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The Cultivation of New Zealand Plants

Chapter XI. — Native Plants for School Grounds — and Children's Gardens

Chapter XI.
Native Plants for School Grounds
and Children's Gardens

By far the most receptive period of life is the school days. Then it is that the good and the bad characteristics more or less latent are unconsciously developed or suppressed. The environment under which we live is a tremendous factor for our well-being, or the contrary. To be brought up under beautiful and healthy surroundings is assuredly of page 114immense importance in the evolution of a citizen. It cannot but harm a child to spend the long years of childhood in a school where the scene, day by day, is unlovely, or, at best, essentially commonplace. Yet, with what ease and how cheaply could the grounds of almost any school be made charming and instructive? This is certainly not to be brought about, as at present, by planting a row of the insignis-pine, or dedicating a few square yards to so-called experiments.

The actual planting of the grounds could be carried out by the children themselves, and should proceed gradually. The material, in some instances, would be to hand in what remained of the original forest; in other places, suitable New Zealand trees and shrubs could be procured from nurseries, or by gift. Any school could readily reflect the original forest-flora of its locality. And this, in itself, would be an excellent thing.

But why confine the decoration of the school grounds to native plants? This is a natural question which, in part, the preceding portion of this book should have answered. In further explanation, it may be said, that the New Zealand plants are veritable New Zealanders, nearly all being found only in this country. They had their origin in this land of ours; it is they which give the peculiar stamp to its scenery. And of what high quality are they? Is there any tree in the world quite the equal of the lordly kauri? What other flowers surpass those of the kowhai, the pohutukawa, or the white clematis? Where can better qualities for long endurance under adverse circumstances be seen than in those exquisite herbs—most delicate in appearance—and lowly berry-bearing shrubs which dwell high up in the Southern Alps?

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Now, in what follows, the primary school is alone considered. For what, then, is that class of school designed? Surely not merely to supply the rudiments of knowledge demanded by a "syllabus." Its higher function is the making of good citizens through the moulding of character, and the inculcation of obedience and love of country.

The horticultural improvement of the grounds falls into the two classes, of the decoration of the grounds, as a whole, and the children's gardens—the latter really a part of the former, since they must not detract from the general effect.

As for the children's gardens, the main object is æsthetic. They are not for the purpose of teaching horticulture, or agriculture. Still less are they for experiments. They are purely to introduce the children to the wonderful world of flowers and plant-form; and the more to impress them, the children are to become intimately acquainted with the plants through their own work amongst them. All this does not hinder the school collection of living plants being used for purposes of direct instruction. On the contrary, it will serve admirably for nature study. For what can be better for boys and girls than learning something about the plants of their native land and making them their friends? The love of trees, the value of forests, the reverence for Nature; and, not the least, the love of country, can sink deep into the minds of children from their school gardens of native plants, their very own.

The further decoration of the grounds plays its part in the scheme of instruction. First of all, there should be no curtailment of the actual playground. But there is the land along the fence-line; there are odd corners here and there; there are unsightly structures page 116which should be hidden; there are places where shade from sun or shelter from wind would be welcome.

The trees and shrubs to be used, and the number of such would depend, of course, upon the space available, and the conditions offered by the school grounds. It might be necessary to trench deeply before any planting was attempted. Then much could be learnt from the gardens of the neighbourhood. It is useless to get a collection of plants at haphazard, and so invite failure.

There seem to be a few trees which should have a place in all school gardens. Surely every school should possess its kauri, and possibly its totara. Then there are those ultra-aristocrats which belong to genera restricted to New Zealand, a few of which have only the one species. Such are the putaputawheta (Carpodetus serratus), the whau (Entelea arborescens) and the waiuatua (Rhabdothamnus Solandri), but the last two are only half-hardy. Then come the purely New Zealand genera, with only two or three species, e.g., Hoheria (the lacebarks)—easy to cultivate and rapid growers—and Corokia, with its three charming, readily-grown species (see Chap. IV.).

Along the fence-line could go a row, or better, two or three rows, of the smaller quick-growing trees, which might include the tarata (Pittosporum eugenioides) with shining leaves and yellow blossoms, the three species of Hoheria; the lowland ribbonwood (Plagianthus betulinus), if the soil is good enough, for it grows naturally on rich river-flats; the yellow kowhai (Edwardsia microphylla), gorgeous when in flower but graceful at all times; the ivy-tree (Nothopanax arboreum), really a relative of the ivy; the mountain southern-beech (Nothofagus cliffortioides), and the mahoe (Melicytus ramiflorus).

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Then there might be some species to illustrate that remarkable feature of the New Zealand flora—the persistence for many years of the juvenile form, and its ultimate replacement by the adult flowering stage. Elegant small trees showing this phenomenon in different ways, and easily grown, unless it be the last-named, are the lancewood (Pseudopanax crassifolium, var. unifoliolatum), the kaikomako (Pennantia corymbosa) and the Haumakaroa (Nothopanax simplex). Certain climbing-plants are suitable for draping some of the trees, or hiding ugly objects. For the latter purpose the most effective, and rapid, is the Maori-vine (Muehlenbeckia australis). Where hardy, the New Zealand passionflower (Tetrapathaea tetrandra) should be established. The lovely white clematis (Clematis indivisa) must not be forgotten; while, in any dry corner, the leafless clematis (C. afoliata) should grow readily. In the case of Clematis, the male plant must be procured, for its flowers are more showy than those of the female, but unless the latter is also grown the pretty feathery "seeds" will not be produced.

Many New Zealand shrubs are well-suited for school grounds. They are of distinct forms, and most flower abundantly. Of easy growth are many of the species of Veronica, Olearia, and Senecio. The extremely common manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) must be given a place, for it is one of the most charming plants of the flora. For other suitable shrubs Chapter V. may be consulted. Indeed, the lists of plants given here are hints more than anything else. Nothing would be worse than all schools following one stereotyped pattern, even could they do so. Bach has its peculiarities; each should have the plants suitable for such. Here comes in the skill of finding out what is best for the particular locality.

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Were our school grounds thus beautified they would be beyond reproach. They would be places of delight and of interest. They would bring back some of the vanished glory of primeval New Zealand.