Remembering Lawrie Metcalf – Plantsman

Lawrie Metcalf passed away on 18 August 2017. 

Cover of A garden centuryLawrie Metcalf had a long association with the Christchurch Botanic Gardens as the Assistant Curator from 1955 – 68 and the Assistant Director from 1968 -1977. It was important to him to demonstrate how gardeners could incorporate natives into their garden and create a garden that truly reflected New Zealand, something uniquely our own.

We can thank Lawrie for the native plant display in the Botanic Garden which was created to showcase what can be done with our native plants. Just like walking through a piece of bush this garden is the ideal place to take tourists to see native plants in a natural setting and an is an inspiration for the home gardener wanting to incorporate natives into their garden. He created displays that not only looked magnificent but also educated the visitor, placing the gardens on a solid scientific footing he also collected plants from throughout the country.

Cover of A Photographic Guide to Trees of New Zealand Cover of A photographic guide to alpine plants of new zealand Cover of A photographic guide to ferns of New Zealand

As the botanist with the Canterbury Museum he collected live plants and herbarium specimens on expeditions to alpine areas in the South Island expanding scientific understanding of what grew there. Lawrie expanded the international seed exchange programme to send native plant seeds to hundreds of botanic gardens, receiving seeds from around the world to trial at the botanic gardens. Later moving to Invercargill, as Director of Parks and Recreation for the Invercargill City Council, he continued his work establishing a sub-antarctic collection at Queens Park.

Lawrie was born in Christchurch and while at school Dr L.W. McCaskill (1900–1985) got him interested in growing native plants. He undertook his horticultural training and has gone on to greatly inspire young horticulturalists many of whom went on to hold senior positions. In his semi-retirement he ran a nursery in Nelson with his wife Lena and continued to publish books.

Cover of The cultivation of New Zealand Native Grasses Cover of The propagation of New Zealand Native Plants

Lawrie had a crucial role in the registration of cultivars of New Zealand native plants, dedicating 55 years to the task during which he published an international register of over 800 hebes.

He was president of the Canterbury Botanical Society and was awarded the Cockayne Gold Medal, The Loder Cup, Ian Galloway Outstanding Achievement Award, Veitch Memorial Medal and the Companion of the Queen’s Service Order (QSO) for services to horticulture and conservation. In addition his work was acknowledged earlier this year with the naming of the herbarium at the Botanic Gardens the Lawrie Metcalf Herbarium by the Christchurch City Council.

Cover of The cultivation of New Zealand trees and shrubsLawrie used his love of photography in his many books the most well-known of which is The cultivation of New Zealand trees and shrubs, originally published in 1972. This book gave Kiwis the knowledge of how to identify, grow and care for natives with confidence and was written in a way anyone could understand.

The landscaping trend towards natives shows no sign of abating and Metcalf’s books on native plants, trees and shrubs, alpines, grasses, ground covers, ferns and hebes, all written in a practical style and imparting a wealth of scientific knowledge,  will continue to inspire New Zealand gardeners and horticulturalists for years to come.

Further reading

Christchurch Botanic Gardens Children’s Paddling Pool: Picturing Canterbury

Christchurch Botanic Gardens Children's Paddling Pool with Stds 5 & 6 Spreydon School 1946.
Christchurch Botanic Gardens Children’s Paddling Pool with Stds 5 & 6 Spreydon School on an outdoor education class, 1946. File Reference: PH13-256.jpg. Kete Christchurch, CC BY-NC-SA 3.00 NZ. Entry in the 2013 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt.

In August 1946 the Christchurch Domains Board was abolished and the Botanic gardens and Hagley Park were handed over to the Christchurch City Council.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch and Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

Hagley Park and the Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Woodland bridge in Christchurch Botanic Gardens : on the right is the Bandsmens Memorial rotunda. [196-?] File Reference CCL PhotoCD 16, IMG0071
Woodland bridge in Christchurch Botanic Gardens : on the right is the Bandsmens Memorial rotunda. [196-?] File Reference CCL PhotoCD 16, IMG0071
If you like trees then Hagley Park probably rates as one of your favourite “Go-To” places, just as it is mine. With 164 hectares to wonder around in, and 5000 trees in Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens there is always something new to see and enjoy, regardless of the weather, and it’s never crowded despite the 1 million plus annual visitors. On a sunny afternoon it can be very restful just to sit and watch the people go past ….

One of the best sights in Canterbury is when the blossom trees on Harper Avenue burst into flower – roll on Spring! The daffodils! Then there’s the Heritage Rose Garden (which I finally found near the hospital) as well as the main rose garden which is a joy to nose and eye alike.  And don’t forget the conservatories – they’ve been repaired and re-opened for a while now, so if you haven’t ventured into Cuningham House (or the other four Houses) post-quake, then it really is time to take a wonder through.

Cuningham House
Cuningham House, Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Sunday 27 July 2014. File Reference: 2014-07-27-IMG_0811

With KidsFest and the school holidays upon us, the Botanic Gardens are running a Planet Gnome promotion – the Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre will give you a passport and all you need to know to join in.

Botanic D’Lights on 3-7 August for the second year running – I didn’t go last year, and kicked myself for it, because it sounded amazing, and so much fun.  The event listing describes it as:

this five-night winter spectacle engages NZ’s leading lighting artists, designers and creative thinkers. When darkness falls, you’ll explore an illuminated pathway which turns the Gardens’ vast collection of plants and grand conservatories into a glittering winter wonderland. All to the beat of exciting soundscapes and special performances.

Botanic dlight
The peacock fountain during Botanic D’lights 2015

So looking forward to it! Note to self: bring hat, coat, gloves, torch and cash for hot drinks and food as well as the gold coin donation for the Children’s Garden renewal project. See you there!

Search our catalogue

Looking at the Botanic Gardens

Looking at Hagley Park


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:

Refugee from a confectioner’s nightmare

I’ve always loved the Peacock Fountain since it was reinstalled beside the Canterbury Museum in the Botanic Gardens in 1996. It has all of what was ostentatious and silly about the early 20th century. Its frolicking dolphins, pelicans and other animals together with a colour scheme that was so wondrous, caused a ratepayer in The Press letters to the editor to blame it for ‘causing flu-like symptoms when looked upon’ . This blog’s title was a comment from another disgruntled ratepayer when it was installed.

The fountain was made in Shropshire and imported from England, funded by a 1000 pound bequest from the Hon. John Peacock, a local pioneer, business man and polititian. It was unveiled in June 1911 in the Botanic Gardens adjacent to where the Robert McDougall Art Gallery was later built.

It was dismantled and put into storage in 1949 because of recurring maintenance issues and it eventually ended up in storage at Ferrymead. When restoration began in 1995, half of the pieces had to be re-cast as many had disapeared or been damaged.

I remember its reinstallation causing much division of opinion around the city, especially the colour scheme, but as with all public art, statues and installations, they can’t be loved by everyone, but they are usually loved by enough to become a integral part of our cityscape.

When I go to the gardens, I love seeing it there, delighting locals and visitors alike and also the local duck and bird populations, who splash about with abandon much like I would like to do in true La Dolce Vita style if I thought I could get away with it.

Do you have a favourite piece of sculpture or  art installation in our wonderful city? Is it a survivor of the quakes, or is awaiting a re-birth?