Before European settlers arrived in New Zealand, Māori grew plants they had brought from Polynesia. Their main crop was kūmara (sweet potato). They cleared and burnt bush before planting, and made fences to protect crops from pūkeko (swamp hens).
Māori quickly adopted the crops Europeans brought, particularly potatoes.
European settler gardens
Early settlers brought seeds, plants and tools with them to New Zealand. They mainly grew fruit and vegetables – things they could eat – but they often had some flowers in their gardens to look nice.
Estate and homestead gardens
Wealthy people with large houses often had grand, landscaped gardens and parks. Sometimes they hired a designer to make the garden for them. Some of these gardens and woodlands are now open to the public.
Traditionally, backyard gardens are a place for playing and relaxing, and are less formal than front gardens.
In the early 20th century, suburban backyards often had vegetable gardens, fruit trees, sheds, outside toilets, clothes lines and compost bins.
Before the Second World War, most people grew their own fruit and vegetables, but later produce became cheaper and many people stopped growing food. Backyard gardens have also become smaller, and are mainly used for recreation.
Both front and back gardens usually have a grass lawn, though paving and decks are becoming popular. Smaller, inner-city gardens often don’t have grass at all.
Gardens at the front of the house are on display to the public, and tend to be more formal and showy. Flowering plants from overseas are common. New Zealanders have been successful at breeding new varieties of flowering plants, including roses, rhododendrons and lilies. Native plants are becoming more commonly used in gardens.