After leaving Napier in early May, we headed back up north for a housesitting opportunity in Hamilton. With our car in the garage and some seriously inclement weather for the duration of our stay, we didn’t get to see very much of the area. In fact I have only one attraction to report on. Thankfully it’s a good one, even with the capricious Autumn elements in play! Read on for my ode to the pretty Hamilton Gardens…
Doors to other worlds
One of the things I most enjoy about theme parks is moving from, say, a New York streetscape to ancient Egypt to a medieval fairytale world in the space of a brief stroll. There’s something so magical to me about bringing together such different environments in one place. Like a series of doors to other worlds…
I mention this because I think it’s key to why Hamilton Gardens appealed to me so much. In terms of the information available and the actual botanical displays, any comparison to other gardens I’ve seen recently (Singapore’s Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay chief among them) would probably be unfavourable. But its representation of such diverse aesthetics, even in an artificial form, was so unexpected that I came away charmed. Below are five of my highlights and, because it’s me, some complementary historical tidbits about the gardens’ influences.
Indian Char Bagh Garden
A char bagh is a style of paradise garden originating in ancient Persia, literally meaning a four part garden (char ‘four’, bagh ‘garden’). Per Iranian tradition, the garden symbolised paradise through a celebration of order, water and serenity. The quadrants of the garden were split by four intersecting waterways, echoing the four rivers that ran out of Eden (or, for Hindus, the four rivers that run from Mount Meru). The walls shielded the garden from noise and sand, providing privacy and peace in which to indulge in spiritual contemplation.
The Taj Mahal’s garden might be the most prominent example today. While Hamilton’s version isn’t quite on that scale, it does embody the harmony of classic designs. Plus the view from the pavilion looks down on the riverside. Visiting on a quiet day, it was really pleasant to stand alone in the pavilion with a soft breeze wafting over me, surrounded by beauty and tranquility on all sides.
Italian Renaissance Garden
Did you note the beautiful blue sky above the Indian Char Bagh Garden? Suffice to say that had changed dramatically by the time we arrived at the Italian Renaissance section. A storm was a-brewing…
The garden in renaissance Italy was a symbol of prestige displayed by powerful families. An idealised version of the world in miniature, they brought together a complete range of sensory experiences and encompassed theatre, sculpture and philosophy as well as botany. While the interplay between art and nature is a universal concern in the history of garden development, the Italian Renaissance took this even further than before. It blurred the distinction between the two: ‘art was created out of the raw materials of nature, and the forms of the natural world were imitated by art,’ according to Claudia Lazzaro.
While the topiaries in Hamilton’s version left something to be desired, the garden as a whole manifested an appropriately mediterranean feel. There was even a small theatrical forum facing a wall with a balcony – perfect for impersonating Miss Capulet in fair Verona. Come to think of it, I don’t suppose one could’ve asked for a more appropriate backdrop to Shakespearean drama than the looming clouds and ensuing downpour. I didn’t appreciate it much at the time, though, dashing for cover beneath the building shown above and waiting out the worst of the rain.
Tropical Garden & Japanese Garden of Contemplation
Both were decent representations. The Tropical Garden was all towering, lush vegetation set off with dashes of brightly hued flowers. Thankfully without any added humidity or soaring temperatures, which I so clearly remember from visiting a real tropical garden!
The Garden of Contemplation’s rock garden immediately called to mind Ryoanji temple in Kyoto, though it was rather less immaculate than the Japanese versions. The gravel wasn’t the traditional white and didn’t even appear to be raked (I know, the horror!).
In all seriousness, though, I find the precise raking patterns in gravel (see above photo, from Ryoanji) have a huge impact on my appreciation of zen gardens. The patterns are both hypnotic and awe-inspiring when done well; it must take such skill and practice to get it looking so neat.
English Flower Garden
Once again I’ll admit bias due to nostalgia. This time the garden offered an unexpected taste of home. Not that I had any awareness of the designer and architect on whose designs the garden was based! (Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens respectively, for the record.) But it was picturesque and quaint, a wash of green punctuated by the puddle-laden red brick paving. The grey drizzle that continued to hound us as we explored only added to the authentically English character.
I should probably note here that the themed spaces didn’t stop with these five gardens. A stark Modernist garden (complete with pool, surrealist sculpture and pop art mural) and the minimal pageantry of a Tudor garden were some further highlights for me. Plus a small bamboo forest in the Chinese Scholar’s Garden that was just like a miniature version of Arashiyama’s bamboo grove!
Writing this has driven home just how much I enjoy visiting gardens. If you have any garden recommendations (botanical, themed or otherwise) send them my way in the comments!
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