Happy 150th birthday to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Happy birthday to one of the most beloved places in Christchurch – our Botanic Gardens.

Back in 1859, Enoch Barker came to Christchurch as government gardener. He supplied gravel from the reserves to help build roads and set up a nursery. On 9 July 1863, he planted the first tree in the Government Domain (the previous name of the Botanic Gardens). It was known as the Albert Edward oak and was planted to mark the wedding of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, to Princess Alexandra of Denmark.

150 years later it is time to join in the celebrations at the Botanic Gardens.

Begonia house Cactii and venomous plants Peacock fountain Rose Garden
Daffodils SCAPE public art - work by Héctor Zamora

Botanic Gardens resources:

Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother

Lionel Shriver did have a “big” brother, he died from an apparent obesity related illness as 55. This knowledge made her latest book Big Brother feel all the more uncomfortable. It is a no holds barred look at the obese, fat, weight challenged  – call it what you like, but it’s a bumpy ride.

Pandora’s older brother Edison comes to visit. She hasn’t seen him for four years and he is unrecognisable. Weight gain has left him bloated and barely able to walk. Pandora is horrified but pretends that she isn’t. By the end of the first chapter I am feeling uneasy.

Search catalogueEdison is portrayed as gross, out of control, aimless and self-centered. Pandora’s husband – the taut, tight Fletcher – is a manic cyclist and health food fanatic who is equally as horrible,  and Pandora is somewhat cold and detached. She has made a fortune producing custom-made dolls that resemble the people who receive them. Each doll has a talk function where they utter scripts provided by the giver, usually an opportunity to provide sly digs about the recipient’s bad behaviours. The dolls are funny but with a sting in the tail, a bit like Shriver perhaps as again she has compiled a cast of fascinating, brutally honest and utterly unlikable characters.

Pandora eventually acknowledges to Edison that she is worried about him, but he steadfastly refuses to cut back on his food intake. Descriptions of massive amounts of cheese, fast food, cream, piles of pancakes and butter left me feeling somewhat unwell. Just as  unappetising is Fletcher’s quest to become the ultimate lean machine, producing dry, bland,  fibre based meals laden with self-satisfaction.

Pandora decides that she will take Edison in hand, and rents them a flat for a year in which he will have to lose 163Ibs or be sent packing.  They both embark on the diet shake based system-  as Pandora is horrified that she put on a bit herself, and the abandoned Fletcher remains bitter and twisted in the family home while brother and sister bond over their joint sense of deprivation.

Will Edison lose all the weight? Can Fletcher and Pandora’s marriage survive the separation and accusations that go with Pandora’s quest to help her brother? Will I ever be able to eat again without  memories of Edison’s rather unfortunate episode in the toilet?

I am left with a huge sense of ambiguity about this book, I can’t decide whether it gives the finger to our obsession with diet and weight, or literally feeds into it. Would I recommend it? Yes, most definitely but be warned, it’s not pretty.

This week in Christchurch history (8 to 14 July)

View the photograph8 July 1880
Canterbury Society of Arts formed.

9 July 1863
Civic tree planting begins. Part of the day’s planting was a commemorative tree, generally regarded as the beginning of the Botanic Gardens.

11 July 1879
Post Office building in Cathedral Square completed.
Post Office Corner
14 July 1945
Record snowfall 280mm (11 inches) over most of city. See our page on historic snowfalls in Christchurch.
Gilberthorpe cottage in snow 1945

Christchurch chronology
A timeline of Christchurch events in chronological order from pre-European times to 1989.