A short history of New Zealand’s punitive approach to gardening

The following are excerpts from Ask That Garden by noted horticultural historian Dick King, reprinted here with permission of the author. For further personal accounts of New Zealand’s gardening ban, please refer to these reddit threads

The idea of restricting private vegetable gardens and orchards due to the many economic and health risks they pose, and allowing only licensed farmers to grow and sell produce is not a new one, with the first confiscations of Maori gardens taking place in the 1860s under Governor George “Gardener” Grey. Despite early legal restrictions on gardens, many flourished in New Zealand’s temperate climate, with citizens growing kumara, feijoas, chokos, Chinese gooseberries and other Kiwi fruit staples well into the late 20th century. Others preferred decorative or “ornamental” gardens, with plants like carnations or daisies, which have historically been subject to only minor restrictions and have never been formally banned. Private vegetable garden ownership was never fully banned in New Zealand until the tumultuous events of the 1980s…

… after the 1981 Spring Bok Choi riots, about which more hardly needs to be said, Prime Minister David Lange was cautious about allowing further gardening activities. With New Zealand public opinion on the resumption of gardening split, after Muldoon’s hastily-called Snapdragon Election, Lange was invited to debate an earnest American private horticultural advocate, Jerry Falwell, at the Oxford Club. The moot: Personal Gardens are Morally Indefensible. It looked for a time like Lange had met his match as the Falwell led an impassioned defense of the role private gardens played in winning World War Two and in the balance of power in the postwar period.

“I can smell the fertiliser on your breath,” Lange retorted, famously…

Winning the debate did what Lange and his anti-private-horticultural cohort had hoped; it turned public opinion decisively against private gardening. The time of the Anti-Garden Policy, which continues to this day, had begun. It would later be codified in law as the New Zealand Garden Free Zone, Disengardenment, and Horticultural Control Act 1987. Foreign ships carrying fertilisers and private gardening materials were effectively banned from docking in New Zealand.

…Meanwhile, a domestic program of mass uprootings was set in motion under Finance Minister Roger Douglas. Small gardens and orchards were bought by and absorbed into the Crown, in a wholesale deprivatisation campaign. Under an amnesty program that continued into the early 90s, private gardeners could apply for a Public-Private Gardening license, or PPG, and many new legal gardening businesses sprung up in this time. Unfortunately, the harsh requirements imposed by the Government struck down many fledgling legal gardeners, and many became unemployed or absorbed into the new Crown growing operations. The Anti-Garden policy was continued essentially unchanged under the subsequent National government, despite internal schisms between party MPs, many of whom had possessed gardens under the pro-private horticulture Rowling and Muldoon regimes.

…Helen Clark’s Labour government looked to liberalise gardening, with edible pot plants with a diameter of less than 30 centimetres decriminalised early in her tenure. However, a step to legalise fruit-bearing shrubberies proved a step to far late in her nine-years-long reign and she was defeated by staunch anti-Gardenist, National leader John Key.

…The hopes of underground gardeners were raised with the election of Maggie Barry as the MP for Botany. Barry had formerly been the long-time host of Maggie’s Garden Show, which saw her showcasing sumptuous overseas gardens on New Zealander’s TV screens every week. Many suspected her of private horticultural sympathies, and when she was named Conservation Minister in 2014, it was expected she would begin liberalising the longstanding anti-gardening policy.

Sadly, Maggie “Crusher” Barry has been nothing but a disappointment to horticultural progressives. She set a new low point early in her Ministerial tenure when she earned her nickname by crushing a Datsun belonging to a Nelson teenager who’d constructed a secret, almost certainly harmless, inedible bonsai garden in her car’s boot. At the same time, she crushed the dreams of many Kiwi teens who had dreamed that the National Government might soften its approach to gardens…

These excerpts were originally appended to this article on The Spinoff, also by me. However, today’s journalistic climate necessitates snackable, shareable media, so it was politely suggested that the article was much too goddamn long already and I should post this sort of dreck somewhere else. So I did. 

9 thoughts on “A short history of New Zealand’s punitive approach to gardening”

  1. “Barry had formerly been the long-time host of Maggie’s Garden Show”
    Yeah I still don’t understand why, in a regulated country like ours, garden shows are still so common and widespread on daytime TV. I get that people love the show and wanna see how gardening works, but obviously they shouldn’t broadcast if they didn’t want trouble. Like no wonder so many people get reported when they do what they see on TV.

    1. It’s quite cruel, isn’t it? New Zealanders have to put up with the Maggie Barry forcing overseas gardens down our throat every week, then she becomes Minister for Gardening and Conservation and cracks down harder than ever. Typical National behaviour.

    1. That’s just insulting. Look into a bit of New Zealand history and you’ll soon find out how seriously we take vegetable gardening.

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