In the field

November 23, 2017

Aside from my lecturing work at Victoria University, we also frequently carry out designs for Wellington projects, meaning that we regularly discuss the surrounding area’s distinctive plant communities indepth. I have spent many years exploring various parts of the region, and as part of furthering possibilities within our design work, Winston, Rob and I travelled to Wellington for a series of field trips during the previous weekend.

Due to the presence of a shrub that we regularly use for low structural planting within our designs (Melicytus aff. obovatus), Titahi Bay was an important destination on the Friday afternoon. I have visited this site several times, but despite being very familiar with the plant itself, this was the first time that Rob and Winston (pictured above at Titahi Bay) had seen this attractive compact shrub (the intense green band in the centre of the photo) in the wild.

On Saturday morning, we had the good fortune to visit a very beautiful coastal remnant on a farm near Wellington. I had wanted to visit this place for several years, and was therefore very grateful for the opportunity to look at the plant communities that occupy a broad, exposed gully and the adjoining hillsides in this area.

Although I have seen Hebe parviflora (pictured above) in many places around Wellington, I never fail to be impressed by the iridescent hue and rounded growth form that this particularly fine species generally exhibits.

As we wandered around the hills, we passed by countless plants of the distinctive form of Clematis forsteri that occupies Wellington’s coastline, some of which were in flower at the time (as can be seen above, left).

However, the main event was an attractive Pimelea that is particularly associated with this place. This low, sprawling shrub (which shares similarities with Pimelea mimosa, P. barbata and several other species) has a particularly bluish tinge to its leaves and pink fruit (which follow the white, scented flowers that are shown below).

The entire scene had the quality of a beautiful natural ‘garden’, with the informal structure established by wind-sculpted shrubs giving way to masses of white flowers from our native linen flax (Linum monogynum) in parts, and grading through to fine tapestries of low shrubs and herbs.

The final note that I will include from that impressive landscape concerns one of the more anonymous (yet nonetheless charming) details from the rocky outcrops. Despite not being used in the landscape trade, Festuca multinodis (pictured below) has been grown for a long time at Otari Native Plant Museum, where it forms a blue-tinged, fine-textured carpet beneath trees. On the day of our visit, the appearance of its straw-coloured flowers added to its quiet charms, and gave us pause for thought on how this little grass might contribute to future planting schemes.