“A second great desideratum [after a museum] in Dunedin is a Botanic Garden, whether regarded in a purely scientific light, or in that of a public recreation ground, a promenade or a place of resort… I have found among the settlers throughout the province a strong feeling in favour of the establishment of a Botanic Garden.”
The organised settlement of Dunedin began in 1848 and grew rapidly with the discovery of payable gold in its hinterland in the early 1860s. With this new wealth came dreams of better public facilities and Dunedin’s town plan included reserves for public use. By then, many prominent cities around the world aspired to have a Botanic Garden. Dunedin’s early colonial settlers needed only to look to Edinburgh or Kew for inspiration. In addition, botany was of prime concern to the future agricultural and pastoral prospects of New Zealand, where new settlers needed information about New Zealand’s indigenous flora, and useful plants which could be introduced.
A small Dunedin Botanic Garden was planted in 1863 where the University of Otago is now located. This made it, narrowly, the first in New Zealand. After a flood, the Garden, including trees, was transferred to its current site in 1869. It now covers 28 hectares.
This exhibition is an introduction to the social history of the Dunedin Botanic Garden and some of the ways in which the Gardens have changed to reflect the taste of the times and the way the community interacts with this favourite public space. Dunedin’s Botanic Garden has been much more than a place to preserve plants and study botany. Visitors can find comfort, peace, stimulation and recreation.
Children love to feed the ducks, and to climb – trees, play equipment and even Peter Pan! We look at these and other favourite visitor activities, including pleasure gardens, winter gardens, a maze and even a small zoological park. We also pay attention to visitors’ personal comfort, with photographs of opening day at the Women’s Rest Rooms in 1926, and of refreshment facilities.
The stories of two huge public events are explored: the visit of a brass band in 1907 which attracted over 20,000 people, and the royal visit in 1963. We show items connected with public garden fêtes, as well as private and personal occasions.
How many problems have been solved and decisions made in the peaceful atmosphere of Dunedin Botanic Garden? What nicer place could be found in a busy city to meet up with family, friends, lovers … hence the title for this exhibition: Meet you at the Gardens. We have chosen two examples from the field of creative writing to demonstrate the inspiration gained from the Dunedin Botanic Garden, in each case featuring the Garden’s ducks.