Cuningham Glass House, Christchurch Botanic Gardens
It is warm, just a little clammy, and the sound of a nearby waterfall tumbling into a rocky pool below is all I hear as I close my eyes and close out the rest of the world. I breathe in the heavy air, thick with life, feeling it soak into my skin, enveloping me. My fingers fall on damp earth and glossy leaves larger than my own hands; for all I know I could be standing alone in the middle of a distant, undiscovered rainforest.
Technically I am standing in a rainforest but this one has a glass ceiling and children playing tag amongst the potted bromeliads. Built in 1923, Cuningham House (spelt "Cunningham" just as often) is a grand old glasshouse sitting proudly at the centre of the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch on New Zealand's south island. It was modelled on the Reid Winter Gardens at Springburn Park in Glasgow (which has sadly since fallen into ruin) and is home to a significant collection of tropical botanical species including carnivorous plants and orchids.
Christchurch itself is a city on the mend after the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 however the Botanic Gardens were relatively unscathed in comparison to the city buildings beyond the garden walls. The glasshouse was actually shut down for almost three years to ensure that it was structurally safe for members of the public to reenter, a happy consequence being that the permanent plantings went a little wild in the meantime.
I must have spent over an hour in the glasshouse, slowly wandering from plant to plant, enjoying the warm sun streaming through the soaring framed glass walls and ceiling, noticing something new everywhere I looked and feeling as though I had discovered hidden treasure.
Following the trailing bougainvillea, it leads me down the moss-covered staircase and under the figs and ferns, past the foot of the waterfall and out into the world again. The spell is broken but not for long: there are rose gardens to sniff, daffodil fields to frolic in and rows of giant sequoia to leave me in awe. I am Alice and Wonderland appears to be in Christchurch.