No-dig Noel

Don’t fancy digging, or aren’t able to, yet want a vege garden? Noel Peterson, who for many years gardened at the Envirohub at Tauranga’s Historic Village, may have the answer, something he discovered after an injury left him unable to dig his garden for almost three years.

“I thought there must be a way to grow things and on the internet found a video about American woman Ruth Stout [1884-1980] – basically she put mulch down and threw seeds on top,” he says.

“Imagine a giant with a huge shovel turning over the sod. It would throw it into utter chaos and take a long time to establish the natural systems again. What we destroy in a day by digging over takes years to regain its normality.”


Noel Peterson, pictured in 2014, in the Envirohub garden with a natural hybrid between a long marrow and a squash. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Seeing a trailer of lawn clippings across the street from his Greerton home, Noel asked if he could have them. “I spread them in circles, left them for a couple of weeks, made a hole in the centre of each one, put in a handful of compost and planted a tomato. I had 300kg of fruit off my front lawn that season.”

His “wall-to-wall” tomatoes the following year raised the ire of neighbours, he said, “but who wants mown lawns, concrete, roses and sprayed edges – a desert? And council officers have been very supportive of me.”

He started an organic garden at the Envirohub building in 2010 and 4 years later also had a couple of large vege patches, a composting system, worm farms and a seed bank – named Mahinga Kai (to work in the garden), his patch was designed to be a teaching tool.

The site at the bottom of a bluff was very wet so Noel started putting fresh grass clippings on to both build it up and in an attempt to control the kikuyu grass, a 2-year process.


Noel’s black gold – compost. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Noel learned how to make compost in the 1970s from Douglas Kaye, then in his 80s, who lived in 17th Ave. “He’d been making compost for more than 50 years and [in 1941] was a founding member of the Soil & Health Association in Auckland with Dove-Myer Robinson.

“He told me to be there at 6’oclock the next morning and to bring my boots. We were going to turn the compost. After a month of working there, he let me sit on the step and have tea with him – he said I was the first person who didn’t want something for nothing.

“I wasn’t being particularly successful using superphosphate and potash and Doug had a fantastic vege garden so I wanted to know more. He told me you’ve got to save every bit of organic matter and put it back in the soil – within a year we get a 75mm layer of compost from 150mm to 200mm of grass clippings.

“By using mulch you’re sequestering carbon and not disturbing that vital topsoil layer where all the biological activity is. Rich soils aren’t made by taking and taking from them.”

Any weeds that come up through the mulch are stamped down and Noel occasionally adds magnesium (Epsom salts), a trace mineral that’s lacking in our volcanic soils, and every 2 or 3 years lime to bolster winter crops and tomatoes.


Beans still fruiting well in March. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Noel recommends worm farm leachate as a ‘surprisingly good’ fertiliser and uses a ‘tiny amount’ of sulphate of potash when planting out seedlings.

Large-scale composting does, he admits, have its downsides, particularly the flies it attracts in hot weather. “I have heard the dressing it with lime will suppress the flies,” he says. “Rats, mice and hedgehogs will overwinter in the piles, but it’s not particularly a problem – it’s all part of the ecosystem. We all depend on one another, we shouldn’t see ourselves as being above anything else on this planet.”

He noticed that kale tends to attract whitefly so uses it as a sacrificial crop in summer when it’s too bitter to eat. The seed heads also attract goldfinches.


Parsley seed being saved for next year. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Noel, who stood unsuccessfully for Tauranga’s mayoralty in 2016, was a lifelong resident of the city, living next door to the Greerton house he grew up in, until 2017 when he headed to Bluff.

“My mother was from St Pancras in London and had no gardening knowledge, but she tried hard and encouraged me – I had my first garden as a 3-year-old growing Brompton stocks.”

His love of natural history has lasted throughout his life, sometimes under difficult circumstances. “I used to bike to Mt Maunganui and collect marine specimens almost daily for 2 years, looking through the trawler nets at the wharf.” But because he was continually truant, at the age of 14 Noel was taken to a welfare home – he was later found to have an IQ of 186.

Noel left school at 15, working for Eric Jones at his Longview Orchard, now part of suburban Bethlehem, before moving to Wellington for 7 years and a “dream job” of collecting for the national museum.

Returning to Tauranga with a young family, Noel “stepped back” into horticulture and in the 1970s also taught at the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, as well as living for 15 years at what is now Sydenham Botanic Park, working with horticulture cadets and the property’s manager Avon Moorhouse, and finally working for 25 years for the IHC.

Friday roundup

The 2018 New Zealand Rose Review is now available ($9.50 within NZ) and well worth a look. The publication pulls together reviews from various spots around the country – the plants are reviewed for 5 years before moving to the ‘final analysis’ section – offering gardeners some invaluable information before making a selection.

All seven reviewers – from Northland to South Canterbury – rate the white hybrid tea Pope John Paul II (released in 2006 by American breeder Dr Keith Zary) for its fragrance and speed of repeat flowering but three mention that a single drop of moisture will ruin the blooms.

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The cover shows Beach Hop, a new patio standard rose for 2018. Image: Courtesy of Hayden Foulds

All four reviewers (from Auckland to Otago) like the deep pink floribunda Caroline Bay (released in 2011 by Gisborne’s Mike Athy) for its floral display and good health, while two reviewers (of three) say the flowers of Tickled Pink (released in 2011 by Whanganui’s Bob Matthews) have weak necks.

The reviews also cover shrub roses, miniature and patio types and climbers, plus there are lists of favourite roses as chosen by NZ Rose Society members – Raspberry Ice has been the favourite floribunda for 26 years! An item of note on this list is that Iceberg has dropped off to be replaced by the Tauranga-bred Wild Cherry.

Paddy Stephens tops both the favourite HT (as she’s done for 14 years) and the healthiest rose lists.

Tauranga City Council is demanding $314 annual rent from Bayfair Community Garden, a group of volunteers who donate all their produce to the city’s Foodbank. However, one councillor is listening to the backlash and is now bleating (on her Facebook page, no less) that councillors didn’t look at who the 55 affected organisations were. They just passed the motion!

The Bayfair gardens run on the smell of an oily tag – and sometimes even less than that – and good on Jo Stock, the indefatigable co-ordinator, for not wanting to a donor to pay the rent. “It feels unethical to me to accept money from donors and give it straight to the council.”

Reports this week on studies in France reveal an alarming decline in bird numbers in farming areas – populations hit by large areas of monoculture (encouraged by EU policy) and a dramatic fall in insect numbers.

The Guardian article says that despite the French government aspiring to halve pesticide use by 2020, sales have climbed, according to EU figures.

“All birds are dependant on insects in one way or another,” said Dr Benoit Fontaine, co-author of one of the studies. “Even granivorous birds feed their chicks insects and birds of prey eat birds that eat insects. If you lose 80% of what you eat you cannot sustain a stable population.”

Whanganui Regional Museum curator of natural history Mike Dickison last year spoke to Jesse Mulligan on Radio NZ about how in the last decade or two there are many fewer dead insects on our car windscreens and in radiators and why that is. Listen to the 13-minute interview.

And if anyone would like to buy the Australian Landscape Conference, it’s for sale! Warwick and Sue Forge say this year’s event (March 23-27 in Melbourne) will likely be their last.

“From our first conference in 2002, they have grown steadily with the range of speakers, workshops, delegates and in many other ways. Attendances now range from 650 to 750 delegates from Australia and overseas. Overseas speakers tell us the conference is without equal anywhere in the world.”

I attended the last one held in New Zealand and the following one in Melbourne and can vouch for the quality of the event.

Kids, food & community

Jizzy Green was walking in Katikati with husband Mike when she came up with the idea of planting fruit trees in a public reserve so passersby could help themselves. “I expected the council to say ‘no’,” she laughs, ‘so when they said ‘yes’ I got a fright.”

At the time, almost 7 years ago, Jizzy was teaching at Katikati Kindergarten and had started taking the organisation into the Enviroschools programme and initially saw her fruit tree idea as part of that (the kindergarten achieved Green-Gold Enviroschool status in 2014).

It took 9 months of negotiation before Western Bay of Plenty District Council gave the go-ahead for Gilfillan Reserve to become home to the KatiKaiWay. “We thought wouldn’t it be great for people who don’t have citrus trees in their gardens to have them available here?,” Jizzy says. “Or for children who don’t have access to fresh fruit to just grab some and munch on it straight off the tree.”


Jizzy Green (right) and Elizabeth Rae. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Before council staff would endorse the idea, they asked Jizzy to carry out community consultation, primarily with neighbours. Feedback was “very clear” the KaiWay should be organic, which it remains.  A planting plan came from landscaper Hugo Verhagen, now of Turangi but at the time a Katikati resident and member of Permablitz BOP. He included beds of one plant, two plants, three plants, four plants and five plants, designed to help youngsters learn to count.

The Fairview Rd kindergarten, a 5-minute walk for small legs from the park, has been behind the KaiWay from the beginning – mums painted a boundary fence and parents and children collected trash before the first 24 trees were planted in 2012.

“Two days after we planted the trees, about five feijoas were removed,” Jizzy says. “So the next year we bought extra feijoas and advertised that anyone who came to help plant could take one home for free.”

Jizzy, who was born in South Africa, has lived in New Zealand for 23 years, 14 of those in Katikati. Although she took 2016 off for health reasons, Jizzy stayed in touch with the KaiWay and last year was keen to renew her involvement.

Elizabeth Rae, a long-time member of the Tree Crops Association, is now supervising the project – both she and husband Bill, who also lends a hand on the KaiWay, have been chair for the local Tree Crops group, while Bill is coming into his fourth year as national chairman.


Kindy weeders get to work. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Fruit available along the KaiWay includes lemons, oranges, mandarins, tangors (mandarin-orange cross), persimmons, feijoas, plums, Chilean guavas and blueberries, as well almonds, a walnut tree and rhubarb. Generally, the fruit trees are of several varieties for a longer cropping season. “Basically, it’s what grows well in the area and what people like,” Elizabeth says.

Trees have also been lost – a nashi contracted fireblight and an almond silverleaf, several citrus were destroyed by vandals and the replacement nashi was stolen as soon as it went in. “We’ll persevere,” Elizabeth says.

The KaiWay has proved beneficial to the reserve and surrounding homes – increased foot traffic has seen problems such as broken glass and tagging decrease markedly – and on the day NZ Gardener visited with a kindy group, the children immediately zeroed in on litter, begging to collect it.


Miles of orange smiles from Katikati Kindergarten weeders. Photo: Sandra Simpson

People carrying out community work sentences have spread mulch and kindergarten head teacher Cushla Scott hopes the council will offer more such opportunities. “It’s many hands making light work.”

Because the kindergarten now has many more younger children on its roll, weeding trips  aren’t as frequent but groups still help at the KaiWay and late in 2016 were present for the installation of information signs designed by teacher Donya Feci and made by the local Men’s Shed.

It was hoped the project would be taken on by the wider community and although this hasn’t happened yet, the kindergarten continues to pursue that end.

“The KaiWay initiative was our way of trying to educate the community about things we teach at the kindergarten,” Cushla says. “Things like knowing where your food comes from, taking care of it as it grows and showing respect to the soil. They’re important lessons for us all.”

Teachers and children at the kindergarten don’t just talk about sustainability, they practice what they preach every day.

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Kindergarten head teacher Cushla Scott picks lettuce leaves from the kindy’s garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“It all works so well,” Cushla says. “We grow our own food from heritage seeds, we recycle, compost, have a worm farm, collect rainwater, have no-waste water use and being an EnviroSchool means all our purchasing is done through a green lens.

[March 21 update: The kindy has become the first school in the Bay of Plenty to be awarded the Beyond Green-Gold status recognising its commitment to the environment.]

“We have lots of testimonials that the kids are taking it home and teaching their parents and grandparents! Our next learning step is to save seed from our vege garden.”

The playground features a custom-made adobe and wood area for imaginative play (including a ‘hobbit house’ with a living roof), as well as a custom-made ‘challenging play’ area. A child-sized maimai looks on to bird feeders and a bird bath in a quiet corner.

Re-useable food wraps, made locally, are sold at the kindy as part of the ‘litterless lunchboxes’ campaign. Also on sale are natural toothbrushes, fire bricks made from recycled paper, plant seedlings and ‘worm wine’ made from the kindy’s worm farm. The kindergarten is also involved in a plan to make Katikati an Envirotown.

Weeding takes place at the KatiKaiWay on the first Friday of the month from 9am-noon, all welcome. Meet at the Gilfillan Dr entry.

This article first appeared in NZ Gardener and is published here with permission.

Concept Garden in the flesh

The Concept Garden, the newest garden at the Hamilton Gardens complex, opened in February and forms part of the Fantasy Garden collection.

The first step is to enter the garden – and what fun! A Narnia-ish giant, yellow wardrobe blocks the way. Approach the doors, though and motion sensors will start opening them.

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How do we get into the new garden? Photo: Sandra Simpson

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Through the back of the wardrobe of course! Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Concept Garden has been partly inspired by two Maori proverbs (whakataukii):

He peke tangata, apa he peke titoki … The human family lives on while the branch of the titoki [tree] falls and decays. One interpretation of this proverb is that as the population grows the land uses depicted in the garden grow at the expense of special trees, environments and waterways.

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Maori traditionally smeared the dead with kokowai (red ochre) to give them a high status – the trunks of the titoki trees in the garden have been painted with ochre as a mark of distinction. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Whatungarongaro te tangata toituu te whenua … As man disappears from sight, the land remains.

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The steel pipe will gradually rust away, so demonstrating the truth of the proverb. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The other inspiration behind the garden was taken from the old New Zealand School Atlas and the small, coloured squares (key) used on land-use maps. Pasture is represented by grass, native bush by Muehlenbeckia astonii, urban areas by white Flower Carpet roses, horticulture by citrus trees, tussock grassland by Carex buchananii, coniferous forest by Pinus mugo, scrubland by Leptospermum scoparium (teatree or manuka), wetland by the native rush Apodasmia similis (oioi) and water bodies by the central pool.

Taller plants have been planted below ground level to create the checker effect.

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White Flower Carpet roses (urban) and Pinus mugo (forestry (foreground). Photo: Sandra Simpson

But what’s that over the hedge? An airship? We had to find out more.

The ‘Saucy Sue’ gondola and its paraphernalia forms part of the Huddleston airship, a steampunk-inspired piece of fun that apparently glides silently through the night delivering plants and pruning hard-to-reach hedges for the gardening team.

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Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Huddleston is in good time for the release of Mortal Engines at the end of this year, a movie co-produced by Sir Peter Jackson that will surely make everything steampunk perfectly cool.

Green wall aids recovery

A green wall in the reception atrium of Tauranga’s Kathleen Kilgour Centre is not only pretty to look at but also offers subtle benefits for those coming for radiotherapy treatment.

The building, which opened in 2014, is a public-private centre in the grounds of Tauranga Hospital and means Bay of Plenty people no longer need to travel to Hamilton for radiation treatment. The centre was designed by Wingate+Farquhar of Auckland with architect David Wingate suggesting the green wall to the centre’s managing director Mark Fraundorfer.

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Cancer Society volunteer Sheryll Buck holds the door for Helen Morgan, the Kathleen Kilgour Centre’s business development manager. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“To his credit, he jumped at the idea,” David says. “A lot of clients would say ‘it’s not necessary, just paint the wall green’ but Mark picked up on what we were trying to do. The  idea was that people would first approach the building after being told they had cancer so we wanted it to feel like a place of healing and remission.

“The wall, which is on the south side, makes the interior feel more natural when you walk in and it’s a bit more relaxed for the patients and their loved ones or supporters.”

The building, named for Mark’s mother who died of cancer in 1975 a short time after graduating with her PhD in English literature, has won several awards, including in 2015 a New Zealand Institute of Architects award for public architecture and a spatial design award from the Designers Institute.

The 3-storey, 70 square metre green wall was created by Natural Habitats, the country’s leading specialist green wall designer. It links the building’s glass atrium with workspaces on the upper two floors and on the ground floor is the entry to treatment rooms and the radiation ‘bunkers’.

The wall hooks into the building’s energy-efficient design – rainwater from the roof is used for irrigation, while solar panels power supplementary lighting that ensures the plants remain in peak condition.

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A bank of halogen lights (left) mimic sunlight for the plants. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“Plants are very calming,” says Graham Cleary of Natural Habitats. “We know they decrease the incidence of walk-outs by 75 per cent – that’s huge when you’re talking about health treatments. And for the benefit of everyone in the building the plants are cleaning the air and pumping out extra oxygen.”

Despite the challenges of growing a sizeable green wall inside, there has been a “very low rate” of plant loss, Graham says. “Once a wall has settled in, which takes about a year or so, it’s a very stable environment.

“We’ve thought about colour in the wall too. As well as some plants with variegated leaves, there are times when there will be patches of flowers – red anthuriums, white peace lilies or purple streptocarpus, among other things.”

If bare patches do occur through plant loss, or even plants growing in only one direction, maintenance staff give neighbouring plants time to colonise the space, which often happens, or put in extra plants. The wall is maintained on a monthly basis with a scissor lift providing access to the upper levels so staff can prune and clip the almost 4000 plants, check on nutrition and for pests and disease.

Reports of the occasional gecko and weta being seen in and around the wall don’t surprise Graham. “They probably got in when we were growing plants on. Because we try not to use any noxious sprays for pest control they’ve been able to survive. Wetas will be cleaning up any dead debris while geckos keep down pests, which do much better on plants grown inside.”

David says the geckos are “a nice surprise” for anyone who spots them and that they add a little movement to an otherwise static planting. “They’ll take your mind off things for a moment and that’s all to the good.”

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View from the top. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Helen Morgan, business development manager for the centre says the wall in general is a valuable conversation starter between Cancer Society volunteers who greet patients, as well as a distraction for those arriving for treatment.

“We notice that people linger a little and admire the wall,” she says. “And with people coming for anything up to 8 weeks of treatment they will see changes in the wall over that time. I’ve been enjoying watching a peace lily flower unfurl day by day – it’s that sort of natural cycle that helps lower anxiety levels.

“The whole building is a work of art and after 2 years it is maturing in a beautiful way.”

This article was first published in NZ Gardener and appears here with permission.