The Christchurch Botanic Gardens are popularly portrayed, both positively and negatively, as an icon of colonial heritage. This paper explores the cultural, social and scientific functions of the Gardens in the 19th century, and argues that they did not simply support colonization. Rather, the Gardens were a site of negotiation, conflict and contradictory meaning. The aim is to show the colonial project, embodied in the space of the Botanic Gardens, as fraught and vulnerable, rather than as the extension of panoptic European power. © Journal compilation © 2009 The New Zealand Geographical Society Inc.