A garden that celebrates the bonds between people and plants has been developed at Motukarara Conservation Nursery.

From the time they first arrived in Aotearoa / New Zealand, Māori people depended on native plants for the necessities of life – food, firewood, shelter, clothing, and medicine.

Nga Tipu Whakaoranga o Tutekawa garden.
Nga Tipu Whakaoranga o Tutekawa garden at Motukarara Nursery has been created in the shape of a spiral, representing life

A garden that celebrates these bonds between people and plants has been developed at Motukarara Conservation Nursery as a living toolkit for learning.

The garden has been named ‘Nga Tipu Whakaoranga o Tutekawa’ - which means ‘the plants that sustain us’, with a dedication to chief Tutekawa, who lived at Waihora.

The concept of the garden was inspired by a web data-base compiled by Sue Scheele of Landcare Research. The help, knowledge and aroha of the people of Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke (Rapaki) was instrumental in the garden's creation.

The garden features several native plants used by Canterbury Māori, which still retain their cultural significance today. The garden forms a koru, reflecting the continuity of life.

Several varieties of harakeke feature in the garden, each selected and grown for their particular qualities. From everyday objects to finely woven high-class garments, flax was worked in different ways; split green leaves were plaited for ropes and fishing nets, sandals, disposable kete and platters for serving food. Dressed fibre (whitau) of various qualities was woven into clothing, floor mats, and kete, bindings for wounds and splints and baby napkins and sanitary napkins lined with soft moss. The traditional skills and customs associated with tending harakeke and preparing its fibres are still practiced by skilled Māori women weavers today.

Ti kouka, or cabbage trees, are a familiar sight on the Canterbury Plains and foothills. Named ti kouka groves would mark significant places on the network of trails that traversed the plains and foothills.

Ti kouka featured in creation stories and ancestral legends as well as being a highly regarded source of food, fibre, and medicine. Throughout Canterbury, ti kouka trees were regularly harvested for food. The growing tips or leaf hearts were stripped of leaves and eaten raw or cooked (kouka); young stems were cut and steam-cooked in an earth oven to yield nutritious sugars (kauru), and rhizomes were dug, steam-cooked, or roasted over a fire (kauru).

The strong strappy leaves of ti kouka yielded a tough, enduring fibre, used for anchor ropes and cooking mats, bird snares, and waterproof rain capes and cloaks.

The garden includes several thematic interpretation panels which explore the use of plants for providing relief from minor ailments and injuries, as well as for scents, dyes and pigments. Scented grasses, berries, and gums were collected and processed into perfumes. Canterbury Māori people travelled long distances into the mountains to obtain one of their favourite scents - gum from the taramea/Spaniard plant. Dyes were also extracted from plants to colour fibres; grasses like pingao produced bright yellow, reds and blacks were extracted from tree barks like tanekaha and hinau.

There is potential in the future, to make the garden an active, cultivated site for the harvest and supply of native plants for craft needs, particularly plants that are special or not easily obtainable elsewhere.

List of plants used in the garden

For scent and make-up

Aciphylla aurea -taramea
Hierochloe redolens - kāretu
Microsorum scandens - mokimoki
Brachyscombe radicata - roniu
Mentha cunninghamii  -hīoi
Raukaua edgerleyi - raukawa
Olearia ilicifolia - hakeke
Pittosporum eugenioides - tarata

For medicinal purposes

Hebe salicifolia - koromiko
Phormium tenax - harakeke
Sophora microphylla - kowhai
Leptospermum scoparium -mānuka
Schefflera digitata - pāte
Melicytus ramiflorus -hinahina
Cortaderia spp. - toetoe
Pseudowintera colorata -ramarama
Acaena anserinifolia - piripiri
Macropiper excelsum - kawakawa 
Solanum aviculare - poroporo
Hoheria angustifolia - houhi
Myoporum laetum - ngaio
Celmisia spectabilis -tikumu
Coprosma robusta, or C. lucida - karamū
Rubus spp. - tātaraheka

For dyes

Coprosma linariifolia - karamu
Coprosma areolata -karamu
C. acerosa - tātaraheke
C. robusta - karamū
**Elaeocarpus dentatus -hinau
Elaeocarpus hookerianus - pōkākā
Aristotelia serrata - makomako
Tetragonia spp. - kōkihi

For food

Pteridium esculentum  - rarauhe
Cordyline australis - tī kōuka
Tetragonia spp.- kōkihi
Coriaria spp. - tutu
Anisotome hastii - pinakitere
Polystichum richardii - pikopiko
Asplenium bulbiferum -mouku
Fuchsia excorticata - kōtukutuku
Muehlenbeckia spp. - pōhuehue
Coprosma acerosa - tātaraheke
Rubus spp - tātarāmoa
Elaeocarpus dentatus - hinau
Corynocarpus laevigatus - karaka
Cyathodes spp. - mingimingi
Solanum spp. - poroporo
Aristotelia serrata - makomako
Typha orientalis - raupo

For fibre

Phormium tenax -harakeke
Cordyline australis - tī kōuka
Desmoschoenus spiralis - pīngao
Celmisia spectabilis -tikumu
Astelia spp - kakaha
Hierochloe redolens - kāretu
Cortaderia spp -toetoe
Schoenoplectus validus - kapungawha
Eleocharis sphacelata -kutakuta
Cordyline indivisa - toi
Typha orientalis - raupo

List compiled by:

Sue Scheele
Landcare Research, Lincoln
August 2004

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