The director of Hamilton Gardens Dr Peter Sergel is retiring at the end of the year after 40 years at the site.
The man who transformed a former dump into a world class international landmark is calling time on his gardening project.
Dr Peter Sergel, director of Hamilton Gardens, has been part of the team since 1978 when he joined as a technical officer.
“I thought I was joining the council for a short period to get the relevant work experience for my qualification to be qualified as a landscape architect.
“So I have finally got that experience now.”
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When Sergel arrived at the gardens it was a grassed over rubbish dump.
“There was a big dredging machine as it was used as a pumice/sand quarry by the council. The sand was used to line trenches and things for pipes and the trucks coming back brought all the junk.
“I remember when I was a kid this being the city tip.
“It was a surreal place with people wandering around with guns shooting rats and things.”
The gardens’ less than salubrious past means the team of 32 are often surprised by the things they dig up.
When Sergel arrived the rose garden was there, although that’s since been developed, as was the glasshouses near the road and the bedding out the front.
One of Sergel’s first jobs was to develop a concept plan for the park, and while they had an overall plan, he hadn’t expected the gardens to evolve as they have.
In 2014 the gardens received the International Garden of the Year award.
And despite Covid-19 stopping international tourists, the gardens have seen record visitor numbers for winter.
“In a way, it’s almost too popular, sometimes we are struggling with numbers. On our very busy days we block up traffic on Cobham Drive.”
Sergel’s favourite garden is usually the next one to be made.
At the moment that would be the Medieval, Ancient Egyptian, Pacifica and Baroque gardens, which are under construction.
He’s helped develop over 20 gardens at the site to go with the overall concept of “The Story of Gardens through the ages of Man”
“It tells the story of mankind from 4000 years ago, from the Bronze Age to the present day. And the gardens more than any other art form tell you a lot about how societies are produced, beliefs, social structure. It’s a unique concept, but in a way it’s also a museum, so hopefully it brings joy to a lot of people.”
Sergel’s always been grateful for the community support. Back in the beginning there was no budget set aside to develop the gardens, so he had to rely on community fundraising.
For 20 years they relied on a government subsidised work scheme which helped with the labour.
“We raised money and had donated material, and a lot of the walls and paths are rock spalls from Hinuera quarry. Broken concrete from every worksite all over the town and fencing wire for reinforcing and Firth provided cobblestones endlessly very, very cheaply.”
Sergel knew he’d have to stop some time and said his age is behind the decision, while not divulging his age he’s “heading towards 70”.
You won’t see Hamilton Gardens replicated in Sergel’s home garden.
“It’s a fairly small garden, it’s mostly on steep banks, my wife does most of it.”
However, Sergel won’t be lost to Hamilton Gardens; he will remain involved in the development of the new gardens in a part-time role.