J. G. Mackenzie
First Director of Parks and Reserves from 1918 to 1947.

Under his directorship the Garden saw its two biggest changes:
• the completion of the Anderson Park extension which was completed in 1934, and
• the development of Magpie and Glenmore Lawns,  requiring a ridge in the south-west section of the garden to be leveled and used to fill an adjacent gully.
Mackenzie also worked closely with Leonard Cockayne to establish Otari Open Air Native Plant Museum (now Otari-Wilton’s Bush.)


J G MacKenzie family

New main gates


Main entrance before  installation  of new gates  1904

"New" Main Gates shortly after  installation  1925

Original gates before replaced with new ones, view along Tinakori Road c 1875 before road was straightened.

The renovation and remodeling of the Main Garden begun by Glen was continued by MacKenzie after 1918.

MacKenzie removed the fences and other barriers that had been a characteristic of the Garden since the days of the Board. He also managed to replace the old wooden gates at the main entrance, a project that had been dribbling through the Council pipe-line for some years. The existing gates had been put in place by the Board in 1878, and had done good service over the years. By 1905 they were rather worse for wear, and Glen suggested that as they looked "very much cut and hacked about it would be better if the face (of them) were covered with sheets of the small corrugated iron, then painted to correspond with the fence ". This suggestion was adopted by the Reserves Committee, but if it was carried out it must have detracted from the quality of the gates as originally constructed.

When, after 1913, the area around the main entrance was being cleared and replanted, the Reserves Committee decided to design a new set of entrance gates. These were to have brick piers similar to those at Newtown Park, and their construction was estimated to cost £36.

Nothing more happened until November 1917. That month the Council received a complaint from the Wellington South Progressive Society that the entrance to the Botanic Garden discredited the city. The Society demanded that it should be improved "at once". As a result of this the City Engineer was called upon to produce new plans of a character similar to those floated in 1914. When these arrived they must have been an optimistic flourish indeed, as their estimated price had risen to £505. Again the project sank into limbo until November 1920. By now MacKenzie was Director, and new gates had become part of his first large scale improvement to the Garden. Tenders were called, but again the estimate cullers won, and the gates fell victims to Council economising. When tenders were finally called for the brick piers of the new gates in 1924, MacKenzie was able to provide the Council with an incentive against having second thoughts again. In November when a set of iron gates owned by the Hospital Board were offered for sale, he bought them. On March the 4th 1925 the tender of Messrs Hickmott and Sons was accepted, and the building of the brick piers went ahead. The new gates were the first step in providing the present brick frontage of the Botanic Garden

Renovation and remodeling of the Main Garden


Magnolia campbelii donated by Mrs Haines in 1936

Between 1918 and 1940 significant new plantings, especially of flowering trees, were carried out under MacKenzie.   These make up some of the most conspicuous seasonal features in the Main Garden today. In 1928 the Magnolia soulangianas and M liliflora were planted along the Main Drive banks and on the bank above what was then the Rosary (Sound Shell Lawn). Just inside the Main Gates along the drive, three phoenix palms replaced the Abyssinian banana plants that used to grow there before then.  In 1936 the Magnolia campbelii was donated by Mrs Haines, and the flowering cherry Prunus yedoensis, growing beside it, probably dates from the same period.

In spite of the difficulties of growing rhododendrons in the Botanic Garden, over the years gardeners have persisted and colonies have been established. They were planted in the Main Garden by the Board in the 1870's. One group of these still stood on the right hand side of the Glen path beyond the Duck Pond in 1930. These were described then as a "grove of Rhododendron ponticum, magnificent interwoven trees fifty years old and twenty feet high ". Evidence that there were later plantings of rhododendrons comes from photographs taken between 1905 and 1918 in which they can be seen groups and single specimens of Rhododendron' Sir Robert Peel' and R 'Elegans' result from Glen's or Mackenzie's plantings. They are tough, ubiquitous plants, withstanding summer drought and the killing root fungus phytophera. There is a splendid group of R 'Sir Robert Peel' on the main drive. Their present position probably dates from the 1920's when the Magnolia soulangianas were planted, but they may well have been a repositioning of plants already growing in the Garden.


Children behind Magnolia soulangianas on Magnolia bank  1932

During the late 1920's or early 1930's, Rhododendron loden varieties and a specimen of the red form of R arboreum were planted on the site of the old nursery beds at the top of the ridge to the right of Camellia Gully. These were swallowed up by regrowth bush during the war, and became part of the forest canopy.  They were retrieved when this area was opened up in 1971-72, but were cut down in the early 1980's and their place taken by camellias. The specimen of Rhododendron arboreum is still growing there.

Another hardy group, dating from 1935, is growing at the head of the valley on the southern side of the Play Area. This was the beginning of a planned rhododendron dell in which Mackenzie was supported by Mrs Hames and the Wellington Beautifying Society. The complete project was to comprise one hundred plants, but this first planting was all that was ever carried out.MacKenzie also planted rhododendrons in sheltered parts of the Observatory Reserve overlooking the city. Later Hutt added to these, R 'Christmas Cheer' being a typical tough survivor from his plantings.

Seasonal bedding displays


Bedding display 1919 

MacKenzie is particularly associated with extending the seasonal bedding displays and introducing large shows of spring bulbs in the Main Garden. Bedding as an integral part of the horticultural display had been started by Glen. Formally planted beds and borders can be seen in photographs of the Enclosed Garden (Sound Dell lawn) taken after 1904. This formal bedding could be extremely elaborate with intricate geometrical patterns formed by using slow growing small plants like alternanthcra, alyssum, and sedums. Formal bedding of this sort was abandoned after 1947 as it was very labour intensive to plant out and maintain. Annual and perennial plants were also massed in borders of just one sort. In 1916 a newspaper reported that "one great bank of Penstemons at the end of the Broadwalk is a perfect riot of hues." This border was on the Main Drive and stretched along the top of the present Magnolia Bank from the stone bridge to the path up to the Sunken Garden. It remained as a seasonal feature until it was phased out in the late 1920's or early 1930's, when the area was grassed over and the magnolias planted.

MacKenzie had formal beds laid out on the Magnolia Bank. These were a cacophony of strange shapes, hearts, scrolls, and circles, that were quite at variance with the informality of the setting. These beds were finally abandoned in the mid 1960's when they became overshadowed by the magnolias. The elaborate procedures used for marking the position of each plant, as in formal bedding, continued to be used when this was replaced by carpet bedding. This excruciatingly slow, awkward and unnecessary habit was finally abandoned in the late 1960's with no visible consequence to the bedding displays.

During the 1920's and 1930's the Sunken Garden was developed as a perennial border. This use may also have had its origins under Glen, though by the end of his period of administration a large part of the Sunken Garden was given over to annual bedding displays. The perennials were lifted in winter and stored behind the camellia trees in the Camellia Garden nearby. Stable manure from the Milk Department provided not only the Sunken Garden, but the whole of the Reserves Department with an annual supply of organic manure;

Anderson Park extension/Playground


Anderson Park when completed c 1910, before the 1931 extenion.

Anderson Park extension, in the process of filling in the gully
 which was used as a rubbish tip for many years.
The  rose garden now stands on this area
The children's playground located here was removed as a result of this development

Anderson Park during its occupation as a Marine base in 1944

View looking north. The ridge to the left of the valley was extensively modified during the filling of the gully for the development of the Rose Garden, resulting in the existing escarpment

 Honeymans Gully being filled from spoil taken from the ridge where the herb garden now stands.
The extent of fill appears from the photo to have been about 15 meters.

The Anderson Park extension meant filling the remains of the valley left over from the formation of Anderson Park.   From December 1931 until May 1934 the work proceeded. It involved demolishing the western ridge to its present level and laying extensive storm water drains through Anderson Park and under Sydney Street. filling the gully which, from photos, appears to have been some 15 metres deep. By May 1934 this had cost £12,631. Following this the level of Anderson Park was raised to conform with that of the new extension. The new land was used for extra sports fields until, with Anderson Park, it became the site of an American Marine Camp during the Second World War. After the war it was restored and used as a sports ground until the building of the Lady Norwood Rose Garden from 1951.

These extensive works which are of permanent benefit to Wellingtonians were bargains, subsidised by the Government through unemployment relief schemes.  It is important to record that the foundations of the Lady Norwood Rose Garden,
Begonia House and Dell Lawn were provided in part, by the involuntary sacrifices oi the victims of the great depression. The right to
prprovide us with this legacy was in many cases given rather grudgingly by the more fortunate rate-paying citizens. Jack Robinson, a gardener on the Botanic Garden staff at that time, has told of the community's response to the relief workers on the Anderson Park extension downing tools for a few minutes on Armistice Day in respect for the war dead. The hot line buzzed to the Director - 'concerned local residents' had a complaint to lay. The men were slacking on the job'!!

With a recent much gentler depression, the work of the unemployed has enabled the Parks and Recreation Department to provide the community with an open air theatre for subsidised summer entertainment. This is called Summer City, and is a final stage in the development of the pleasure ground which began in earnest in 1902 under George Glen.   The 'concerned citizens'' of today come to watch and be entertained by the talents and skills of those who may otherwise be unemployed. It is an event that provokes participation rather than complaint.


Work on Anderson Park Extension was carried out between December 1931 and May 1934 as a Govt employment relief scheme operated through the Wellington City Council. The work also involved laying extensive storm water drains through Anderson Park and under Sydney Street. The cost of this operation was £12,631.
The extension was first used as a sports ground, and now is the site of the Lady Norwood Rose Garden and Begonia House.

The playground was set up in 1927. It was dismantled in 1934 when its equipment was re-erected at the Botanic Garden playground on Grass Way.
Evening Post photo
The fenced area in the middle distance may have been the playground established in 1927

A children's play area was also established in part of Anderson Park in 1927 during the construction of that area as a recreation ground. Its exact location is uncertain as little information is available, although may have been at the north west corner of the current Rose Garden. The provision of playgrounds in Wellington's reserves began in the days of George F. Glen. Director MacKenzie established the first supervised children's playgrounds in New Zealand. This must have made available a certain level of free child care to those able to use these facilities. Having 10 children probably made Mackenzie well aware of the value of such a facility.

In 1934 this playground was removed/shifted back to the existing play area at the bottom of Grass Way which had been established in 1904.
Shepherd and Cook (p. 243) comment on the duplication of slides at the play area after equipment was shifted from Anderson Park. In 2001 the earlier Children's playground was redeveloped during the term of Director Mike Oats.

As a result of building a new rose garden on the Anderson Park extension in the early 1950's, the site of the old rose garden was laid out as a lawn to provide audience space for the new Sound Shell. Though the Sound Shell was built to replace the Band Rotunda, it was a much more versatile facility. Long before Summer City was ever heard of, entertainments were staged at the Sound Shell from December to February, as well as the weekly bands that played on Sunday afternoons

Magpie Lawn
Anderson Park was the first large scale modification to the Botanic Garden landscape in the interest of public recreation. The next was the formation of Magpie Lawn on a ridge at the southern end of the Garden above Glenmore Street. In 1927 the pines were felled and a section of the ridge was cut out, the spoil being used to fill the Glenmore Gully below. In September 1930 the "flat" of Magpie Lawn had been soiled down, but no certain use had been decided for it. Plots of plants arranged in botanical order for students, a children's playground, and "a plain garden" were among the suggested uses being aired at the time. In the end it became a lawn, an elevated space for public use surrounded by pohutukawas and pines until 1956 when those on its western side were cut down.

 Pohutakawas (Metrosideros excelsa)

MacKenzie was a major proponent for the use of the spectacular NZ Christmas Tree, the pohutakawa. Many were planted within the garden (and many remain although a number have been removed) but was also instrumental in planting them throughout the city, providing a brilliant splash of colour in many areas around Christmas time. 

As a result of his enthusiasm for these plants, he became widely known as "pohutakawa Mac".

The directors, keepers, managers, curators of the garden in order of appointment
Their titles have changed over the years