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Wintergardens nursery in for modern makeover

Published: 30 July 2018

The nursery responsible for growing and supplying plants for Auckland Domain’s popular Wintergardens is getting a makeover, with modern technology set to make growing exotic species from all over the world much easier.

The Wintergardens nursery is the longest-functioning nursery in New Zealand. Currently made up of a multitude of small sheds and glasshouses, several dating back to the 19th century, the buildings are no longer suitable for growing the 20,000 plants a year needed by the Wintergardens.

Most of the structures will be removed to make way for two large, high-tech greenhouses to grow plants from different climates. The state-of-the-art facilities will include gas heating, atmospheric controls, an underground irrigation system and a water recycling system.

The new facilities will also include safeguards against biosecurity hazards such as insects and disease.

Jonathan Corvisy, the site manager at Auckland Domain, says the makeover will unlock new potential and make operations far more efficient.

“There are some plants that we’ve had to stop growing simply because we haven’t had the right facilities. It will be fantastic to be able to grow the collection again rather than see it shrink.

"It’s my vision that we will be able to start growing even more rare and unusual species, some of which aren’t currently grown anywhere else in New Zealand.

"We will soon have the potential to have the best collection of rare plant species in the country, which will make the Wintergardens even more special for its many visitors.”

Nursery Team Leader Tracey Finlayson says not only will the new facilities offer better growing potential but means their operations will be more environmentally friendly.

“With better irrigation we’ll use less water and with modern up-to-date heating systems we’ll use less power, too.

"And with better disease and pest control capabilities, we’ll be able to use fewer chemicals; we don’t use many now, but it will be great not to have to use them at all because we’ll have in-built protection.”

Work on the nursery is scheduled to last around a year; the current nursery is being temporarily relocated to Kari Street, Grafton, while redevelopment is underway.

Heritage to be preserved

Not all buildings on site will be demolished – three of the original Victorian glasshouses have been identified as buildings of historical significance and will remain to be used for plant storage. One is in good enough condition that it’s still suitable for storing tropical plants which have special requirements.

This glasshouse – which bears the name ‘Colin’, in memory of a tropical plant expert who worked at the nursery for 42 years – still has many of its original features: wrought ironwork with pineapple detailing and elaborate cast iron flooring in a mosaic design that allows for warm, damp air to rise from the ground. 

Cr Mike Lee, chair of the Heritage Committee, is thrilled this fascinating piece of Auckland’s history will be preserved.

“The Wintergardens complex is one of the jewels in Auckland’s crown, with more than 500,000 visitors each year. The long history of cultivating plants on-site is part of its unique heritage. It’s great we can save a piece of that.  

“The staff here will have their day-to-day jobs vastly improved by modern equipment and spaces, but it will be quite special to still be able to look across the yard and see those Victorian structures as a symbol of where it all started.”

Work on the Wintergardens will also include seismic strengthening works later this year, safeguarding this precious piece of Auckland’s history.