Stories that take you on a journey

Wintergardens – slice of summer in winter

Water lilies Auckland Wintergarden

What a desolate place would be a world without a flower! It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome. Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heaven. –A.J. Balfour

Even though it is not in my budget this year, I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about the merit and pitfalls of a tropical holiday in winter. Wondering if they really are the panacea for all our winter ills.

Although Auckland is situated on an isthmus, it holds its own when it comes to rush hour traffic. Those moments when sitting at traffic lights or standing at cold bus stops, we start to dream of the great escape. Beyond the credit card payment, a few hours in the sky beckons a tiny landmass with minimal roads, white beaches and blue skies.

Once semi-horizontal in a lush tropical garden, it is impossible to hang onto inner angst. The garden scents mingle with pineapple and mint aromas wafting from our Mai Tai’s, producing an aphrodisiac guaranteed to work on the most jaded of souls.

Perhaps this was why the English were keen on importing tropical plants and nurturing their exotic flowers to full maturity in artificial environments. The 19th-century conservatories were made out of iron and curvilinear glass, while earlier versions were constructed of masonry with large windows and a glass roof, usually in Gothic or Classical styles.

In the shadows of our Auckland museum are two barrel-vaulted Victorian style glasshouses, which face out onto a formal courtyard with marble statues and a pool. The symmetry of these two buildings stops me from comparing Auckland Domain Wintergardens to the giant conservatories of England’s Kew Gardens.


When I stepped through the door of the first glasshouse, I felt as though I had stepped out of my hotel room and into the lush tropical gardens of the Pacific Resort Rarotonga. Flowers in every hue on the pink-orange – red palette covered every corner of the long barrel building.


I remembered the perils of swapping winter chills for a tropical breeze and tepid waters in the next building. It may have been a sunny Auckland day; however, the icy Southerly wind ensured the temperature gauge stayed below 9 degrees. Outside, my light wool jacket offered no protection against the wind. It was almost impossible to breathe in the hot, humid air of the second glasshouse. If I stayed awhile, I would eventually acclimatise; however, once outside, my jacket would not protect me against temperature shock.

Thankfully the wind had stilled, allowing me to take a quick stroll through the Fernery before going back into the milder climate of the first glasshouse.


Although Auckland is verdant during winter, I miss the vibrancy of flowers, especially the rich tropical hues of hibiscus, cyclamens and impatiens. I love A.J Balfour’s challenge –  are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heaven, because it made me stop and think.

It is only when we stop and think that we cease to rush. It is at this moment that we truly begin to see these earthbound stars.



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