John Gretton MacKenzie
John Gretton Mackenzie was the first Director of the Parks and Reserves Department from 1918 to 1947. He had a real interest in New Zealand flora and recognised the need to preserve what remained. His legacy can be seen throughout Wellington City from the numerous pohutukawa trees to the establishment of New Zealand’s only botanic garden dedicated solely to native plants, Ōtari Wilton Bush.
Mackenzie was born in Otago and studied botany and Latin. He worked for gardens in Oamaru and Gisborne, before moving to Wellington in 1908 to undertake the role of Director (NZ Truth, 1928). He had a real interest in New Zealand flora, ensuring they were planted throughout the City and used to regenerate the Town Belt. His particular fondness for pohutukawa is evident in gardens developed during his time such as Pigeon Park (now Te Aro Park), the Carillon and National Museum grounds (now Pukeahu National War Memorial Park), the Railway Station gardens and the traffic islands of Kent and Cambridge Terrace Oriental Bay. His fondness was so well known that he acquired the nickname “Pohutukawa Jack” (Wellington City Council Archives, 00444-1/30/2 Part 1).
He forever changed the look of Wellington through extensive greening of the Town Belt from 1923 to 1940. Whilst he followed in the footsteps of his predecessors though the use of Pinus Radiata and Macrocarpas, he also used New Zealand flora so the native forest would regenerate. Much of the labour required to transform the farmland into forest was enabled through the Government’s employment relief scheme. Mount Victoria was completed by 1932, the Tinakori Hills and area surround the Prince of Wales by 1940.
Mackenzie also oversaw a significant period of change within the Botanic Gardens. This included remodelling the Main Garden through creating seasonal bedding displays and planting magnolia trees, as well as installing the Founders Gates and new fencing along Glenmore Street (Sheppard and Cook, 1988). This also included significant earthworks undertaken such as the extension of Anderson Park from 1931 to 1934. This required demolishing the Western Ridge and piping the Waipiro Steam, which was again made possible through the Government unemployment relief schemes. Whilst it was primarily a field for sports during the Second World War it became the site of an American Marine Camp. The success of this large-scale modification for public recreation led to the development of Magpie Lawn through the filling in of Glenmore Gully. Whilst there were various proposals for how to use the site such as a children’s playground, it was decided that it would be an elevated lawn surrounded by trees (Sheppard and Cook, 1988).
One of his major achievements, along with Leonard Cockayne, was the establishment of the Otari Wilton Botanic Garden. Designated a public domain in 1904, it came under the jurisdiction of the Parks and Reserves Department in 1919. Mackenzie and Cockayne prepared a scheme in 1926 for the development of an open-air native plant museum at Otari, which was accepted by the Reserves Committee. Otari Wilton Botanic Garden is New Zealand’s only botanic garden dedicated solely to native plants.
Botanic Garden plants, circa 1990. Aerial views of Botanic Garden, Anderson Park, Mount Albert, 18 Oct 1990