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Hamilton Gardens is a conceptual garden based in the Waikato that explores the context, history and meaning of gardens through time, and from around the world. It is internationally recognised for its unique concept and is the Waikato region’s most popular tourist destination. Amongst its 48 hectares of picturesque gardens there are four spiritual gardens.
Named after a famous forest that surrounds an old Discalced Carmelite monastery in Portugal, this garden represents one of the earliest forms of landscape garden found in European and Asian cultures that valued modified natural landscapes as sacred spaces. A place where people could retreat from the world and spend time in contemplation. They were mainly built between the 3rd and 10th Centuries AD.
While some modified landscapes were valued solely as spiritual sites it was more common to combine the spiritual aspects of a garden with more practical purposes, for example, that of food production. Te Parapara represents these earliest of Waikato gardeners and it takes its name from the pa that occupied part of the site of Hamilton Gardens.
The two sections of Te Parapara are separated by a carved waharoa (gate). The carvings on the waharoa are based on designs from a house called Te Urutomokia that was built for Potatau Te Wherowhero, who became the first Maori King in 1858. Fresh Kumara were stored in covered pits called rua, whilst dried Kumara could be stored in storehouses called pataka, which were elevated on posts to protect against rats and other threats.
Indian Char Bagh Garden
Like Te Parapara, the Char Bagh Garden is a form of garden that contains a wealth of spiritual representation in its design. However while Te Parapara’s symbolism represents local deities and the day-to-day concern of horticulture, the Char Bagh symbolises a more general and abstract spirituality.
In Persian, ‘Char’ means ‘four’ and ‘Bagh’ means ‘garden’. Char Bagh are walled, four-quartered gardens. They are sometimes called ‘universal’ gardens because of their very widespread occurrence. Char Bagh have a history that stretches back for at least four thousand years. Although they originated in ancient Persia, it was the Muslims who distributed them throughout a range that extended from Spain in the West to India in the East. The wide extent of their geographical and historical dissemination is mirrored by the commonality of their appeal across cultures; traces of Jewish and Christian influence mingle with Islam and Hinduism to create a truly universal garden.
The Hamilton Gardens example is based on an Indian Kursi-cum-Char-Bagh, or ‘Riverside Garden’. One of the distinctive features of this type of design is the location of the pavilion at the end of the garden overlooking the river. The flowers in the Hamilton Gardens Char Bagh ‘carpets’ are representative of those that would have been found in Mughal gardens. The water features are designed to bubble rather than splash because of the need to preserve water in arid climates, which lends the Char Bagh a calming, peaceful atmosphere.
Japanese Garden of Contemplation
If the Char Bagh garden is a product of the merging of Muslim culture into a largely Hindu country, the Japanese Garden of Contemplation tells a similar story of the arrival of Buddhism into Japan, whose original religion at the time was Shinto.
The garden is in two parts. On the west side of the pavilion is the karesansui (‘dry mountain and water garden’), often known as a Zen Garden. On the other side of the pavilion is a Scroll Garden. Like the karesansui it is designed to be appreciated from a single vantage point, but unlike the karesansui it is a much more direct representation of a heavenly landscape.
Each group of rocks in the Japanese Garden has its own meaning derived from the Sakuteiki, an ancient book of Japanese gardening principles, but their purpose is to invite the viewer’s own reflection on their possible meaning, rather than to present a single interpretation. The viewer is also invited to consider the spaces between the rocks – these are as important as the rocks themselves.
Only five minutes drive from Hamilton’s CBD, the Gardens is open 7 days a week during daylight hours and entry and parking is free. Mobility scooters, wheelchairs and pushchairs are available to hire and guided tours are available.