Run, Don’t Walk, to the Hamilton Gardens (Anyone want to do a shoot there?)

I’d Give My Left Arm to Photograph a Wedding at the Hamilton Gardens

This morning Devin and I started out with every intention of hitting up waterfalls and beaches, but a smashed headlight diverted us into Hamilton. I consider this city to be the Bakersfield of New Zealand – not terribly exciting, not many attractions, poor architecture and much bigger than you think it should be. (Sorry Hamilton, but you know it’s true) After the van was fixed, we didn’t have enough time to make the planned trip, so we Googled things to do in Hamilton. The Gardens popped up – I had heard good things about them so we headed down to the Waikato River. “Why are there so many cars in the parking lot?” Was the first thing out of Devin’s mouth (in all fairness he thought I was dragging him to yet another botanical garden) and we soon learned why these gardens in particular are so popular.

Here’s the history straight from their website:

In the 1960s, Hamilton Gardens was a bleak city rubbish dump covered in blackberries with seagulls circling above. Today, more than 40 years later, these humble beginnings have been overshadowed by the development of the Gardens’ internationally unique concept: The History, Context and Meaning of Gardens. Hamilton Gardens is not a botanical garden. Instead, its concept acknowledges there is a story to tell about gardens, their development over time and across cultures, and their use. 

Basically, these gardens are like a Museum of gardens – although to be honest I kept being reminded of Disneyland. You walk into a round pavilion with six arches surrounded by hedges. Each arch has a pathway like a Choose Your Adventure story – will you be visiting the Paradise, Productive, Fantasy, Cultivar, or Landscape garden today? Not knowing what the heck we were doing, we entered the first arch to our left – the Paradise Gardens. We walked down a hedges pathway and popped into a square also surrounded by tall hedges with even more choices.

Up first was the

Japanese Garden of Contemplation

You turn a corner and all of a sudden you are in a courtyard with one of those peace/sand gardens and a reflection room. Walk into that building and BAM – a small lake is just there. It seems really magical.

From there we moved along another hedged wall (perfectly cut hedges EVERYWHERE – it was impressive and felt maze-like) and into a serene English Flower Garden. You see a lot of these in New Zealand because, well, colonialism. It was very impressive none-the-less.

English Flower Garden

There was a whole ‘sunken garden’ with a lily pond that we were roped off from. We sat in the shade for awhile and enjoyed the calm.

Chinese gardens are something else you see often in New Zealand – we have a few Chinese sister city’s and they have gifted us these finely crafted gardens in local parks. You can’t see the Chinese entry way from the hedged courtyard, the secrecy of these gardens is way more impressive than I could capture in images.

Chinese Scholars’ Garden

On the other side of that bamboo is the English Flower Garden – see what I mean by Disneyland? You’d never know that so many different ‘locations’ were tightly packed next to each other.

From the Chinese garden we wandered into the

Modernist Garden

More like a backyard from Palm Springs than a ‘garden’, I was pleasantly surprised with this. I guess in a way it reminded me that gardens, even the foreign fancy ones, are primarily built for private homes and those private home gardens have differed over the years and countries. This is a garden that seems familiar to me and there are more foreign feeling ones that feel familiar to others. We sat here for a few minutes while I tried to wrap my mind around the consciousness of billions of other humans… but it always ends up overwhelming me and we eventually moved on.

Walking into the garden took my breath away!!

Indian Char Bagh Garden

It was so beautiful and not like ANYTHING you’d see in New Zealand. I’m pretty sure Devin gasped too. They did a spectacular job on the ‘reveal’ of this garden. 

Our final stop for today was the equally impressive

Italian Renaissance Garden

Can’t you just see the nobility wandering this quad? I was so happy we just stood and stared for a few minutes before making our way to the far building – which sported a balcony with an incredible view of the Waikato river. It felt like, just for a brief moment, we were somewhere in Italy.

My camera ran out of battery a this point and Devin was fast running out of steam, so we decided to head home and come back another time. I am so impressed with these five fantasy gardens, I can’t imagine how amazing what other “adventures” await through the pavilion arches. If you ever visit New Zealand you will most likely be driving through Hamilton and you seriously HAVE to visit this place. It’s incredible!!! (Also, shout out to Devin for being an amazing model and making my photos 10000% more interesting!)