Situated on the South Island’s east coast at the southern end of Pegasus Bay and bounded by the Canterbury Plains, the Pacific Ocean and the Port Hills, it’s the gateway to the South – an easy drive to the old French settlement of Akaroa on Banks Peninsula, world-class skiing in the Southern Alps and activities from bungy jumping and hot air ballooning to the less physically demanding, like whale watching, relaxing in the thermal pools at Hamner Springs, wineries and glorious gardens.
Christchurch is regarded as the ‘most English’ of our New Zealand’s cities – not surprising given that the first organised European settlement in the region was arranged by the Canterbury Association and supported by the Church of England. This is a connection that continues today in the architecture, parks and place names like Cashmere, St Albans, Fendalton and Sumner, and in essentially English activities like punting on the Avon River, which runs through the city.
The settlers on the ‘first four ships’, from which many Cantabrians are proudly descended, landed in Lyttelton Harbour in 1850 and had their first view of the Canterbury Plains from the top of the Bridle Path on the Port Hills. Today the city reaches out into the Plains and the landscape bears little resemblance to the marshy open land on which these pioneering folk built a new life.
However, the past few years have been difficult ones for many in the city and surrounding area. Earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 devastated homes and commercial buildings, and subsequent aftershocks left many residents facing an uncertain future.
Christchurch is New Zealand’s second largest city and the largest in the South Island; figures from the 2013 Census indicate a population of 436,056 for the greater Christchurch area, which includes the Selwyn and Waimakariri territorial authorities. Following the deadly 2011 earthquake significant numbers of residents relocated to satellite towns, like Rangiora and Kaiapoi in the Waimakariri, and Lincoln and Rolleston in Selwyn.
Urban Christchurch is situated behind sand dunes, estuaries and lagoons and built on land that was predominantly swamp; the soil is made up largely of gravel, sand and silt, plus flood deposits from the Waimakariri River, interspersed with areas of peat. In many places the soil is weak with the water table just two to three metres below the surface. Following the Christchurch earthquakes this led to liquefaction, a process that effectively turned the ground into liquid and became a major issue across many suburbs.
Drainage is important in these areas, the sandy soils in the coastal areas of Christchurch can also be a challenge when landscaping.
Since early last century, Christchurch has also been known as New Zealand’s garden city; private and public gardens, such as Mona Vale and the Botanic Gardens, and significant public spaces like Hagley Park – at 165ha the world’s third largest inner city park – all contribute to this reputation. However, following the earthquakes, many gardeners were faced with rebuilding not just their houses but their outdoor spaces that has a positive side.
“A lot of people are finding that re-doing their garden can be an inspirational and rewarding experience. Starting from scratch means a blank canvas and room to explore new ideas and try something different.
“The fantastic summer and autumn weather we get here in Canterbury means people are expecting more from their outdoor areas and we’re seeing a trend towards making these more functional with outdoor kitchen facilities and traditional box gardens.”
And, he says, while the interest in making the most of available space through edible gardens continues, “There are a lot of time-poor people who just want areas that are useable and easy to maintain with modern clean lines.
“There are some very passionate gardeners in Christchurch, many of whom have been impacted by the earthquakes and I believe that people now value their connection with the land even more deeply than prior to the ‘quakes’.”
The Southern Alps dictate the weather for Christchurch and the Canterbury region, creating climatic conditions more extreme than elsewhere in the country. Christchurch has less rainfall than New Zealand’s other main centres and the hot, dry nor-wester – a fohn wind – means the city has the greatest temperature range. Temperatures above 30C are not unusual with a summer average of 21C to 23C and 2100 sunshine hours annually. In winter, daytime temperatures average around 11C, but often fall below 0C at night, with snow occasionally falling on the hill suburbs.
Protection and shelter from those strong nor-west winds is important when considering layouts and positioning of outdoor living areas. “And in coastal areas in the north-east, wind can be a problem. It’s also important to consider frost protection when planting fruit trees and less hardy plants. With many waterways and creeks throughout the city, this opens up options for water-loving plantings.”
While the summers can be dry – Christchurch has an average annual rainfall of 618mm, roughly half that of Auckland – there’s plentiful access to water in most areas. “Irrigation is an important component in outdoor design and water tanks are becoming more popular.”
As with the rest of the country the usual requirements around building permits and resource consents apply when designing an outdoor area or garden in Christchurch. Building and land use projects which do not comply with the District Plan will need resource consent.
However, it’s important to note that recognition of potential hazards has seen changes put in place, which means it’s important to get professional advice around consents before a project is launched. For example, design standards for retaining walls, something affecting many homeowners, have been amended to ensure greater resilience during seismic activity.
It may have been down but Christchurch is certainly not out; with the rebuild, has come a new excitement and the world has noticed. In 2013 this city in transition, with its repurposed container shops and scores of road cones, made Lonely Planet’s list of the top 10 cities to visit – and was ranked second in the ‘New York Times 2014’ list of 52 places to go.
Christchurch is definitely getting back its mojo!
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