Celebrating our native plants

One of the ways we celebrate our New Zealand environment is in our garden landscapes. I love the way New Zealand architects and landscapers have moved towards putting our houses firmly into their natural environment.

Getting the same effect in your own small un-architect-designed garden can be a bit more of a challenge. Landscaping with native plants is its own special skill.

The easy bit is getting the plants go grow. Choosing plants native to your own little bit of the New Zealand ecosystem guarantees plants that will flourish. Our own Christchurch City Council has published a wonderful series outlining the plants native to your bit of Otautahi.

Putting it together to create an harmonious whole demands creativity and a bit of understanding of the native ecosystem. Fortunately there are lots of books to help you out with ideas and information. We have a booklist If you want to landscape with New Zealand native plants to make it easy for you. Isobel Gabites lead the way in 1998 with a book which used natural plant associations to create designs for gardens. Many books since then have gone on to offer inspiring examples and essential planting information to help create the desired effect.

Think you need a lot of space for a native garden? Think again. What about this little beauty planted by the CCC gardeners outside the City Rebuild building on Lichfield Street (just behind the Lichfield Street carpark). It only measures around 3×7 metres and looks like a mini forest.

CCC native garden by City Rebuild in Lichfield St
CCC native garden by City Rebuild in Lichfield St

New Zealand’s Chinese heritage

When I was a teenager our art teacher used to take us on sketching trips to the museum. The idea was that we would spend our time sketching rather unattractive stuffed animals. It soon became a problem to extract me from the Asian Gallery. The beauty and sophistication of the ceramics and carvings there held my attention long after I left school.

However, they weren’t objects that I associated with New Zealand until many years later. What did Asia have to do with us who were so attached to the British Isles? It wasn’t until the 70s, after Britain cut the economic ties by joining the EEC (EU), that I began to appreciate that our future lay with our neighbours in Polynesia and Asia.

Then in the 1980s books by authors Manying Ip and James Ng again transformed my awareness – this time of the history of Chinese in New Zealand – with their readable and often beautifully illustrated books.

Our growing awareness of our own country’s history over the intervening decades and our understanding of our real geographical place in the world, has made us all a great deal more aware of China and what early Chinese immigrants endured here. This was a place where they hoped to find peace and enough money to help families trapped by poverty, famine and political unrest.Instead they endured lives of great hardship and put up with degrading prejudice. Initially wives generally stayed in China to look after family and later the Poll Tax made it almost impossible to bring them here, so many men remained single. At one time there were 4995 Chinese men in New Zealand but only 9 women. Making a life here wasn’t easy.

New Zealand was the first country to apologise to their Chinese community for the Poll Tax – a representation of decades of unfair immigration policies and prejudice.

SnakeThese days, snippets of the rich culture Chinese immigrants bring with them are beginning to reach the rest of the community, most noticeably in the form on Chinese New Year celebrations. In Christchurch we celebrate with a Lantern Festival  in Hagley Park at the beginning of March. However, New Year celebrations officially begin on 10 February and this one ushers in the year of the snake, apparently signifying a good year for science and research.

LanternsLanternsBeijing Opera masks

Whale watching in the Botanic Gardens

whaleThere is a whale in the Botanic Gardens!

I saw it at the weekend. It had attracted quite a crowd of people who were admiring it and wondering how it got there and how long it would stay.

The ducks and eels were not disturbed by it and a crèche of penguins were keeping it company.

The whale and penguins are part of the Festival of Flowers. This year’s theme is ‘burst of water’. The topiary animals are quite happy to have their photo taken, unlike the ducks that swam off at top speed.

The Festival of Flowers is on in various locations throughout the city until Sunday 6 March.