The operation of a nursery has always been a core function of this garden. However its significance has often been overlooked. Even in the Heritage Inventory by Marguerite Hill in 2003 the nursery did not get a mention. The buildings also do not appear in the current internet Heritage list of the Wellington City Council, although the stables, buildings of similar age and type to the potting shed, are. The Potting Shed is, however, considered to be of significant heritage value, and has been preserved during the redevelopment of the nursery area, notwithstanding its exclusion from the heritage listings. Perhaps because the nursery buildings have been changed and altered many times, with their history uncertain, they have been overlooked.
(The person in charge of the garden has received various titles over the years - directors, keepers, managers, head gardeners, or curators. For convenience, 'director' will be generally used here, but may not have been applied to certain individuals)
William Bramley was the first director of the garden, but the work setting it up started earlier. He quickly established the nurseries in the Garden but there was even an earlier nursery.
By 1860 an expanding population in Wellington called for land close to the city. The nearest vacant land was the Town Belt under Crown control. Acting on Council's advice, the Governor granted the Basin and Town Belt Reserves to the Superintendent of Wellington to be held "for the purposes of a public utility". The Botanic Garden Reserve remained with the Crown. A 1861 map shows the lands previously reserved as well as the Town Belt and Basin Reserve available for public purposes. The Provincial Council formed allotments leased for any terms not exceeding fourteen years, with the proviso that only one house with outbuildings could be built on each allotment. In December 1862 the Town Belt's 1,200 acres (485 ha.) was divided into sixty-five allotments, the majority leased to thirty-one individuals for fourteen years at an annual rent of £600 ($1200).
Although the Botanic Garden Reserve remained vested in the Crown the Commissioners let it to Mr David Robertson, "the reserve to be fenced, planted with a quick hedge and a belt of trees. To be given up at any time during the currency of the lease paying for improvements." ("Quicks" were hawthorns universally used at this time for hedges).
Robertson, sexton of the Bolton Street Cemetery, was friendly with a Mr R H Huntley. In 1865, with the coming of Central Government to Wellington, there was a need for the supervision and development of Government House grounds and domains and Huntley was appointed Domains Overseer. It was not long before he turned his attention to the Botanic Garden land. He was increasingly concerned at the damage being done by squatters who were not only removing trees but even building houses. On being told ownership of the land remained with the Crown, Huntley asked if a Crown Grant might be issued to the Superintendent of the Domain. Huntley's involvement with the Garden continued until 1870 and he must be given full credit for his determination to see this Public Domain, as it then was, kept safe for the future.
Huntley was involved in the establishment of the first nursery on land that was later to become the botanic garden several years later, to provide material for the parks and reserves, Government House etc. At the same time James Hector required more help to develop the Garden than available to him under the Domains Act or through his office at the Geological Survey.
An Act was passed which had originally given control of the garden land to the Superintendent of Wellington and to James Hector. In 1869 a Crown Grant was executed giving control of the Garden to "the Governors of the Botanic Garden consisting of the Governors for the time being of the New Zealand Institute". A major benefit of this was to make public finance available for the development of the garden, which was not available when under Hector's responsibility as he had no access to public finance as an individual.
In 1869 a Bill entitled "An Act to establish and regulate an Institution called the Botanic Garden of Wellington" was presented to Parliament by Mr Alfred Ludlam. During the discussion on the Bill it was emphasised that important results for the "benefit of the colony might follow the establishment of a garden that would form the basis of operations for a system of forest propagation throughout New Zealand". Hector believed this was the direction the Garden was expected to take making it a Colonial Botanic Garden serving forestry and other needs of the entire developing colony.
The location of the nurseries which Huntley established were just inside the main (Founder's) entrance although their exact location is unknown. The initial work was undertaken by him before the appointment of Bramley, probably around 1867/68. After Bramley's arrival at the end of 1870, the nurseries were moved to more convenient positions, and a number of other areas were also developed. It is interesting to note that the holly hedge which exists around the fragrant garden is believed to be the first planted feature of the garden protecting the early Bramley nursery in that area, to provide essential shelter for the newly planted seedlings. Bramley established a number of other nurseries in several garden locations in the 1870's as indicated on the map
The exact date of the erection of
the first begonia house in the area of the
present nursery is not known, but in 1898 it is
recorded that a sum of £10 ($20) was approved
for the provision of glass for a glasshouse.This
became generally known at the Lower Glasshouse
and was only demolished in the 1970's.
The first reference to Director George Glen's begonia collection did not occur until 1913. Glen had what was considered to be the finest collection of begonias in the Southern Hemisphere. Every year he purchased £5 ($10) of seed from the North England nursery of Blackmore and Langdon, so that the tradition of begonia displays in the Garden has existed for over 100 years. The purchase of seed from this source continued for many years, with more recently up to 5,000 seeds purchased every 2 years. Glen also had a magnificent collection of pentstemons, propagated from cuttings each year.
The collection of seasonal begonias in these early years were only on display to the public on Sundays and Wednesdays from 2 to 4 pm. Early newspaper reports raised concern about the limited public viewing, and the glasshouse was eventually also opened on Saturdays.
The original begonia house was very small with only one door and the public had to pass in single file through the glasshouse. The house was extended in 1922. It is noted that "the need for an adequate show house in the garden has been stressed by the Director, so much so that the Begonia House item of the estimates proposals became looked upon as something to be cut our as a regular thing. The Council did not deny the Begonia House was one of the real features of the Garden but simply said the money could not be spared!
Right up to the erection of the Lady Norwood Begonia House in 1961 the glasshouses were used for propagating during the winter and as a display house for the tuberous begonias, gloxinias and streptocarpus from September to Easter. When that season had finished staff had to remove the benches and display pieces to prepare the building for propagating plants for the spring plantings. The Lady Norwood Begonia House will be discussed in a later article.
Over the years the nursery where the old glasshouses were located has been steadily growing. The structures erected in this area are briefly described below.
It is useful to look at the situation from the early 1900's when construction started, up to the 1950's when the structures we know but replaced in 2010 were erected. Fortunately two photographs from around 1912 and 1920 give an indication of that had been erected in the earliest years, with an edited image showing what was in use around 1930. No 1 on this edited photo is the first begonia house. It was extended (No 2) in 1922. No 3 was donated by former Board member Walter Mantel in 1906, and which was also probably used to house part of the begonia collection. No 4 is the original Glen glasshouse erected on a Kew design in 1912, with significant extensions in 1928 (5 and 6). No 6 is the part which became known later as the No 4 glasshouse. This significant extension enabled the begonia collection to be housed under vastly improved conditions – see image of begonia house 1944 for interior view. The completion of the 1928 development met the garden needs for a number of years until the 'modern' glasshouses were erected from the early 1950's, leading to the progressive demolition of the first series of buildings, the last (No 6 in the photo, known later as No 4). demolished in 2010.
In 1915 a 12 X 20 yard standing out area for holding plants was also developed to provide an extra growing area by the glasshouses. A bulb store used to be in the nursery, against the bank and next to the then-Director’s garage, but both were removed to allow improved access to the other nursery buildings. The bulb store was eventually moved to one of the old stables where it remains to this day.
The structures which we could recognise up to 2010 with an indication of there use over the years are -
No. 1 Glasshouse - by the new mess room at the southern end, was made of frame tops which were part of the old cold frame yard presumably from the area where No's 2 & 3 glasshouses were. (The cold yard was a long bricked-in area with a glass top which could be lifted off in summer; it was used to harden plants off.) The present glasshouse was built in the late 1950's and grew nerines generally; in spring iresines, fuchias, dry 'begonia tuberas; in winter & spring tree seedlings.
No. 2 Propagating house was built in 1959 used initially to house approx. 25,000 Ngaio tree cuttings for distribution around Wellington. It included seed sowing, potted tree seedlings and cuttings, fuchsia baskets, from spring to autumn and occasionally begonia seedlings.
No. 3 Main Propagating house built at the same time as No. 2 in 1959 and grew tree and shrub cuttings as well as cuttings of tropical foliage plants and cattleya orchids.
No.4 Glasshouse is on the
site of the old glasshouse mentioned in
Glen's time, erected in 1912. In 1928 it
was extended into a 'T' configuration,
this part being the upright portion of
that configuration. Demolished 1970 It
was intended to provide an
improved home for the begonia
collection, erected in response to
accommodate the extensive plant
donations, making the old begonia house
available to house the orchids and other
valuable plants from the Hon. C.H Izard
(1923) and Henry Wright (1928)
collections. However nothing further is
known about the fate of those plants, as
later workers report no memory of such
collections. These additions are
recorded in the Council minutes to cost
£925 ($1,850). The addition also
included a new boiler fired by coke with
steam piping to provide heating. The main part
stood for many years, extensively
renovated over the years, with portions
later removed to allow replacement houses,
the final portion, the old No 4 glasshouse
survived until the new Faber complex was
constructed in 2010. This house was used
for starting off begonia tubers and sewing
begonia seed and potting begonias. It also
includes begonia baskets, tropical and
subtropical foliage plants as well as
No. 5 Glasshouse was built in 1971 and includes baskets and pots of geraniums, grown from cuttings in winter and hippeostrsrums, used for growing begonias to decorate the Town Hall for the Queen’s visits. The current orchid house was then the begonia overflow house. It appears part of the original No 4 house to the north was demolished to allow the erection of newer houses.
Glass houses 2, 3, 4 and 5 appear to have modified at some stage with new fronts
constructed, allowing for a widened access road to the Mess rooms. At this stage new fans and cowls were installed over the doors to glasshouses 4 and 5.
No. 6 Shadehouse sometimes referred to as the fibre light house because of its exterior cladding, was build in the mid 1950's and used to grow summer surplus begonias. This, and No 7 are probably on the site of the original begonia house.
No. 7 Shadehouse was built in the 1970's and completed after the demolition of the original glasshouse extensions to No 4, the glasshouse used in Glen's time. Modified in the mid 1980's. (Most of the old glasshouse was pulled down to make way for a new road to the Director's house.) The shade house grew begonias in the summer; various perennials & native cuttings in the winter. It is called a shade house because it is covered with saren cloth.
No 8 Glasshouse by the
carport was built in the late 1980's
and grows begonias and fuschia baskets in
summer, and geraniums and pelagoriums in
Orchid House – Thought
to have been built over the cut flower
terraces above the main nursery area in
the late 1950's to accommodate the extra
plants e.g. orchids, epiphyllums and
begonias for when the Lady Norwood
Begonia House became operational. In
addition an adjoining orchid
shade house was
constructed in the late 1980's.
The early glasshouse were modelled on those at Kew Gardens. The Glass houses from this era and earlier were rectangular in form with gabled timber frames, brick base walls, timber doors and timber framed roof vents and had steel tie rods strengthening the timber frame. Glass house 4 had aluminium louvres on the side and back walls above the brickwork – these replaced the original large and very heavy timber vents in the roof. Most glass houses had continuous brickwork walls, but the totara timber frame to glasshouse 4 continued from the ground and brickwork was fitted between as panels. The designs of the glasshouse structures were standard structures using common materials of the time of construction.
The Mess Room built in 1970 but modified over the years.
When retired foreman Bill Lannie started there were 2 potting sheds - along with the glasshouse. The Council records show that the large shed which had been renovated into a new messroom was built in 1924 by Mr. E.S. Knight, but no references can be found as to the erection date of the older potting sheds, which were mentioned in a newspaper article written in 1904.
This potting shed which has been preserved in the nursery was built in a similar style and manner as the stables and lower mess room. The building originally housed a potting shed, office and sleep out for the Director’s house but there was no toilet, and staff used the one in the play area, lower mess room or the bush behind the glasshouse. There was also a further earlier potting shed, but no details of that are known.
A new, larger potting shed was later built on the current nursery mess room site and the ‘old’ potting shed became a mess room-office. The ‘new’ potting shed was not to last and eventually had to be pulled down. Up until the early 1970's the staff had no mess room or toilet facilities in the nursery and it was planned that the old potting shed would be pulled down to make way for the new mess room. To hurry the process up the gardeners, when in the mood, would persuade Ron Nicholls to attach a rope from the truck to the old wooden building to see if they could shake down the building themselves. Nicholls eventually tied a rope to his truck through the door of the potting shed inside and around and out the window, knotted it securely and revved the Bedford up and pulled it down!! The new mess room was eventually built in 1969-70 and included facilities such as hot showers, a W.C., a fridge and cooking range which made a large difference to the staff , although has been modified over the years. At that point the ‘old’ potting shed, being made of sterner stuff, once again became the ‘new’ potting shed. And it still survives. It is regarded as a 'heritage building' although is not currently listed in the WCC heritage inventory.
The opening up and building of roads so all glasshouses could be accessed by vehicle made a big difference to the nursery. Both Director's Ian Galloway and Richard Nanson arranged the excavation of the bank to enable vehicles to get around the nursery buildings.
The purpose of
the nursery has changed over the years. In the
1950's it was used to propagate begonias,
other display plants for indoors and out, and
trees and shrubs for the Garden and roadside
plantings around Wellington. The trees and
shrubs then went to Makara (opposite where the
cemetery is now) in winter to be lined-out for
one or two seasons. They would then be
wrenched, dug out and the roots balled up in
scrim. Once Berhampore started being used for
this purpose, in 1968, the Makara nursery
closed. The terraces beside the nursery’s
orchid house were used to grow masses of cut
flowers for Town Hall events, Royal visits,
other functions and weekly displays in Council
chambers and the Mayoral quarters. These beds,
which must have been a lot sunnier then, grew
delphiniums, lupins, paeonies, tulips,
gladioli, tuberoses, watsonias, proteas,
narcissi, and Dutch irises. The displays also
relied heavily on baskets of fuchsias. The
beds were also used as a teaching garden.
These days the nursery is almost exclusively used for propagation and maintenance of Begonia House plants, and for propagation and storage of plants for the outside collections and beds. The only plant breeding now undertaken is the tuberous begonia.
It was not until 1967 that the nursery staff started using plastic pots for the plants. These replaced the old clay pots as plastic was considered a much cheaper and efficient material for plant propagation.
In Richard Nanson’s time as Director (1986 to 1991) the roadway down was widened, making the nursery more accessible. The standing-out “deck” was built on poles over the old orchard which in the 1950's had apple and plum trees providing fruit for the Director. There had also been a hen house, vegetable garden, cold frames and a dog run.
The old nursery was
demolished in 2010 to allow the
construction of the new complex, apart
from the potting shed, which has been
preserved. This will be discussed later.
The Garden was established in 1868 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
For the initial years of the Garden's development, the first two objectives, and especially the first one, were given priority. It was not until later in the century that the recreational use of the garden became important.
From very early in its management, many exotic seeds, particularly conifers, were imported, especially from North America but also from other countries of the world, and raised in nurseries within the Garden. The first part discussed the location of those nurseries.
James Hector was concerned with the clearance of much of the native forest in New Zealand and anticipated a likely shortage of timber. There was also a need in the developing country for shelter trees in wind prone areas such as Canterbury, both for the homesteads and stock. The need for supplies of firewood was also an important consideration, as being the major energy source in the early years. Many trees were imported, and it rapidly became apparent that two, the Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata) and the Monteray Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) met the early requirements. Plants of these two species were widely grown and distributed. The specimens 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 replacement plantings are being made.
In 1871-72 the first Bramley nurseries were in operation, and the Garden's share of the conifer seed was sown in the re-sited nurseries and with the exception of one species, germinated well. Seed was sown in pits with sod-sided walls and covered with manuka hurdles to keep off the sun. Water trickled gently on to the young plants. The construction of a dam at the end of 1870 made watering much easier. It was estimated that the sowing that season yielded 22,000 seedlings, but unfortunately magpies damaged over half of them. Seedlings pricked out into the nursery suffered most but those in pots escaped. As the problem was not a recurring one, Bramley must have devised some means of protecting the seedlings. Hector estimated there were about 1000 potted trees available for distribution from the sowings of 1871-72.
When the seedlings were large enough they were pricked out into nursery beds or into pots. Only the most valuable species or those intended for sending away were potted. In 1871 the first clay pots to be used were ordered from George Matthews in Dunedin. The 36 dozen three-inch pots and 38 dozen four-inch pots cost l/5d and l/9d per dozen respectively. Shortly afterwards Hector found that pots made in Wellington were about the same price so the following year, an order was placed for 121 dozen four-inch pots from the local firm of Maslem and Company at a cost of 2/- per dozen. It was not until 1967, when Richard Nanson joined the Dept., that the nursery staff started using plastic pots for the plants. These replaced the old clay pots, a much cheaper and more efficient material for plant propagation.
When the young seedlings were lined out they were set in rows on the level spur between the keeper's house and were protected with brush. Six thousand of these young trees were estimated to be available for distribution in 1872-73. Each plant was lifted and balled, then packed in a case holding two to four dozen plants. Over a 15 year period 25.4 kg of Pinus radiata seed was imported, producing some half million seedlings, the majority propagated in the Garden.
The financial return to the Garden for the plants raised and distributed was very low as seen from Hector's statement of accounts. Many recipients did not pay for their plants adding yet another strain on the financial problems that beset the Botanic Garden Board. A better return from plant sales might have gone a long way towards placing the Garden's finances on a more secure footing. Nor did Government receive much monetary return. Initially when seed distribution began, in order to cover costs, settlers, nurserymen and others were expected to pay for the seeds. Many took advantage of the scheme, but very few paid, so that most of the distributions were free. However, at a Botanic Garden Board meeting in June 1877 Hector said the project was invaluable. Seed distributed in March 1877 cost £125 and was made up of forty-two species. It was distributed to major public gardens and 58 individuals in New Zealand, the share to the Wellington Botanic Garden being one-twelfth of the shipment. From this proportion 6000 trees valued at 6d each were raised. At this cost Hector considered that they were worth £150, so that the whole crop from the shipment was worth £1,800 in commercial terms.
Requests for plants came from many different sources not only close to the Garden but throughout New Zealand. Generally the pattern was similar to that for the seed distribution as plants were given to schools, churches, cemeteries, and Domains. The City Council asked for trees for planting the Town Belt and the Basin Reserve. The Provincial secretary wished to have trees for placing on the banks of the Hutt river and for the Asylum grounds [now Government House]. Trees were given to Wellington College and for the Town Belt behind it. Government required plants for the Domain [Government House], Government Building and the Gaol Reserve while the Customs Department required similar trees for the lighthouses at Pencarrow and Cape Farewell as well as for the Kaipara Reserve in Northland. Dr Truby King and Dr Bulmer requested trees and shrubs for the hospital grounds at Seacliff, Dunedin and Reefton respectively. Patea wanted Pinus radiata, P. maritima and Cupressus macrocarpa for the bleak public recreation ground and the Church of England Reserve, while the Masterton Domain asked for plants to initiate planting of their park. Members of Parliament and private individuals also sought plants.
Right up to the erection of the new Begonia House in 1961 the glass houses were used for propagating during the winter and as a display house for the tuberous begonias, gloxinias and streptocarpus from September to Easter. When that season had finished staff had to remove the benches and display pieces to prepare the building for propagating plants for the spring plantings.
Meanwhile over the years the Nursery where the old glasshouse is located has been steadily growing. It included 8 different buildings, 2 shade houses, 2 propagating houses and 4 glasshouses.
memories of Peter Tijsen in the main
who has recently retired after 50 years of
service to the Garden, was the first
official Botanic Gardens foreman to be
appointed to the nursery and begonia
house. He started his apprenticeship in
January 1965 working under Bill Lannie in
the Begonia House and in December 1975 he
took up the position as foreman. Over the
years Peter noticed various changes in the
nursery, notably the demolition of the
original T-shaped extension to the old
glasshouse in the early 1970's, to make
way for a new road to the Director's
house. The old weatherboard garage and
bulb store was also demolished to widen
the existing access to the nursery, and 4 years later
asphalt was laid down to replace the
inferior metal sealing on the road.
Peter Tijsen recalls that when it blew hard,
panes of glass could blow out and fly past you.
When it was cold the heat would escape through
the large gaps caused by the subsidence of the
land they were built on. When glass was replaced
it took skill to make it stay in place. The
staff had to stop hosing and cleaning the algae
and moss off the glass from the inside as some
panes would actually pop off under pressure. The
inability to clean the houses properly meant
that pests and disease had a free run,
hibernating in the old cracks, nooks and
crannies without being disturbed - a haven for
them and a nightmare for the gardeners.
Peter Tijsen's first regular time of working at the Nursery was as a second year apprentice when he was asked to do weekend duty. It was quite a responsibility in those days – sometimes having to roll 44 gallon drums of diesel and pump it into the boiler tank. Some 60 to 80 gallons a week were used during the colder months. The heating was switched off over summer, probably from mid-November to the end of March.
nursery being next to the Director of Park’s
residence meant we were neighbours. Firstly
there was Mr Edward Hutt and then Ian and Alison
Galloway from 1971 when they married. Mr Hutt
had a corgi which he would walk from time
The Galloway's were Scottish Collie people and, as he took their dog Cindy for a walk, he noticed when things required attention. Cindy, a rather shy dog, was a regular visitor to the Nursery, taking any little titbits she was offered – potato chips being a favourite.
Then there was Penny the cat, Mr Galloway’s cat. She was number one and was also the nursery cat and easily trained. She would toilet herself in trays of vegetable seedlings that were quietly being grown by the then foreman. When the old potting shed was still in use she would take short cuts through the nursery by using the holes in the rotting floor to come and go.
Lots of fuchsias were grown in pots, baskets and as standards until white fly hit Wellington from the north – it was a real struggle to keep this pest under control. We used chemicals, Black Leaf 40, Vapona and all the popular pesticides of the day. We always used good protective clothing when spraying. Now, with our IPM programme we get a few tabs of Encarsia eggs – Encarsisa formosa is a little predator wasp. When we see the first white fly adult we place the tabs around plants that are prone to attack once a week for eight weeks – end of problem. We also use predators for controlling mealy bug (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri), aphids (Aphidius colemani), twospotted spider mite (Phytoseiulus cucumeris), and thrip larvae (Amblysieus cucumeris). We are going to breed our own Thripobius for the control of thrip.
The replacement nursery structure
The old nursery, with an accumulation of glasshouses and shade houses did not use the land resource efficiently. With the buildings spread over three levels, management because inefficient, interfering with streamlined production. The upgrading to a modern facility became essential to meet the needs of the Garden, especially the production and supply of plants for the Lady Norwood Begonia House.
A modular Faber glasshouse was selected, comprising four and a half modules, covering just over 5,000 m2 in area, with four climatic zones. The complex is managed by a Sarnia computerised climate control system, including an external weather station to facilitate management of the internal environment. With efficient thermal insulation and automated roof vents and shade covers in all 3 zones, additional thermal insulation is provided in the tropical zone. Heaters are now operate at around half the capacity of the old glasshouses, resulting in a reduction in energy use, and cost. A hot bed is provided, with the benches moveable to maximise capacity. An additional 280 m2 shade house has also been erected. The complex collects rainwater, stored, providing some 40% of annual water requirements. The facility provides operational cost savings of benefit to the rest of the Garden.
Shepherd and Walter Cook; The Botanic Garden,
Wellington A New Zealand History 1840 – 1987