Concept Garden

The Concept Garden has been inspired by two traditional whakataukii and an old land use map. 

Concept gardens aren’t necessarily practical, natural or even attractive but are usually based on a central idea or message. That idea or concept often makes reference to the site in which the garden is placed, and the designs usually have a strong, emphatic form. The emerging ‘conceptual garden’ movement is essentially an extension of the ‘Conceptual Art’ movement. This particular Concept Garden has been inspired by two Maaori whakataukii and map legends.

On land use maps there’s usually a legend of square boxes each with a different colour or texture denoting the different land uses. In this garden the nine square panels each represent one of the land uses on the legend in old school atlases. Pasture is represented by the grass, native bush by Muehlenbeckia astonii, urban areas by White Carpet roses, horticultural by citrus trees, tussock grassland by Carex buchananii, coniferous forest by Pinus mugo, scrubland by Leptospermum scoparium, wetland by Apodasmia and water bodies by the central pool.

Whakataukii are traditional Maaori proverbs which often function as reference points in speeches. These proverbs may also present historical events through a Maaori world view that communicates an underlying message or idea.

The whakataukii inscribed on the white wall is:
He peke tangata, apa he peke titoki
The human family lives on while the branch of the titoki falls and decays.

Maaori customarily smeared the dead with kookoowai (red ochre) to give them a high status and the trunks of these titoki have been painted with ochre as their own mark of distinction. As one interpretation of the whakataukii  implies, as the population grows the land uses depicted grow at the expense of special trees, environments and waterways. A current example is the transformation of much of the Mackenzie Basin into dairy farms. 

The second whakataukii is inscribed on the majestic steel pipe which over decades will gradually rust away. 
Whatungarongaro te tangata toituu te whenua
As man disappears from sight, the land remains

The message of this interpretation is that in the end, nature is going to win.


Hamilton Gardens’ most innovative piece of gardening equipment is an oversized steampunk blimp. Designed to glide silently through the night delivering plants and pruning hard to reach hedges for the gardening team, the Huddleston Airship is chock-full of industrial gadgets and mechanical steam engines. It arrives from a time when steam power ruled the world and can be spotted hovering beside the Concept Garden in Braithwaite Court.  

It has been sponsored by the Braithwaite family with substantial support from Lloyd Brownlie (onsite engineering) and Bryce Weal (structural engineer). The Braithwaite family have had a long involvement with Hamilton Gardens. Former mayoress and deputy mayor Kathleen Braithwaite sponsored the English Flower Garden. Her husband, Ron Braithwaite, was mayor of Hamilton. Her daughter, Marjorie Dyer, was a long time member and president of the Friends of Hamilton Gardens. Her son, former mayor David Braithwaite sponsored this Huddleston machine. The Braithwaite Court recognises the family’s involvement.   


The painting is by professional English artist, Michael B White who travels around the world, often painting in tropical exotic locations. His work has been displayed in galleries around the world including the British Royal Academy. The intention was to have an ‘Abstract Expressionist’ or ‘Fauvist’ image to contrast to the very rigid form of the Concept Garden. When Gardens Director Dr Sergel first made contact with the artist in England about the possibility of using his work he was surprised to find the artist was already a big fan of Hamilton Gardens and very enthusiastic to have his work displayed there.