Gardens were first established throughout Aotearoa by Mãori who introduced crops including the kumara while incorporating native species such as the cabbage and karaka trees. They later embraced traditional Western harvests including tobacco, corn and cabbage and by the turn of the 19th century many industrious iwi were turning a tidy profit trading their crops with early European settlers, whalers and sealers. Those Pãkehã had been impressed by how well organised Mãori gardens were, expertly split into areas of up to five hectares on sun-kissed north facing slopes.
Back in Victorian Britain, in response to overcrowding and ever-worsening health risks in urban centres, parliamentary stenographer Ebenezer Howard founded the Garden City Movement, writing in his 1898 tome, Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform: “Human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together. Town and country must be married, and out of this joyous union will spring a new hope, a new life, a new civilisation.”
And so the central philosophy of the movement was that within all urban spaces should be ample green ones in order to nurture an environment that made the most of both city and rural life. Letchworth, outside London, was the world’s first garden city, built in 1903, with streets following the lines of the natural topography, and peppered by plenty of parks.
Though there had been a degree of town planning in Aotearoa throughout the 19th century, hubs still suffered from overpopulation and outbreaks of disease. The Garden City Movement soon found its way down under,and ‘garden suburbs’ modelled on Hamstead, London, sprung up first around North Island. The Town Planning Act was passed in 1926, and Christchurch, with its reputation as the most English of Kiwi towns, was to become New Zealand’s ‘Garden City’.
In honour of the movement and the green city spaces that it spawned, Verve brings you six of the world’s most wonderful public parks.
1. Miracle Garden, Dubai
This record-breaking recreational spot is spread across 72,000 square metres—of desert! Yet, it is home to more than 50 million blooms, including the world’s largest flower arrangement (it entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 2016) that comprises a full-size replica of an Emirates Airbus A380 (that’s the double-decker aeroplane). Other features include pyramids and real-size houses built from blooms such as petunias, geraniums and marigolds, its dozens of flower varieties joined by the region’s first indoor butterfly sanctuary. Fittingly opened on Valentine’s Day 2013, the Miracle Garden attracts 1.5 million visitors a year.
2. Kew Gardens, London
Gardens don’t come much more iconic than Kew, just 14 kilometres southwest of central London. The now-132-hectare Unesco World Heritage Site was founded in the mid-1700s, serving as a royal retreat and destination for eminent scientists and landscapers to study and experiment with plants. The following century saw the construction of Palm House, which now hosts 10 climatic zones; and Temperate House, which remains the world’s largest Victorian greenhouse. There are now more than 50,000 living plants in what is also one of the world’s leading conservation centres. Fun fact: Julius Caesar is believed to have crossed the River Thames at Kew during his first British outing in 53 BC.
3. Botanic Garden, Singapore
A big reason why Singapore can lay claim to being Asia’s Garden City is because of this tropical wonderland. The city-state’s oldest green space fittingly also became its first Unesco World Heritage thanks in no small part to its National Orchid Garden, the world’s grandest collection at over 60,000-strong. Other highlights include a lake, Fragrant Garden that’s regularly visited by butterflies and a rainforest walk. Astonishing to think it was founded way back in 1859 on a 24-hectare disused plantation—you can learn all about that, and more, at the on-site, state-of-the-art museum.
4. Jardin des Tuileries, Paris
Savour the crunch of gravel beneath your feet as your wander the Tuileries Gardens of the French capital, named after the tile factories that once stood on the site. In 1564, the Palais des Tuileries was built by Queen Catherine de Medici, and, a century later, King Louis XIV’s renowned gardener, André Le Nôtre fashioned the grounds into the formal style for which they are so famed. The 25-hectare gardens serve as a border between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde—and offers views of the Eiffel Tower—while housing ponds, sculptures by Aristide Maillol, and a museum with works of Monet.
5. Grant Park, Chicago
Chicago’s ‘Central Park’, Grant Park covers 130 hectares and incorporates many of the Windy City’s most magical sights. Chicago’s impressive centrepiece boasts a centrepiece of its own in the form of Buckingham Fountain. One of the world’s largest, the lakeside water feature was built in 1927, and modelled after the fountains of Versailles. Other must-dos include the internationally acclaimed Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History and the Shedd Aquarium—one of the Earth’s biggest. The Adler Planetarium is the oldest in the US, and there are heaps of outdoor artworks to display as you tackle the 29-kilometre Lakefront Trail.
6. Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne
One of the many highlights of Melbourne’s most magical of spaces is the Aboriginal Heritage Walk where visitors learn about the medicinal and culinary uses of local plants from an indigenous guide. A lake cruise affords the opportunity to check out some native birds and aquatic plants, while Guilfoyle’s Volcano is a historic reservoir that can be explored via boardwalks and viewing platforms. Once you’ve worked up a thirst and appetite, kick back at The Terrace where you can enjoy high tea to views of these gardens that are home to around 50,000 plants. Hard to imagine that this was once 38 hectares of swampland.