It’s a measure of the depth of the gardening tradition in New Zealand that one of the most charming gardens I visited during our 3-week tour was not even on our itinerary. It just happened to be behind a pair of iron gates a few of us spotted along the road as we drove into the town of Oamaru, less than a 90-minute drive north of Dunedin, en route to our 2-night stay at Aoraki Mount Cook.
As the bus pulled into the Oamaru town centre with its boutiques and art galleries, a handful of us doubled back the 3 or 4 blocks to the entrance of the Oamaru Public Gardens. A map was posted showing the features of the garden, arrayed like a long strip of green between residential neighbourhoods. The water meandering throughout is the Oamaru Creek, which charges various ponds and spills down splashing rills and small waterfalls.
We began to walk along the road, conscious of our limited time to visit. Look at these gorgeous hydrangeas with agapanthus and dahlias.
I must admit I was a little worried when I saw the Craig Fountain and its surrounding beds, below, which looked a little Victorian ‘bedding-out’ for my informal taste. But the thing is the gardens are Victorian. They were established in 1876 on 13.7 hectares (34 acres) set aside as public reserve, thus making them one of the oldest public gardens in New Zealand (Dunedin, Christchurch and Auckland are older).
We walked under this arch, which led to the famous ‘Wonderland’ statue which, of course, I missed.
But I loved what I found a little further along: this verdant scene with tree ferns, hydrangeas, Japanese maples and a small waterfall and pond.
A view of the water feature.
We walked on and came upon the Display House. Enchanting!
The bromeliads, begonias, ferns and other hothouse plants were grown to perfection.
Look at these beautiful vrieseas.
The aviary featured an assortment of fancy birds. (I tried “Polly want a cracker?” in my best Kiwi accent, but no dice.)
I believe this was Mirror Lake (or possibly “top pond”)…. there is so little pictorial guidance of the features of the garden on the web.
We wandered through the Native Plants garden. So strong is the native plant ethos in New Zealand that in 2015 one of the unused glasshouses at Oamaru Public Gardens was loaned to native plant enthusiasts as a permanent propagation nursery for endemic natives.
We saw New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) and one of the many native sedges.
There were strange plants I needed help from my Plant Idents group on Facebook to identify, like New Zealand myrtle (Lophomyrtus bullata), or what the Māori call ramama….
…. and one we thought likely to be snow totara (Podocarpus nivalis).
A shady path led to the fabulous Fernery. (I included this little section in my previous blog on New Zealand ferns.)
We walked through quickly. enjoying the allure of the towering tree ferns.
Then it was on to the large Chinese Garden where the impressive ceramic entrance mural was done by Christine Black. There is a lovely story online of how, thanks to the persistence of a woman named Yvonne Cox, both the mural and the garden itself came to be here in 1988 as “a symbol of the friendship between Oamaru and the large Chinese community in the Waitaki district, most of them descendants of the Central Otago gold miners”.
There’s a handsome water feature…….
…… and numerous Chinese shrubs and trees, like Gingko biloba…..
….and, of course, a zig-zag bridge to keep the evil spirits away.
We left the Chinese garden via another nod to Asia, the red Japanese bridge overlooking the Oamaru Creek.
The morning was marching and it was time to head back to the bus to continue our journey to Aoraki Mount Cook. We strolled towards the entrance past more spectacular mophead hydrangeas…..
….. and Acanthus hungaricus, which grows as well in New Zealand as in cold Canada.
And we chatted for a minute with one of the gardeners, who cheerfully answered a question or two for me. Beautiful gardens like Oamaru (which was free to enter, like Dunedin Botanic Garden and all the civic public gardens we visited in New Zealand) are crafted and sustained in equal parts by good design; healthy, interesting plants; and hard work. So here’s to Matthew Simpson, a “real Kiwi” as he put it, and all the dedicated employees of public gardens in New Zealand and throughout the world. Thumbs up to you all!