In the 1960s, the site of Hamilton Gardens had become a bleak city rubbish dump covered in blackberries with seagulls circling above. Remnants of the Gardens earlier history as a pre-European Pa, British military post, Victorian rifle-range and dog-dosing station lay scattered across the site. Four acres had been part of the Hamilton East Town Belt and was passed over to Hamilton City Council for the purposes of a public garden. The site now extends over 54 hectares.
First-time visitors to Hamilton Gardens who arrive expecting a collection of plants in a traditional botanic garden will be in for a surprise. Rather than simply focussing on plant collections, at Hamilton Gardens the emphasis is on gardens. While botanic gardens concentrate on plant taxonomy and classification, Hamilton Gardens concentrates on the cultural meanings and contexts that gardens have historically had.
Throughout history gardens have been a way of expressing the important philosophical ideas of their time, and in many respects the story of gardens corresponds with the story of human thought. There is more to be learnt from gardens than plant names. Gardens can also increase our understanding of the beliefs and values of the people who made them.
Hamilton Gardens tells the story of gardens by recreating some of the most historically important garden styles from a wide variety of times and places.
Assistance from the community, and trusts formed to support specific garden developments, has been invaluable to the Gardens development. For 20 years the Gardens benefited from the labour provided by Taskforce Green and Pre-Employment Programmes which subsidised the wages of young workers while they developed skills on the job.
In 2014, the International Garden Tourism Network announced that Hamilton Gardens was the winner of the International Garden of the Year Award.
Hamilton Gardens has five garden collections, each including several themed gardens.
The Paradise Garden Collection illustrates the gardeners desire to create paradise on Earth. The English word paradise derives from the Old Persian pairidaeza, meaning simply enclosed garden.
The Landscape Garden Collection focuses on landscape garden traditions that have been inspired by different philosophical perspectives throughout history. Landscapes as artefacts contain a richness of expression and a subtlety, which can illuminate our relationship with the natural world.
The Productive Garden Collection is a group of gardens that illustrate the relationship between people and productive plants. They demonstrate that the process of gardening can be understood from the perspective of nature as well as of culture.
The Cultivar Garden Collection includes displays that contain plant collections demonstrating the story of plants that have been bred for the garden.
The Fantasy Garden Collection illustrates the use of fantasy and imagination in garden design, and the use of garden design to stimulate fantasy and imagination in visitors.