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  • Claire De Guzman

Hidden garden at City Campus

If you’re looking for a bit of zen during a busy week, the Papa Māra Terrace Garden at City Campus could be your new favourite lunch spot.

This unique terrace garden sits on Level 4 of WH Building and is a space where staff and students can come together to enjoy outdoor gardening activities or use as a relaxing space away from the busy city centre.

Papa Māra is a passion project, and the space has been the pride and joy of many staff and students, who have maintained and added to the garden for more than a decade. In Semester Two of 2013, Senior Lecturer Suzanne Bliss and five students from the Diploma of Culinary Arts Applied Project, set up worm farms and a herb garden, funded out of the AUT sustainability budget. The herbs were grown in cut down wheelie bins, many of which are still used in the garden now.

“The terrace on Level 4 was completely enclosed with the building of WG. We saw it as a great opportunity to develop a dead space into a unique experience and resource for AUT staff and students consistent with our values of education, sustainability, and wellbeing,” says Suzanne.

Unfortunately, a few years later, the garden fell into disarray after the WG building fire in December 2018, with consequent repairs restricting access to the space. The garden, overrun with alpine strawberries, was resurrected in Semester Two 2019 by another five Applied Project students, who also helped put in three Vegepods (raised garden beds).

In 2020 a further three Vegepods, funded by the School of Hospitality and Tourism, were added. Then during the COVID Lockdown, Culinary Arts lecturers donated their unspent professional development funds to put in place the structural elements in the garden. This included macrocarpa framed Vegepods and planter boxes, plus a pergola providing opportunities to explore the use of vertical growing space, a green house, and hydroponics table.

In 2021 the Culinary Arts Department hosted a breakfast event to officially name and bless Papa Māra, at the commencement of their first Culinary Arts & Gastronomy Winter Series. The naming of the garden was reflective of the remnants of Māori communal terraced gardens on north-facing slopes around Tāmaki Makaurau.

The garden now houses a range of fruits and vegetables including passion fruit and grape vines growing up over the pergola, beans, tomatoes, banana palms, eggplants, and a wide variety of herbs, with produce being used in the teaching kitchens. There are even tables, chairs, a market umbrella and BBQ, making it a perfect spot for staff events or meetings. “I am very proud of what everyone has achieved and the improvements that have been made, and continued to be made, to Papa Māra over the years,” says Suzanne.

Head of Sustainability, Lucy McKenzie, says Papa Māra is a great example of an initiative that incorporates teaching, sustainability, and staff and student wellbeing, as well as offering some delicious produce. “The worm farms process food waste from AUT’s seven teaching kitchens, which contributes to a target in the Sustainability Plan to halve waste to landfill, and it provides a valuable growing resource for the fruit, herbs and vegetables in Papa Māra.”

Visit the garden

The garden is open to staff and students Monday to Friday 8:00am – 4:00pm and is accessible from Level 4 of WH Building. Tools and gloves are in the greenhouse if people would like to engage in a bit of garden maintenance. Staff can even hold meetings, events, and classes in this space.

Garden club

Suzanne is currently looking at reestablishing the garden club. If you are interested in engaging with the garden, sharing your time, knowledge and expertise, or producing some lovely plant-forward food for a shared lunch box, please contact to request the regular Papa Māra newsletter.

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