A History of Gardening

A History of Gardening in New Zealand

Random House, Auckland, 2010

  • Bee Dawson has written extensively on many aspects of gardening and horticulture but it is her two books on New Zealand horticultural history that make her such a deserving recipient of the Institute’s Award in Garden History…

    …This keen sense of social history is likewise seen in her more recent book, A History of Gardening in New Zealand (Godwit, 2010). Her history starts with the agriculture of the Māori and then follows the introduction of many plants by the first missionaries and settlers. She then describes the development of gardens during the colonial period. For the colonists, gardens reminded them of the homes they had left but gardens were also an economic necessity as they supplied fresh fruit and vegetables that were not otherwise available. This dichotomy between aesthetics and necessity has continued with the balance point changing according to economic conditions. Many of us will remember how in our childhood, it was usually the man who was responsible for the vegetables, the woman for the flowers. Gardening remains a hobby for many but there has recently been an increasing emphasis on the health and economic benefits of home-grown fruit and vegetables.

    A History of Gardening in New Zealand provides many hours of reading and the comprehensive list of literature will entice many of us to study further new aspects of our horticultural history. The drawings, paintings and photographs that are used as illustrations are particularly apt and finding such appropriate images must have taken months of searching.

    As a social historian, Bee Dawson may well prefer people to plants. However, all of us who have an interest in gardening (and books) will be glad that she writes about people and their plants. Our appreciation of her efforts is shown by our presenting her with the Institute’s 2011 Award in Garden History.

    2011 Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture Awards, Award in Garden History, 14 April 2011.

  • A History of Gardening in New Zealand is delightful – well-researched, well-written and magnificently illustrated, but also immensely readable and entertaining.’ Listener, May 22, 2010
  • ‘Far from being a rarefied catalogue of botanical history, this book is a joy to read and will appeal to gardeners of all persuasions… worth every cent.’ Southland Times, 15 April 2010.
  • ‘Even if you’re not into history, you’ll enjoy Bee Dawson’s new book. History buffs will sense that it’s a timely event. And gardeners with soul will lap it up. Gardening finds its place in the birth of this nation.’ NZ Gardener, April 2010.
  • ‘Stuffed full of diary snippets, advertisements, photographs, paintings and other ephemera from archives and collections all over the country, and strung together with an easy informal writing style, this is a book that should have been done before but the magnitude of the project might have put off many less energetic writers.’ DomPost, May 2010.
  • ‘This book is a gem not only for gardeners and those interested in social history, but for anyone who enjoys beautiful things.’ Sunday Star Times, May 23, 2010.

Also, reviews on and

A History of Gardening in New Zealand – book description