Getting to the root of it


The early history

Gardening has a long and important history in New Zealand. Starting with the first Māori settlers in around 1400 and then European settlers in around 1800, gardening was an essential part of everyday life because of crops like kumara, potatoes and yams being a main part of people’s diets.

While Māori mainly grew vegetables, the European settlers brought many new ideas about gardening. These ideas included having flowers in your garden just to look nice, the idea of front and back gardens, and the use of fertiliser, which meant the same patch of land could be reused for many crops. These ideas were all important introductions to the New Zealand gardening scene.

1. Ashburton Horticultural Society garden compeition house..png

But with these new ideas and crops came the nasty part of every garden: weeds. Weekends in today’s gardens are spent killing and removing weeds, mowing the lawn and pruning bushes.

Gardening has become a past-time rather than an essential part of life, but people still take gardening very seriously.

As more and more information comes out about pesticides used on our fruit and vegetables or the wax used on apples to make them shiny, people are starting to grow their own vegetables again.

2. Longbeach Homestead with its grand gardens..jpg

Benefits of gardening

The Ashburton Guardian reported in 1910 that ‘all men who like and practice gardening are better, happier, and healthier men.’ A vibrant vegetable garden was the sign of a healthy, hard-working family throughout the 1900s.

The Ashburton Herald (an early rival to the Ashburton Guardian) had an ongoing series on gardening which gave people tips and tricks on how to garden efficiently, from a ‘Professional Gardener’.

The Professional Gardener had three sections on kitchen garden, orchard and shrubbery, and ‘flower gardens &c’, which provided all the knowledge needed to get the most out of gardening for every season. This furthers the notion of how important gardening used to be for the Ashburton population.

The Ashburton Horticultural Society still holds its annual gardening competition after more than 50 years. Some of the categories include best street, best lawn and best new garden. Even as a hobby rather than a necessity your garden can still reap great rewards from all of the hard work put into it. By joining these clubs the act of seed swapping and sharing became easier, with people being able to have a greater variety of plants in their gardens.

There was obviously a great benefit from gardening in the district as school gardens appeared to be very popular. With schools like Mayfield, Hampstead, Allenton, Tinwald and Chertsey, as well as many others in the district, taking part in school garden competitions which were set up by the Ashburton A&P Association.

3. A postcard showing part of the domain with tennis nets in the background..png

Gardens today

The European idea that front gardens were on show so they had to be more formal and beautiful, while back gardens were for relaxing and the veggie patch, is still how a garden is set up today. The first settlers beautified their sections with flowers which conformed to a shared vision of an attractive suburb, which is still part of the reason why people plant flowers in their gardens today.

Like this ideal, wealthier settlers often showed off their wealth by having grand landscaped gardens and parks alongside their homesteads. In the Ashburton District the Longbeach Homestead is a prime example of this.

4. Domain Rose Garden..png

In Ashburton it is easy to see European influence in our gardens. The Domain is one of the best examples of this, with neat and tidy rose gardens taking pride of place and vast spaces of lawn made for playing sport and relaxing- being made to look like an English park. As native plants were not used it was the English plants like hollyhocks, fuchsias and marigolds were planted. The domain continues to be one of Ashburton’s main attractions.

As well as the Domain, Trotts Garden also shows off its English style with neatly trimmed hedges and beautiful flowers filling its garden, attracting visitors from far and wide.

I’m sure many Ashburtonians have memories of fish n chips in the domain on a hot summer’s night, under the great trees and sitting on the vast lawns. Feeding the ducks and dipping your feet in the paddling pool are also great summer memories from the domain!


By Rosie Twamley



  1. Ashburton Horticultural Society garden competition house.
  2. Longbeach Homestead with its grand gardens.
  3. A postcard showing part of the domain with tennis nets in the background.
  4. Ashburton Domain rose garden.


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