At the ever-popular Wellington Botanic Gardens, Wellington City Council engaged Isthmus to develop the children’s garden and focus on the many ways that plants sustain human life – by providing food, fibre, construction materials and medicine. The resulting 1,500m2 Discovery Garden is a living classroom, shaped to a vision of bringing people and plants together.
The key organising move of the Discovery Garden is a central ponga and timber-lined trench and a sequence of playful spaces with varied microclimates in which to grow plants for food, fibre-building and health (as has been discovered – it’s perfect for artichokes and olives, and plants from which you can make your own muesli!). The garden also restores the humble kūmara to an area once favoured by Taranaki whānui and through the sheer variety of plants creates new links to Wellington’s diverse communities.
The garden is a learning space with nodes set into a mature landscape framework of large existing trees. The ‘construction hut’ and oak-tree deck are for making, doing and experimenting and the topography is also playful, with water purposefully employed in the design. There are rainwater tanks, interactive water races and water courses that run throughout the terraces of incredible edibles.
In the heart of the garden is the new pavilion – a gathering space for the garden club, school workshops, events, tending the moveable gardens, and generally getting stuck in. It allows making and doing, even when there is ‘proper weather’ outside. With it’s roof line echoing the natural slope of the hillside site, architecture and landscape architecture are blended and aligned.
The form of the building is derived from the angular building platform nestled into the hillside beneath a grove of mature pōhutukawa trees. Anchored by masonry retaining walls, a simple monopitch roof rises towards the tree canopy, closely following the slope of the land. Rather than “fighting the slope”, the pavilion has been embedded into the land – the result of a decision to consider it as an extension of the terracing that steps down from above. The pavilion can be either a departure point for a learning adventure – the series of ramps, steps and terraces encourage discovery and exploration – or a gathering place to share discoveries.
Appropriate to the setting, the material choices are typically wood, with timber used for the structural frame, bleacher seating, cladding and interior finishes, and the bathroom and storage pods clad in rough-sawn battens that are not dissimilar in texture to the bark of a pōhutukawa tree.