Visit the Wintergardens in Auckland for year-round blooms. Photo by Mark Smith.

Behind the scenes: Auckland Wintergardens


Masses of sunny yellow chrysanthemums hover like bright clouds. In a central patch, multi-layered petals form huge, blooming balls of lemony yellow and delicate pink. Around the edges are chillies laden with burnt orange fruit and hanging pots spilling with tiny apricot flowers.

Gardeners poke through foliage, inspecting and occasionally snipping, seemingly oblivious to slow-moving visitors enjoying the peace and beauty of the Wintergarden’s temperate glasshouse.

Sunshine falls through the high glass ceiling of the heritage barrel-vaulted house. Protected from the elements but not heated, this glasshouse is designed to reflect what can be grown in Auckland gardens in various seasons, albeit under shelter.

Wintergarden flowers INP

The temperate glasshouse is designed to reflect what can be grown in Auckland gardens in various seasons, albeit under shelter. Photo by Mark Smith.

Its twin, the tropical glasshouse sitting in parallel on the other side of a classical courtyard, is heated. In here, plants in need of humidity or warmth flourish; deep green palms, orchids, multiple begonia varieties fill and spill and climb, dense and lush and exotic amongst splashes of purples, deep reds and golds. One corner is devoted to spiky, edgy plants from Madagascar.

Jonathan Corvisy, Auckland Council’s site manager for Pukekawa Auckland Domain, including the Wintergardens, explains the turnover in the tropical house is a lot slower than in the temperate, with only a few plants – around 15 – changed each week. The busier, seasonal temperate house involves more constant adjustment to keep it looking fresh. The displays here are mostly of annuals, he says. After they’ve flowered, they die and are composted.

Between the two glasshouses and a nearby nursery complex, a botanical conservation programme is underway.

Many very rare and special plants are cared for by Jonathan’s team of two working the Wintergarden and five gardeners in the nursery. Plants can’t be imported so unless they’re sourced from other New Zealand collections, they’re produced on site, from seeds, bulbs or cuttings.

The importance of protecting these precious plants went up a notch when, just prior to the national Covid lockdown, a project to earthquake-strengthen the 100-year old glasshouses meant all the plants had to be stored in nurseries. The temperate house was completed first; attention then turned to the tropical house and that project was completed late last year. New steel framing was added, carefully maintaining the elegant late-Victorian design, and safer, easier-to-clean glass was installed.

Wintergarden building INP

The historic glasshouses of the Auckland Wintergardens have recently been restored. Photo by Mark Smith.

Visitors familiar with the gardens will notice a difference in the tropical house, as some of the larger plants had to be removed for the renovation. With time, Jonathan says, foliage will grow tall again and the natural shade will be restored. Meanwhile, a rare waterlily is being encouraged back to health with lights to artificially lengthen the day.

Jonathan leans over the lily pond to inspect the plant’s progress. Caring for the botanical heritage of the entire Domain is part of his brief; how all the native and exotic plants are faring is his responsibility. He studied horticulture in France before moving to New Zealand and has worked in landscape management for 14 years.

Wintergarden interior INP

Jonathan Corvisy is Auckland Council’s site manager for Pukekawa Auckland Domain and responsible for overseeing the Wintergardens. Photo by Mark Smith.

Jonathan is proud the Wintergardens have 5-star NZ Gardens Trust status, are registered with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust as a Category 1 and are officially considered Gardens of National Significance.

He puts it down to team effort. ‘Everyone who works here is passionate and committed,’ he says.

It’s not surprising to learn that everyone on the team is also a keen home gardener.


Story by Kath Webster for the Winter 2024 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Kath Webster is the Editor of AA Directions magazine. 

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