Capital plants

Had a few days in Wellington recently, thoroughly pleased to be back in this vibrant, compact city after having to postpone this visit twice due to Covid-related reasons.

On an early evening walk I discovered some Doryanthes palmeri (giant spear lily) flowering away beautifully, tucked in just off Civic Square, itself now mostly a ghost space thanks to earthquake strengthening works.

Doryanthes palmeri is native to a small area in Queensland and New South Wales, Australia. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Once thought to be part of the Agave family, this slow-growing plant – which can take 13 years to come into flower – has since been given its own genus which includes just two species. Read more here.

A ‘ferocious’ lion guards a back entry to the old Government Building, now part of Victoria University. Flowering just inside the gate are rengarenga lilies. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rengarenga lilies (Arthropodium cirratum) are brilliant when planted en masse and the upright stems of white flowers are a common sight in early summer. They seem to attract slugs and snails though, so control is needed if a planting is to look even passable. Apparently, many are now instead choosing A. bifurcatum, which is less prone to snail and slug damage.

Its native habitat is rocky coastal areas from North Cape to Kaikoura and Greymouth in the south, which gives rise to another common name, the New Zealand rock lily. Read about the significance of rengarenga to Maori here.

Delighted to see that Chatham Island forget-me-nots are still doing well in street plantings in central Wellington. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Eight years ago I wrote about the Myosotidium hortensia I’d seen growing in a street planting in the central city so am pleased to report that not only are they still there, but some of them were showing off their beautiful blue flowers. Read the earlier post here.

This central city treescape includes metal nikau palms (left) and a daring ledge garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The view above caught my attention – a cabbage tree in flower (there were more in the vicinity), a ‘hanging garden’ on the side of an otherwise bland concrete building, and the capital’s iconic metal nikau palms designed by architect Ian Athfield. There are 15 of the nikau, which are 10m tall, and were designed as part of the Central Library project. The library closed in 2019 and is undergoing work for earthquake strengthening.

Tauranga’s heritage store

I was very fortunate a few weeks ago to be invited to join a group touring the Tauranga Heritage Collection at one of its storage sites – for anyone not familiar with Tauranga, we don’t have a museum, but we do have a long-standing museum collection! And, it looks like we will have a museum as earlier this year our commissioners approved plans for a new civic ;precinct, Te Manawataki O Te Papa, that will feature some form of museum.

But for now, and since 1998 when the previous museum at the Historic Village closed, everything’s been in storage, although not in stasis as items are still being donated and actively collected.

What we visited was a storage facility so everything – more than 30,000 things – is wrapped, labelled and safely packed away. However, curators Fiona Keen and Dean Flavell, do have out a few things of interest available to show visitors, plus the museum has a very cool sub-collection that is sent to schools who book it, and about 11,000 items have been digitised and are available to view on Tauranga Heritage Collection website.

This solid piece of rock is a very interesting specimen and known as ‘the peace stone’. It was split by a farmworker wanting a step for his house. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The final peace-making between Te Arawa iwi of Rotorua and Maketu and Ngai Te Rangi of Tauranga took place on September 23, 1845 at Otumoetai pa, after 10 years of bitter warfare. We were told the stone had been brought from Mauao and it is believed that the two chiefs each placed a foot on the stone, performed a hongi and smoked a pipe that they passed between them, thus sealing the deal.

The stone was donated by the late Alister Matheson, a local historian of some note, who had grown up with it on his family farm (originally purchased just 25 years after the peace-making), where it rested underneath an ancient titoki tree. To ensure the protection of the pa site on the land Mr Matheson sold it to the council in 2004 and in 2012 it opened as a public reserve. Read Alister Matheson’s own recollections of the site here.

Some of the items are old, some are newer; some have bigger stories and some have smaller, but they all have stories and all a piece of our story.

An embroidered butterfly on a cushion cover. It has been padded underneath the stitching to give it a 3D effect. Photo: Tauranga Heritage Collection
Gold silk embroidery of grapevines adorns these 18th century silk shoes. It’s thought the embroidery would have been done by the owner and then given to the shoemaker to use. Photo: Tauranga Heritage Collection

The curators put together a lovely illustrated booklet for this year’s Association of NZ Embroiderers’ Guild Conference in Tauranga. It was their second ‘Glimpses’ booklet, the first done for the Tauranga Arts Festival in 2019 that highlighted Maori artefacts.

A kete made of flax and ribbon wood bark. Photo: Tauranga Heritage Collection
Photo: Tauranga Heritage Collection

A mounted albatross head is one of the stranger things in the collection. The head – just the head, mind you – was gifted to William Soultau Pillans (1849-1915) by well-known ornithologist Walter Buller (1838-1906) as thanks for bird illustrations drawn by Pillans, a fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. This being the 19th century naturalist, ornithologists shot what they wanted to learn about and had the birds stuffed!

The family had it hanging in the house until after Mr Pillans’ death when his widow had it removed because she thought it bad luck. Later, in the 1970s a granddaughter, who was living in the same house and didn’t like the head, donated it to the museum.