The Department of Conservation Kerikeri Shadehouse volunteers have just celebrated the growing of native plant number 100,000.
The plants have been raised by the team of around a dozen, who since 2000 have spent 20,000 hours on-site to propagate, pot, weed, feed, water and generally nurture pioneer and forest species.
DOC Kerikeri Shadehouse Volunteers
The photo on the right shows some of the crew: back row, from left, Richard Tamaho (systems), Mike Rowledge, Tony Holmes (cunningly engineered devices). Middle from left, Rod Brown (co-ordinator) Peter Summer, Jo Hill (seed sourcer and propagator), Anthea Goodwin, Brucie Kirkman, Jane Walshe, Shirley Meloni. Front row, Patricia Shields, Rosie Hajnel.
“We started off producing just under 4000 native plants in our first year, exclusively for island restoration,” said co-ordinator Rod Brown. “We have evolved to support a wide range of other community-based projects, including Project Crimson which sees the Shadehouse as a major partner in restoration of pohutukawa.”
Rod said that by 2004 the volunteers had built up to present production of between 15,000 and 17,000 plants per year, without a change in volunteer numbers. They put this down to experience as well as increased systems efficiency. Automated watering systems, rotating work programmes, species spreadsheets, and fertilisation tables are boosted by a cunningly simple ventilation system in the seed-house and an easy-glide tracking system for the shadecloth roof, both designed by engineer volunteer Tony Holmes.
Each autumn the modest 480 sq metre site is abundant with pioneer species including manuka, karaka, coprosma, pittosporum, flax and cabbage tree, and the forest species pigeonwood, puriri, kohekohe, taraire and mahoe.
“Unfortunately there are some plants we don’t grow,” added seed collector and propagator Jo Hill. “For example, miro takes three years to germinate, and we just don’t have the holding space. Several species, such as nikau, take a year to germinate, but interestingly the kauri takes only 11-14 days.”
The Shadehouse grows for community and Landcare groups from Te Paki to Waipu, including Russell Landcare, Takou-Were-Te-Mokai Charitable Trust, and DOC. When ready the plants are taken to whichever ecological district the seed came from and thriving clusters of bush can now be seen on the Waewaetorea and Motupapa Islands, on Motukawanui in the Cavalli group off Matauri Bay, and at Rangitane Reserve, Rainbow Falls Reserve and along the Kerikeri Heritage Bypass river track.
The Shadehouse also grows specifically for particular habitats, such as brown teal at Mimiwhangata and the flax snail at Te Paki.
The volunteers are now recognised as leaders in the region and regularly have calls and visits from community groups keen for the best advice on native plant propagation and planting.
Jo’s best tip for propagation? “Patience!” She recalled once nearly turfing out two trays of seed which didn’t appear to be germinating, and which she felt were taking up valuable space — the following week the trays were full of lush, green shoots.
As for their own gardens — “Mine’s completely neglected” — was the common response. All agreed however that the neglect was worth it for being able to help enrich the environment, and for the great company they enjoyed each week.