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The Cultivation of New Zealand Plants

Chapter XII. — Native Plants for Town Gardening

Chapter XII.
Native Plants for Town Gardening.

Not only is it of supreme importance that the youth of a country should grow up under proper surroundings, but if the impressions stamped on the mind are not to be effaced as the years pass, then the mature must still live under a right environment. That this feeling is rife, is clearly shown by the present-day demand for the dressing of our cities in Nature's garb of trees and shrubs and flowers. So, in all the larger towns, there have been appointed skilled gardeners whose business it is to direct the public gardens, to make beautiful the waste places, and to hide what is unsightly. For the first time the public is beginning to recognize that the men into whose hands the horticultural adornment of cities is placed belong to a profession—this word is used advisedly—which demands a vast amount of knowledge, to be gained only by long years of practical experience and much study, combined with a strong love for the work and a keen appreciation of the beautiful.

Thus, it has come about that the cities are losing their unkempt appearance, and gradually becoming more attractive. And, from the standpoint of this little book, an especially pleasing feature is the greatly extended use of New Zealand plants. This does not mean that previously they were almost page break
Photo. C. E. Foweraker Fig. 23. The pyramidal tree in centre is the pauhau-tea (Libocedrus Bidwillii).

Photo. C. E. Foweraker
Fig. 23. The pyramidal tree in centre is the pauhau-tea (Libocedrus Bidwillii).

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Photo. C. E. Foweraker Fig. 24 A portion of that part of the Christchurch Botanic Garden, which is devoted entirely to indigenous plants.

Photo. C. E. Foweraker
Fig. 24 A portion of that part of the Christchurch Botanic Garden, which is devoted entirely to indigenous plants.

page 119neglected. On the contrary, the early 'eighties of the last century saw the Dunedin Amenities Society strongly advocate their use, and much earlier was the Armstrongs' collection in Christchurch begun. Then, for many years past there have been native plants in private gardens readily seen from the street.

Here, then, there is no need to respectfully suggest to City Fathers, in general, that the plants of this country should be freely used in their cities and reserves, and still less need their value be stressed in the case of the Directors of Parks and Reserves. All attempted here is to call attention to various attractive species not usually seen in cities, and to make a few remarks regarding certain directions in which the plants in question might be employed.

Foremost, amongst desirable species for town-planting, is the beautiful white-flowered small tree, Pittosporum Dallii, distinct from all its allies. It is true that it is not in cultivation in New Zealand at present, but its home is no longer a secret, and if there comes a demand for plants, or seed, it is certain that the demand will be met; so, too, with the excellent P. patulum. The splendid araliad, the puka (Meryta Sinclairii), possibly hardy in all the coastal towns, except Christchurch, is not grown to nearly the extent it deserves. Nor, in many cities can a kauri be seen, unless in a public or private garden. The elegant quick-growing Quintinia acutifolia is absent, yet it can readily be procured by the thousand in Westland; and the same with the lovely glossy-leaved Ascarina lucida. That especially lovely flowering tree, the tawiri (Ixerba brexioides)—a New Zealander of New Zealanders, the one genus with the one species—should certainly be a familiar city tree. Then the great tree-koromiko of Chatham Islands (Veronica page 120gigantea, see fig. 3), so easily propagated, must not be omitted. Its hardiness is assured, for a young tree has grown in Christchurch for eighteen years. Finally, a plea must be advanced for the more extensive cultivation of the puriri (Vitex lucens).

Where a city controls portions of the sea-coast, an attempt might be made to establish large colonies of the Chatham Islands lily (Myosotidium hortensia), (see fig. 12). The notable success at the Portobello Fish Hatchery shows admirably what can be done with this glorious forget-me-not. On sand-dunes plantations of Olearia Traversii would be a pleasing feature.

In many suburbs there are dry, barren banks. Such can be made delightful to the eye by planting a collection of medium-sized veronicas; in Wellington such are now well-established in a position which looked hopeless. (See fig. 17). Rubus Barkeri, too, is suitable for rough banks. (See fig. 1). On moister banks Veronica salicifolia var. Atkinsonii can readily be established merely by scattering seed.

The massing of flowering trees into groups rather than dotting them about, is most effective. In some cities the pohutukawa (Metrosideros tomentosa) is used in this manner, the groups being pleasing at all times, but a glory during the flowering season. Other trees excellent for grouping are—the kowhai (Edwardsia microphylla), the various lacebarks species of Hoheria, the kaikomako (Pennantia corymbosa), and the cabbage-tree (Cordyline australis). This has been planted as a street tree in some towns, but usually it is disappointing. Where hardy, groups of karakas (Corynocarpus laevigata) are most admirable. Finally, in suitable situations tree-ferns should be extensively used, especially the page 121rapid-growing mamaku (Cyathea medullaris) and the ponga (C. dealbata).

The hiding of unsightly objects is not the least important part of municipal horticulture. In Wellington, Brachyglottis rangiora is used with splendid effect. Where this is not hardy any quick-growing trees of dense habit, not inclined to be eventually "leggy" will suit, e.g., species of Pittosporum. Senecio rotundifolius is also suitable. Hedges can be used for a similar purpose, none being more pleasing than those of Veronica parviflora (see fig. 4) and Olearia Forsteri (when not subject to a gall), or Coprosma Baueri (where hardy). The strongly-variegated form of the latter is splendid if trained against a fence, or a wall.

For waste ground masses of Phormium tenax may be rapidly established, no matter how poor the soil. Where exposed to much wind the ngaio (Myoporum laetum) is suitable. Cordyline australis, in masses, as already mentioned, is very good. C. indivisa unfortunately rarely does well in cities, but C. Banksii is capital for slightly shady banks.

At the present time various species of the genera Veronica, Olearia and Senecio are grown very largely in cities, owing, not merely to their intrinsic value, but because they can be so readily raised from cuttings. No one can deny that they are beautiful and effective; indeed, they are perhaps the best New Zealand shrubs, but the ease with which they can be propagated may eventually lead to their use being overdone. This would result in the neglect of many shrubs which should occupy an important position in our cities, e.g., the broad-leaf, the ramarama, Coprosma grandifolia, C. robusta, C. lucida, Geniostoma ligustrifolium, Melicope ternata, Lepto-page 122spermum ericoides, Nothopanax arboreum, N. Colensoi, Dracophyllum longifolium, Carmichaelia odorata, Corokia macrocarpa, Hymenanthera chathamica, Gaya ribifolia, G. Lyallii, Cassinia albida, etc. Mixed shrubberies of this class of shrubs, and low trees, are very effective. Over them the various species of Clematis may be allowed to wander and the glossy-leaved New Zealand passion-flower. Much more could be written regarding the capabilities of our plants for town-gardening, but enough should have been said to show the reader the importance of New Zealand trees and shrubs in this direction.

In all that has been said in this Chapter, and throughout this book, in favour of using New Zealand plants for gardens, public and private, and for city decoration, it must not be thought that the introduction and planting of exotics is decried. On the contrary, would that our city reserves were veritable arboreta, and that in our gardens the horticultural flora of the entire world was represented to the full. But, though this book is principally a guide to the cultivation of New Zealand plants, it also strongly urges their more extensive use.

Our horticulture is largely a reflection of that of the Old World which has developed, hand in hand, though lagging somewhat, with geographical exploration. The fairly old amongst us, who have been interested in horticulture all our lives, can remember the coming of many Japanese plants, and the end of the great invasion of the pines of western North America. Even now we are witnessing the final onslaught by the host of trees, shrubs and flowers from the mighty Alps of western China. Shall this foreign plant-population, this great cosmopolitan army, make our gardens, parks and promenades altogether its own?

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Shall not rather our fast-vanishing trees, round which circle the legends and poetry of the great Maori race, and whose history is bound up with that of the solid land on which they grow, come back into their own, and take that foremost place which is their right?