Westeros in Wellington: House Tyrell's secret garden of roses

Kenny Mah
·5-min read
The Lady Norwood Rose Garden has hundreds of different rose cultivars — Pictures by CK Lim
The Lady Norwood Rose Garden has hundreds of different rose cultivars — Pictures by CK Lim

WELLINGTON, Nov 24 — They say if you visit New Zealand, you must make a trip to Wellington at least once, to pay homage to the country’s coffee capital. Flat whites and filter brews, the Kiwis know their beans and their coffee.

Yet beyond the copious intake of high-quality caffeine, Wellington has other charms and some better hidden than others.

Embark on a little journey of discovery, from the city’s iconic Lambton Quay up to the Kelburn exit of the Wellington Cable Car. This is the entrance of the Wellington Botanic Garden, one of the oldest repositories of indigenous flora in the world.

It’s springtime in New Zealand, after all. It’s a time of flowers. It’s a time for renewal, particularly after a difficult and rough season.

Established in 1868, the Wellington Botanic Garden is a 25-hectare haven of native forests and flowers. At this elevation, you can’t help enjoy stunning views of the city itself. But it is the blooms and bark that draw many here.

You first stumble upon a bed of orange flowers, nay, a field. You may argue over what they are. Are they orange cosmos, so abundant and weed-like? Or are they Mexican sunflowers, confident and charismatic?

A field of orange flowers at the Wellington Botanical Garden
A field of orange flowers at the Wellington Botanical Garden

Not chrysanthemums and not tulips. Not dahlias, surely? Perhaps marigold, the blossoms so favoured by devotees at Thai Buddhist temples. The colour of the monks’ robes.

Elsewhere, it isn’t the shock of bold colours that stuns you but the dearth of it. The velvety maroon-black of the chocolate cosmos feel almost morbid but for the subtle vanilla fragrance they exude. Lovely.

The succulent beds showcase determined flowering amid the most arid of conditions. The coal-black blossoms of the Aeonium arboreum resemble dark purple petals but are in fact rosettes of waxy leaves.

Black blossoms: 'Aeonium arboreum' (left) and chocolate cosmos (right)
Black blossoms: 'Aeonium arboreum' (left) and chocolate cosmos (right)

Take a break on one of the many benches beneath mature native trees. You take in your surroundings — the bluest sky, the dark silhouettes of tree branches, and a sea of green. The wind blowing through the branches of native trees will make any visitor to Wellington feel relaxed.

The ancient forests of New Zealand are barnacled with tree moss and lacy lichen. The native kāmahi trees with its distinctive feathery plumes and broad leaves offer essential forest cover. Also known as Weinmannia racemosa, the Māori used its inner bark as a laxative.

The trees, the plants, the flowers — they are a veritable natural pharmacy, if one knows how to best employ them. And the Māori, yes, they knew how.

The wind blowing through the native trees will make any visitor to Wellington feel relaxed
The wind blowing through the native trees will make any visitor to Wellington feel relaxed

Te Kaapuia o Te Waoku. “We are all part of nature.”

Beyond indigenous species, more exotic plants are showcased in the Begonia House glasshouses where tropical and temperate flowers such as orchids, cyclamen and tuberous begonias live. There is even a display of aquatic plants in the tropical lily pond.

But to be honest, this botanic garden does stretch as far as the eye can see. You might feel overwhelmed, defeated by its 25 hectares. Even after half a day here, you would have barely covered half its grounds.

The slopes of dramatic hydrangeas, the garden of fragrances, the duck pond, the garden of herbs, and on and on. You fear you will never finish seeing all of the natural wonders. Few do, at least not in a single day.

Violet-hued, feathery plumes
Violet-hued, feathery plumes

You might decide to be prudent and make haste while there is still light. Though the Wellington Botanic Garden is technically open 24 hours, it is only truly usable between dawn and dusk when you can actually take in the conifers and the cacti, the flowers and the mosses.

Given the limited time, the one aspect of the Botanic Garden you cannot miss is Der Rosengarten.

Readers of George R. R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire heptalogy (though it’s still two volumes short) will recall Highgarden, the seat of House Tyrell whose sigil is a golden rose on a pale green field.

The ancient forests of New Zealand are covered with tree moss and lacy lichen
The ancient forests of New Zealand are covered with tree moss and lacy lichen

Constructed in 1950, the Lady Norwood Rose Garden would rival any in Highgarden, with hundreds of different cultivars of the family Rosaceae. If the golden roses and green fields that surround Highgarden signify its Golden Age, then the endless hues here — red, white and pink; champagne yellow and lemony golds; sky blues and passionate oranges; salmon, cream, violet-teal and the modest blush of peach — ring in an Age of Rainbows.

The Italians call the rose garden catinaccio and the romance of that imagery resounds here. Different species, cultivars and hybrids battle for space and supremacy, yet in their warring some symphony emerges.

Recall the words of House Tyrell — “Growing Strong” — and know that this is certainly true here. The roses of Der Rosengarten flourish splendidly.

The classic red rose never goes out of style but here, on this branch, are petals the shade of merlot. Burgundy roses like a winter cape to wrap around you as the wind chill deepens. Some roses are so dark they are nearly black, mysterious and maleficent.

Take a break on one of the many benches beneath mature native trees
Take a break on one of the many benches beneath mature native trees

Roses the colour of coral, the hue of desire. Roses as green as thorns, their petals indistinguishable from their leaves. Roses barely kissed by the palest of pinks yet with a fragrance so heady it would outlast any perfume.

The attar of damask roses, you reckon, would be worth its weight in gold and then some.

It is almost evening when you finally take your leave. In a few hours, the light of glow worms will sparkle across the darkest parts of the park, like stars across the sky of Westeros, like golden roses in the garden of the House Tyrell.

Wellington Botanic Garden

101 Glenmore Street, Kelburn, Wellington, New Zealand

Open 24 hours, admission free

For more travel and slice-of-life stories, visit lifeforbeginners.com.

Related Articles Tea and sympathy as royals talk mental health in New Zealand Catch the four seasons of Shinjuku Gyoen New Zealand spy papers reveal 1981 bid to kill Queen Elizabeth II