130+ years of cultivation
This part of Mataimoana | Mt Crawford has been cultivated by prisoners since the 1880s. The people who were imprisoned at Wellington Prison grew food for themselves and at one point, the animals at the Wellington Zoo. The garden grounds were originally much more extensive than the 1.1 acres we have today, including a significant farm site of 80 acres further down the hill.
Visit the greenhouse mini-museum
The mini-museum has a display of artefacts, found objects, and articles about the history of the prison garden and surrounding area.
History under our feet
The gardens and greenhouse were a significant part of the rehabilitation programme at the prison, providing native seedlings for the re-vegetation of the northern end of Miramar and many other parts of Wellington.
During WWII, 80 acres were cultivated. There was a dairy for milk production and the prisoners raised award-winning pigs. The prisoners built by hand the greenhouse, pond, terraces, and retaining walls.
Many of the materials used in the groundworks were sourced from the demolition of the Terrace Jail in Te Aro and the Mount Cook Jail. Other materials were sourced from the prison-run brickworks lower down on the hill. The bricks made there are marked with a distinctive broad arrow and the prisoner-made concrete posts can be found in fences throughout Wellington.
Mount Crawford Prison was temporarily closed in 2008 due to ageing buildings, but reopened in 2009. It closed permanently in November 2012, but we still find relics of the prisoners’ time here. Tools, milk bottles and even old work boots are part of the garden’s mini-museum.
The current greenhouse was designed by a returned soldier while recuperating in hospital and was built in c1940, replacing an existing, smaller greenhouse. The outside bays were filled with manure and compost, generating heat through decomposition that kept the greenhouse warm enough to grow crops throughout winter. Later they were used to harden off seedlings before planting out. The greenhouse was once fully irrigated.
Five unique gardens
The Puriri Garden
At the centre of the gardens is the puriri tree, a favourite of tuī and our members alike. It is the area that has been most consistently cultivated in recent years. It is home to a ShareWaste compost site, keeping food waste from the wider community out of landfill and continuing to enrich the community garden’s soil.
The Kauri Garden
The Kauri Garden is anchored by the established and protected Kauri tree, planted sometime prior to the 1960s. The Kauri Garden has numerous fruit trees underlaid by organically edged plots. Established using fill brought up during the building of the army and airforce buildings at Shelly Bay, Hugelkultur (building beds on logs) is popular in this garden.
The Terrace Garden
Hand dug by prisoners, and once the main garden, the Terrace Garden provides a very sheltered growing space. The lowest point of the Terrace Garden is a permaculture-inspired food forest, where we host regular pruning workshops. Under construction is a grotto to house a sculpture of the Virgin Mary. This garden has two access points to the Potato Path, a trail that runs through mature pines along the full length of gardens, and so named because of the abundance of potatoes that grow on the steep hillside, including purple taewa (potatoes) and other heritage varieties. Perhaps they were established when prisoners discarded old spuds. We certainly find a lot of their other refuse along this path, including broken greenhouse panes, tools, interesting bottles, and many, many boots, likely made in the prison shoe workshop.
The Spiral Garden
The Spiral Garden contains a dug earth sculpture in the shape of a spiral, created by guerilla gardener John Overton in early 2013 as a reflection of his own spirituality and the sacredness of the space.
The retaining wall beside the stairs leading up to the Spiral Garden from the Puriri Garden is made from pieces of broken up concrete from the exercise yard of the Wellington Women’s Prison formerly at Mt Cook, when the women’s prison was moved to Point Halswell in 1915.
The Pollinator Garden
The newest area to be reclaimed as a garden, the Pollinator Garden contains the ruined foundations of the Prison Superintendent's house and a small grove of Western Red Cedar. After his release, one former prisoner was so attached to this place, he was allowed to live on this site, in the garage of the house. Raised beds are used in this area due to concerns about asbestos-contaminated soil. Now home to a healthy colony of honey bees, their output is shared with garden members.