The history of the Wellington Botanic Garden goes back to the very earliest history of Wellington. The agent for the New Zealand Company was given detailed instructions in 1839 regarding the establishment of the new colony. The agent, Colonel

View Main Garden from Treehouse lookout

William Wakefield (whose activities for the Garden are commemorated in William Wakefield Way) was instructed to set aside land for a town belt to provide a buffer between the developing town and the surrounding rural activities, and to provide land for a botanical garden amongst other public facilities. An area of just over 12 acres (subsequent surveys showed it to be nearly 14 acres) was so designated. This area covers a strip of land along Glenmore Street, including the current Main Gardens, Magpie Lawn and the slopes of Druid Hill.

The Wellington Horticultural Society was founded in 1841, and in 1851 a meeting pressed the Government for the designation of the area as a Botanical Reserve. In 1852 the Government gave land (approx. 73 acres) adjoining the Reserve to the Wesleyan Mission for educational and religious purposes from the Town Belt. Fortunately they failed to develop this land, and later it became part of the garden again. In the 1860's the demand for town milk supply and grazing for transport animals resulted in the area being used for these purposes. Little further development occurred for some years.

Much of the Garden was covered in native Bush
This photo shows part of the renmant.


By 1865 with the coming of Central Government to Wellington, there was need for the supervision and development of the Government House grounds and Domains, and R.H. Hunntley was appointed Domains Overseer. He pressured for the Crown to give a Crown Grant for this area. He approachedJames Hector ) (of the Hector Pineatum fame), the Government Scientific Consultant, and his report concluded that the original 13 acre strip should be expanded to include much of the Wesleyan land, this being formally incorporated into the Garden in 1871. The activity to establish the gardens was formalised when Alfred Ludlam (of Ludlam Way fame) introduced 'An Act to establish and regulate an Institution called the Botanic Garden of Wellington) an on 22nd November 1869 a Crown Grant was signed establishing the Garden. With the Wesleyan land, the total area was approximately 68 acres. The subsequent addition of the Anderson Park Cemetery land fenced into the garden, brought the total area of 77 acres in 1875.

The New Zealand Institute

In 1869 the New Zealand Institute was entrusted to manage the Wellington Botanic Garden. The required Act was introduced into Parliament by Alfred Ludlam (commemorated in Ludlam Way in the Main Garden). This organisation was the forerunner of the Royal Society of New Zealand. There were close links between the Institute, the New Zealand Geological Survey and the Colonial Museum, an association that continued for many years with many of the same individuals involved in all organisations.

Along William Bramley Drive, Main Garden


A core figure was Dr. James Hector who played a critical role in the development of all these organizations in his position as the Government Scientific Advisor. He moved to Wellington in 1865, bringing with him John Buchanan (commemorated in Buchanan Way in the Gardens) botanist and Draughtsman. Hector continued his involvement until 1891, the entire period of the Institute's control of the Garden.

In 1870 the first gardener/keeper was appointed, William Bramley (whose efforts are commemorated in William Bramley Drive in the Main Garden). He worked in the Garden up to 1889 when he retired.

The Garden was established for the following purposes:

Government - a trial ground examining the economic potential of plants, particularly forestry trees

Scientific - a garden for the study and collection of indigenous flora and the establishment of exotic plants

Recreational - to provide areas for recreation and leisure

At this stage of the Gardens development, the first two objectives, and especially the first one, were given priority.

from very early in its management, many exotic seeds, particularly conifers, were imported and raised in nurseries within the Garden. The first of these was in the present sunken garden near the Treehouse in the Main Garden although an area near the Children's Playground was also utilised for this purpose.

Historic pine trees on Glenmore slope

James Hector was concerned with the clearance of much of the native forest and anticipated a shortage of timber. There was also a need in the developing country for shelter trees in wind prone areas such as Canterbury. The need for supplies of firewood where also an important consideration. Many trees ere imported, and it rapidly became apparent that two, the Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata) (illustrated at left) and the Monteray Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) met the early requirements. Plants of these two species were widely distributed. The plants of these two species seen in the Garden are from wild collected seed, and therefore have an importance in the history of these plants. Interestingly Pinus radiata was originally grown for shelter and firewood; it was not until the 1920's that its timber qualities were appreciated. By 1875 over 120 different conifers had been established in the Garden; not all survived but there are significant examples of plants now over 125 years old covering many species. Many of these plants are now reaching the end of their lives, and the replacement plantings are currently being studied.

In 1886 a Teaching Garden was developed for educational purposes. In later years, some of the plants in the numerous beds were replaced by seasonal plantings.The site is the now Sound Shell Lawn of the Main Garden.

The original area of the Garden was 13 acres. In 1874 the Wesleyan Reserve was added to the garden, comprising some 54 acres. After a number of adjustments, the area now in the Garden is 63 acres (25.5 hectares).



Wellington City Council control

In 1889 a deputation from the Wellington City Council approached the Premier with a proposal to transfer management of the Gardens from the NZ$ Institute to the Council. The withdrawal of Government funding from 1885 had caused financial difficulties, creating problems of the upkeep of the paths and fences and the clearance of gorse which had invaded the Gardens. It was believed that transferring control to the Council would ensure further development and maintenance of the Gardens. Also, most of the funds used in the Institute's administration of the Gardens had come from the Council, and they believed they should have control of this expenditure.

In 1891 the Botanic Garden Vesting Bill was passed by the Parliament transferring management to the Council. This bill also provided for a 6 acre site be provided for a future observatory and also stipulated that the original 13 acre reserve maintained as a botanic garden in perpetuity.From 1895 there was am appreciation that the recreational and leisure use of the area was becoming of increasing importance.

The Council's administration of the Gardens continues to the present time