components include a 140 metre long canal, and a mound that can be scaled to provide a different perspective on the garden.

Ideas we came away with were mainly to be found in the native plant border that features native plants in superbly crafted combinations of form, texture and colour providing year round appeal. It includes several native plants not commonly seen including a compact Phyllocladus with blue foliage, a Myrsine species that had us puzzled, and various grasses and shrubs. It is easily the best border of native plants I have encountered.

It was also a lesson in the effective use of several native trees as hedging including miro and totara (both Podocarpus totara and P. cunninghamii with a slight preference for the latter as it is greener in appearance). Totara was also clipped into pillars at regular intervals along the border which added substance to its appearance.


Bec Stanley: “I realised the typical tall formal hedging you see in Canterbury hardens is reminiscent of English/European styles of gardening but also really necessary if you want to garden in a hot windy place like the Canterbury plains. I am not sure which has come first – the style or the practicality”.

Jack Hobbs: When creatively combined a well considered selection of ornamental native plants can produce a stunning garden with year round appeal. Public gardens can learn and take inspiration from the artistry of our best private gardeners.



Otahuna Lodge |Reporter: Bec Stanley

Otahuna is a beautifully restored Victorian house (built in 1895) that is now a luxury lodge nestled in the hills of Tai Tapu. “Otahuna” is Maori for “little hill among the hills which is very apt as the house is elevated above the road and a pond with a great view over the Canterbury Plains to the Southern Alps.

Our first impression of the garden was the front lawn which is striped – an illusion based on light reflecting off the blades of grass which have been flattened or bent in different directions. When the blades of grass are bent away from you, the grass appears lighter in colour because the light is reflecting off of the wide, lengthy part of the blade. When the blades of grass are bent towards you, the grass appears darker as you are looking more of the tips of the blades and the shadows under the grass. This must take a lot of work and won’t be something we’ll be adopting but it very much suited the house!

Other highlights of Otahuna were the orchard – with apples tree laden in fruit we were allowed to eat and hazelnuts; and the walled potager veggie garden full of kale, Brussel sprouts, cabbages, silver-beet, celery, herbs, currants etc. There was also had a special house (made of brick) to grow edible fungi. In summer one room, for one night, costs $2100 or for the whole lodge $7995 per night. This made our eyes pop out.


Bec Stanley: the value of gardens to tourism is obvious here; people apparently pay $1000 for a garden tour. The formal lawn also set off the heritage home.


Ohinetahi | Reporter: Bec Stanley

This house is the home of architect Sir Miles Warren. It sits at the head of Lyttelton Harbour surrounded by hills. There was a garden here since 1865 (by one of NZ’s first botanists T.H. Potts) but not much, except a few exotic trees including an Araucaria cunninghamii, remains from then.

The garden has been designed as a series of interconnected ‘rooms’ e.g. a rose garden, a geometric walled ‘red’ garden, perennial border, vegetable garden, and above the driveway a clever garden of squares of plants all clipped as squares of hedge (picture needed) like chocolates in a box.

The garden is very formal apart from a wild dell of natives, ferns, rhododendrons, fuchsias and camellias with a swing bridge and tracks cut into the hillside. The dell is a lovely contrast to the perfect (perfect) lawns and hedges above. There are sculptures throughout the garden.


Bec Stanley: It struck me how much you can put into quite a small area – this is bigger than a residential section but the way the garden is layered up to the tall old trees and then the hills above and behind made it seem endless. I liked how you can be in a really formal garden with clipped lawns and hedges then plunged into the wild dell in only metres, but it was made to feel (by clever plant choices and use of hedges as screens) like a million miles away”



Jack Hobbs: there is no better place to be than in a great garden. The artistry of the garden design and plants, the magnificent home and the collection of art make this one of my favourite garden destinations.

The effectiveness of formally clipped native shrubs highlighted their suitability for this purpose.

I felt one of the artworks distracted my attention from the garden, a timely reminder that art must always be complementary to its setting.

Annandale | Reporter: Mich Newton

Annondale is a working coastal sheep and cattle farm on the Banks Penninsula that offers luxury accommodation. The 15 acres of garden provided a variety of settings for guests.

The renovated homestead was enveloped in a historic garden with the familiar South Island box hedging and sweeping lawns. This was surrounded by English trees offering dappled light walks along the water’s edge and the recent redevelopment of the heritage orchard.

A restored Victorian fernery was also on display. This was contrasted with the more contemporary setting through the simple clean use of native cultivars such as Teucrium fruiticans as a formally clipped hedge with contrasting Coprosma virescens agjacent to the tennis court, pool and gym areas. Another focus for the gardeners was the extensive kitchen garden.

An interesting fact was also that Andrew Patterson designed the modern gymnasium and pool area as well as the sensitive renovation of the historic house.


Mich Newton: The collection of mixed garden styles worked well in this fabulous coastal setting and gave each accommodation setting a true sense of place. The use of the land to support the cuisine offered by the estate was also successfully achieved with the extensive kitchen garden and a good selling point for the luxury tourism offer.

The Giant’s House | Reporter: Bec Stanley

It’s best you don’t know what to expect when visiting this garden – I feel that by writing about it I am revealing the end of a movie to someone who hasn’t seen it.

It’s the garden of an artist who is also a trained horticulturalist.   We were smiling and laughing the whole time we were there – this garden is an uplifting, creative and fun experience.  

There were really clever plant combinations like parsley under the roses and clashing bright coloured plants (e.g. Aeoniums and marigolds).


Bec Stanley: Gardens can really influence your mood!





Mich Newton: Whimsy when done well can impress and entertain even the ‘purist’ gardeners. Once seen, never forgotten!








Fisherman’s Bay Garden | Reporter: Jack Hobbs

Fishermans Bay garden is famed for its extensive collection of hebes with more than 150 species and cultivars in the collection. Its location on the Banks Peninsular coast with panoramic ocean views makes it an ideal location for growing these diverse native plants. The garden is large and actually has many different components including a long flower border, Rhododendron and Hydrangea Walk and extensive vegetable garden.

The seaward facing Hebe garden also features large drifts of astelias that provide perfect contrast of texture and form. The open site with plenty of coastal wind ensures the hebes remain relatively clean compared to those in more humid sheltered places. We were particularly taken with the numerous red admiral butterflies and bumblebees feeding on the flowers of a large leaved form of Hebe obtusata.

Jill has grown many of the ‘Wiri’ series of hebes. She finds the seedlings that emerge in her garden are typically healthier than their parents.


The main lesson from this garden was the effectiveness of growing a diverse range of hebes together with a limited range of other native plants in suitable conditions. They provide remarkable diversity of foliage and form, and flowering of different species and cultivars occurs throughout the year. It also highlighted their value as a food source for wildlife.


French Farm | Reporter: Jack Hobbs

French Farm was created by former owner Nancy Tichborne and husband Bryan. It is now owned by Jendy and Pat Brookes who maintain it to a very high standard as well as adding their own touch.

From the roadside home the garden rambles down a hillside of ornamental gardens to a lower lawn through which the Te Waimangu Stream runs. It also features remnant native bush including large kahikatea, matai and a magnificent pokaka (Elaeocarpus hookerinanus) estimated to be more than 300 years old.


Jack Hobbs: the influence of artist Nancy Tichborne is evident in this beautiful large garden combining creative plantings with well-balanced use of space.



The staff who attended the conference wish to acknowledge the generous support of the Friends and Auckland Council

Jack, Mich, Bec, Julia & Laurence