Hamilton Gardens – Paradise

I am always on the lookout for beautiful gardens to visit on our travels and was very excited to discover Hamilton Gardens is only an hour drive from Matamata, perfect for a day trip. The world class gardens are situated alongside the Waikato River, an area that was once a thriving Maori settlement and home to Ngaati Wairere chief Haanui. Sadly, after European settlement, the land was used for other purposes including a rifle range, sand quarry, go-cart track and finally the city’s main rubbish dump. In the 1950s, the Hamilton Beautifying Society lobbied for a public garden and, with most development occurring since 1980, the gardens now occupy 54 hectares.

Passing by the Events Centre, we were drawn to a huge wood carving depicting real and imagined life in the gardens. The intricate carving was created from a single camphor laurel tree which grew on the river bank, far too big to capture in one photograph.

At Hamilton Gardens, the emphasis is on different types of garden design rather than plant collections, exploring the history, context and meaning of gardens. The individual gardens are presented in three separate themes – Paradise Gardens, Fantasy Gardens and Productive Gardens – too much to cover in one post so I will start with the Paradise Collection. Each garden radiates from a central court, in this case it is Cloud Court featuring statues of Egyptian gods Horus, the falcon-headed god of the sky and Sobek, the crocodilian ‘Lord of the Waters’.

We started in the Japanese Contemplation Garden, entering into a karesansui, or dry landscape garden, of the Muromachi era from the 14th to 16th century. Often called ‘Zen gardens’ because they are found in Zen temple complexes in Japan, these are designed for quiet contemplation and study.

Beyond the pavilion, a pool surrounded by Japanese Maple trees infuses a serenity felt by even the smallest inhabitants.

The traditional gardens of the Arts and Crafts period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are the inspiration behind the English Flower Garden. Walls and hedges create a series of outdoor rooms, each with a different planting theme, that are linked by pathways terminating at an arbor, fountain or seat.  

It is easy to see why the gardens of this era are often referred to as ‘the gardens of a golden afternoon’.

The art of Chinese gardening dates back to the Han period, at least 2,000 years ago and this influential art form has been called the ‘mother of gardens’. The Chinese Scholars’ Garden represents a traditional Chinese garden from the Sung Dynasty, 10th to 12th century, when a social class of mandarins, scholars and the landed gentry created and maintained these distinctive gardens.

The winding path led to a blooming Wisteria bridge and would eventually reach a pavilion with views of the Waikato River.

Instead, we retraced our steps, past the giant bronze half turtle-half dragon, the Celestial Yuan of Taihu, symbolically protecting the garden from floods.

The 20th century brought the minimalist design of the Modernist Garden, particularly on the U.S. western seaboard and northern Europe in the 1930s. Elements such as swimming pools, barbecues and outdoor eating areas dominated with little ornamentation or formality. Not really my idea of a garden.

In stark contrast, the colourful Indian Char Bagh Garden was stunning. The symbolic four-quartered garden was designed for the Mughal aristocracy and spread throughout the Muslim world between the 8th and 18th centuries. The Mughal emperors, descendants of Genghis Khan, expanded their empire eastwards from Persia into northern India from the 13th century onwards. The design was adapted to local conditions but the basics of geometric layout and a focus on water and irrigation remained integral. In harsh climates, the subtle trickle of water combined with floral perfumes made for a sumptuous living Persian carpet.

Beyond the pavilion, some were making the most of this glorious day on the Waikato River.

We retreated through the decorative entranceway

and made our way to the Italian Renaissance Garden. Many of the elements of earlier Medieval gardens have been retained such as high surrounding walls, square beds and arched trellis work.

The Renaissance designers introduced a strong central axis linking different compartments of the garden and included antique sculptures. A perfect example is the copy of the original 5th century Capitoline wolf with Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome who, as babies, were thrown into the Tiber River, which carried them to Platine where they were suckled by a she-wolf and then raised by a shepherd.

I could imagine enjoying a beverage on the vine covered terrace but there was much more to see.

Hobbiton

The reason we chose to stay at Matamata was its proximity to Hobbiton, the film location for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy. You don’t have to be a fan of these literary works to appreciate the beauty of The Shire but it adds to the fascination if able to picture the movie scenes as you wander around. Sir Peter Jackson spotted the 1,250 acre sheep farm while aerial scouting for film locations in September 1998. He, apparently, knocked on the door of the Alexander home, explained what he wanted, and was asked to come back later as they were watching the rugby! The original set was never intended to be a permanent fixture and was dismantled at the end of filming The Lord of the Rings. Two years later, The Shire was rebuilt for The Hobbit, this time from wood, concrete and bricks instead of polystyrene and plywood. We learned a lot of interesting facts on the bus ride through the farmland, arriving in Hobbiton eager to see more.

A short walk from the car park along Gandalf’s Cutting, we halted to take in the scene before us. Hobbit holes, 44 in all, dotted the green rolling hills, their chimney stacks and enchanting windows emerge sporadically from the landscape.

I can’t think of a job I would rather have than tending the gardens in Hobbiton. There are between 30 and 200 plants around each hobbit hole and all the fruit and vegetables are seasonal.

During filming, a person was employed to walk to the clothes lines and back to make a well-worn track.

Not all hobbit holes are equal. The poorer inhabitants live lower down the hill and the further up the hill you go, the homes are bigger with more manicured gardens.

Bilbo, at Bag End, is one of the wealthiest. The magnificent oak at the top of the hill is actually made from fibreglass and the silk leaves, imported from Taiwan, were individually painted and wired on to the branches.

The occupations of the residents are depicted in great detail by some of the exterior props including beekeepers, loggers, bakers and cheesemakers.

Local frogs soon moved into the man made pond and they were so loud during filming, someone was paid to collect all the frogs and relocate them to another pond on the farm.

Most of the hobbit holes are just facades, the interior shots were filmed in a studio in Wellington, although the half open door at Bag End gives a hint of a cosy abode.

There was no need to manufacture leaves for the Party Tree, the perfect specimen as described in the books was found on the property.

The morning sunlight shone beatifically on some of the hobbit doors, Bag End is one that faces east. To create the scene where Bilbo and Gandalf are sitting facing a sunset, the crew had to get up early to film sunrises and play them backwards. It took seven attempts to capture the one we see in the movie.

The hobbit holes were built to two different scales. The smaller ones at 60% scale were used for scenes with Gandalf to make him look larger. To be cast as a hobbit you had to be 5’2” and they were filmed around the 90% scale doors.

There is a scene in The Lord of the Rings book where children are playing under plum trees but Peter Jackson thought plum trees would look too big. Instead, he had apple and pear trees planted and just before filming, all the fruit was stripped from the trees and replaced with fake ones. After all that effort, the scene never made it to the movie.

Samwise Gamgee lived at number 3 Bagshot Row, a lovely terrace of hobbit holes

with convenient access to the Party Field.

With the Green Dragon Inn in our sights,

we meandered our way to the double arch stone bridge and the Old Mill where the large water wheel still turns.

The Green Dragon Inn was added to Hobbiton in 2012

and the interior has been reconstructed to appear as it did in the films.

Our tour included a complimentary beverage from the Southfarthing range; Girdley Fine Grain Amber Ale, Sackville Apple Cider, Oatbarton Traditional English Ale or Frogmorton Ginger Beer. All are brewed at the Good George Brewery in Hamilton and available only at the Green Dragon Inn.

Our circuitous route returned us to the car park past flourishing vegetable gardens

and an everlasting impression of The Shire.

Kings Domain

After a couple of hours absorbing the exhibitions at the NGV, we made the most of the winter sunshine with a stroll through Kings Domain. Established in 1854, the mix of deciduous and evergreen trees, both native and non-native, in the 36 hectare parkland renders a beautiful autumn aesthetic.

Myriad memorial statues and sculptures are scattered throughout the Domain making for a very interesting amble. The Walker Fountain was donated in 1981 by former City of Melbourne Mayor, Ron Walker and his wife, Barbara. With 46 underwater lights and 144 individual streams of water, I imagine it would be a spectacular vision at night.

The parks namesake, King George V, is memorialised with a lofty bronze, granite and sandstone sculpture. Following his death in 1936, a public appeal was launched to secure funds for the memorial, however, World War II delayed the construction and it wasn’t unveiled until 1952. A statue of the late King in full Garter Robes, wearing the Imperial Crown and holding the ceremonial sceptre and orb, stands on the eastern side. Because the sun was in its descent, I have captured the western face and the statue representing Maternal Britannia holding a cross and olive branch in her hands, symbolic of love and peace. The two children represent the Dominions and Colonies under British rule, while a lion and unicorn holding armorial shields flank the base.

Arriving in Victoria in 1899, Russian immigrant Sidney Myer is probably best known for his successful retail businesses. He was also a violinist with a passion for music and initiated a series of free open air concerts in the Botanic Gardens with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 1929. He had expressed a wish for these concerts to continue and, following his death in 1934, the Sidney Myer Charitable Trust funded the design and construction of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Opened in 1959 by prime minister Robert Menzies, the venue holds the record for the largest crowd ever at a concert event in Australia when 200,000 people attended the 1967 Seekers homecoming concert. Officially, there is fixed seating for around 2,000 people and the surrounding lawn area can accommodate a further 10,000.

On this day there was an audience of one, a slender young woman seemingly captivated by the music. Miraggio, also known as Seated Figure, by Pino Conte was donated by an anonymous ‘Lover of Italy’ in 1964 and was installed following re-landscaping of the site in 2001.

Through the trees, sleek glass edifices tower paradoxically with the elegant belvedere tower of Government House.

The Seeds of Friendship sculpture was installed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in 2015. Two hand-carved granite seed cones, a pine from Turkey and a casuarina from Australia, represent the fallen, the seeds of friendship and the future. The filigreed stainless steel wreath is designed for placing remembrance poppies of which a few knitted perennials are scattered around.

The Shrine of Remembrance is an astounding structure, originally built to honour the men and women of Victoria who served in World War I, it is now a memorial to all Australians who have served in any war. The design is the winning entry of a competition in 1922, won by two Melbourne returned-soldier architects, Philip Hudson and James Wardrop. Controversy ensued and the seven year construction finally began in 1927.

Other memorials have been added to the site since the opening in 1934, including the Second World War Memorial Forecourt. The carving atop the Cenotaph depicts six men in the uniforms of the Navy, Army and Air Force carrying a dead comrade draped in the Australian flag. At the base, the Eternal Flame, symbolising eternal life, was lit by Queen Elizabeth II at the dedication of the Forecourt in 1954.

Two replica statues, entitled “The Driver” and “Wipers” were relocated from the front of the State Library to the Shrine grounds in 1998. They commemorate the thousands of Australian lives lost during the fighting at Ypres (‘wipers’ was the way Australian and British servicemen pronounced Ypres during World War I).

We had both spent time inside the Shrine on previous occasions, a remarkable place to visit. Too soon to return cityside,

we continued our trajectory to the Royal Botanic Gardens. Entering the gate adjacent to the Melbourne Observatory,

we hadn’t gone far when, in true Melbourne style, the heavens opened in spectacular fashion. Leaving the lovely autumn hues to their dousing, we retreated to the comfort of a beverage on Southbank.