The Discovery Garden

designed by /

Location: New Zealand / Wellington / Type: Botanic Garden / Playgrounds / Public Gardens / Built: 2017 /
Show on Google Maps / Published on October 1, 2019

ISTHMUS: Te Kaapuia o Te Waoku | The Discovery Garden has transformed a little used area of the Botanic Garden into a vital activity centre for children and their families to learn more about the natural world and their community. Material choices are reflective of the garden’s main theme – the many ways plants can be helpful to us. Plant materials, in the form of timber products, are employed in the retaining walls, cladding and interior finishes of the Pavilion and seating, deck structures and in the bamboo water race. Simple ‘garden shed’ building materials are used in the Construction Hut. Without obvious patterning, and adding to the palette of indigenous plants (such as toe toe and harakeke that encircle the entrance), palisade fencing, tukutuku-inspired timber battens of the pavilion, and houhere/lacebark screens along the trench, all bring subtle interpretation and identity to the Garden as part of the rohe.

Bringing this vision to life required a strong working relationship with the Botanic Garden specialist staff and the Friends of the Garden. First steps were to confirm the variety of species that would match the challenges posed by the site – a steeply sloped spur exposed to all winds; and to determine how plants for food, fibre, construction and medicine could be sourced, and then grouped in microclimates. Equally important was to find comfortable spots for people – with provision of shade, shelter, water, seating for our elders/kaumatua, and the best accessibility the site could offer. The smaller-scaled spaces inherent to the design will help bring people together and encourage greater community connections.

Mana whenua linked us back to the history of the garden as mahinga kai for Taranaki Whānui. Community collaboration helped confirm species that would serve as touchstones from the Pacific, Asia and around the world; to enhance the sense of welcome and belonging. An inquiry-by-design process fed into the analysis of opportunities and constraints and how best to move around the site. Accessibility studies and investigation into growing techniques for modern living in small spaces were central to providing a hands-on experience for all tamariki and their elders.
The entry to the garden is via a plant-lined trench of timber and mechanically stabilised earth with foundation columns inserted to allow the construction of an elevated timber lookout, once funding becomes available. This links to an open exhibition plaza backed by a learning pavilion. Located on a triangular wedge of land carved out of the steep hillside, the 60 m2 pavilion provides a flexible learning space for groups of up to 40 children.

While beautiful, this garden is clearly meant to be touched, smelled, picked, at times cut, and frequently climbed over. The collection is playfully arranged to bring new meaning to the terms ‘fast foods,’ ‘incredible edibles’, ‘healthy dye’ and ‘growing wild’. Located on a steep and exposed hillside, the challenge quickly turned opportunity (as often happens in Wellington) – working with slope to optimise access, shelter and interest, using built elements on and in the land.

“Te Kaapuia o Te Waoku – We are all part of nature. The Discovery Garden is an amazing living classroom where curious minds can explore and learn about the natural world. We’ll be focusing on the fantastic uses of plants – for food, fibre, medicine, and construction.”
— Wellington City Council

Landscape Architect: ISTHMUS
Project location: Wellington Botanic Garden, Wellington, New Zealand
Design year: 2014-2016
Year Built: 2016-2017

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