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Christchurch has always been known as The Garden City, a tribute to its many green spaces. Today, when so much of the centre remains devastated by the 2011 earthquake, the parks are even more in demand, an essential amenity for all kinds of leisure activity.
Botanic Gardens, Christchurch - www.worldwidewriter.co.uk

Native cabbage trees in the Botanic Garden

The Parks of Christchurch

Riccarton Bush, Christchurch, New Zealand - www.worldwidewriter.co.uk

Walking through Riccarton Bush

On our first morning we walked across Hagley Park, the massive open space that dominates the centre of the city, passing the cricket ground and trees full of chattering cicadas, towards the River Avon (English place names proliferate here!). Beside a bend in the river was the Botanic Garden, where we wandered through the native plants section, past the rock garden and the formal rose arch. The garden was full of birds.

Mona Vale, Christchurch, New Zealand - www.worldwidewriter.co.uk

The landscaped gardens of Mona Vale

Another day we visited Riccarton Bush, a remnant of the primeval forest that once stretched right across the Canterbury Plain. It was as it must have been for thousands of years, the ground covered with tangled roots and parasitic plants climbing up the trees. We stopped by something that looked like a strangler fig and listened to the birds singing, hidden by the dense vegetation.

Then there was Mona Vale. The historic homestead was badly damaged by the earthquake, but the landscaped gardens are still kept in immaculate order, with rose gardens, fernery and lily pond. There are parks and open spaces wherever you turn in this city.

An Essential Amenity

Farmers' Market at Riccarton House, Christchurch - www.worldwidewriter.co.uk

Shoppers enjoying the morning sun at the Farmers’ Market

But the parks are not just pleasant places to walk in. They are part of the city’s psyche, places to be used by the community. Not just for sport, but for all kinds of events.

It seemed as if the whole city turned out for the Lantern Festival, celebrating the Chinese New Year, when thousands of brightly decorated lanterns were draped in the trees and around the edges of Hagley Park. And one warm evening we enjoyed an open air production of The Tempest at Mona Vale.

Riccarton House, another historic homestead, has a bustling farmers’ market, where people flock to buy local produce and to buy their breakfast, sitting on the grass beside the river to eat. Then there is the Sunday Market at Riccarton Racecourse, where second hand stalls compete with food sellers, children’s rides and the occasional busker or fortune-teller.

The Flower Festival

The Festival of Flowers was a part of city life for 25 years, an annual event in which the nave of the cathedral was lined with a floral carpet. It came to an abrupt end in 2011 when the earthquake struck just two days after the carpet had been completed. Today the Flower Festival has migrated to Cathedral Square, a different sort of event with floral art and live entertainment. As I listened to the schoolboy jazz musicians performing by the ruins of the old cathedral I reflected, once again, that this is a city determined to make the most of what it has.
Jazz band, Christchurch, New Zealand - www.worldwidewriter.co.uk

Young musicians perform at the Flower Festival outside the ruins of the old cathedral

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