A neglected Tutukaka garden, designated to showcase native Poor Knights Islands' plants on the mainland, has been resurrected.
The Waerenga Tawhitinui (Poor Knights Garden) at Tutukaka Marina is a 2500sq m area which, over 20 years ago, then marina manager Guy Bowden created using propagated plants off the protected Poor Knights Islands to display the unique flora growing there.
However, after Bowden left his role at the marina to pursue his interest in native plants, culminating in Tawapou Coastal Native Nursery, the garden fell into neglect while an unfinished pou carving, custom-designed for the area, lay dormant.
That was until the now Tutukaka Marina manager Dylan Lease united with both Bowden and friend Hamish Clueard, who project managed the original garden, and decided to breathe new life back into the expanse. Between Bowden and his staff donating and planting, Tutukaka Marina management and local iwi, helped with funding from Creative NZ and a number of sponsors, the garden is now thriving.
"I'd been to the Knights a couple of times and noticed the plants there," recalled Bowden, whose parents were amateur botanists and environmentalists.
"I thought I'd start a garden of similar plants so started digging up this garden at the marina and got a big pile of rocks and it was quite a mess really but people got behind it."
Northland Department of Conservation was also impressed by the idea and granted a permit to collect plants from the islands.
His work carrying out weed management through DoC on the Poor Knights coupled with stories of a fire decades ago which nearly wiped out the islands' species, gave him an appreciation for the exclusive plants growing there and the need to preserve them. He accompanied a nurseryman to begin the seed retrieval and propagation process to create a seed bank on the mainland in the form of the Tawhitinui Garden.
Today the garden, which is maintained by the marina gardener, holds about 60 per cent plant varieties from the pristine Poor Knights, including pittosporum, kowhai and the Poor Knights lily. There is also the kawakawa plant, noticeably different to the mainland variety after birds deposited seeds adjacent with the two varieties now growing side-by-side.
"The Poor Knights' kawakawa has shinier leaves and doesn't get the holes in them like the mainland one," said Clueard, explaining that it too is a product of "island giantism", thought to be caused by the highly fertile soils or warmer surrounding waters.
Standing centre stage of the garden is a newly erected traditional carved pou. The Māori Pou Whakairo was originally started by fellow friend and Māori artist carver Rua Paul of Ngati Hine and Ngatiwai before the project stalled for 20 years. However, when the group of friends decided to resurrect the project, they contacted Paul, who completed the totem.
The pou stands as guardian of the plants and seeds of the garden and depicts three central images - the white bellied sea eagle, the sperm whale and a carved figure, Aorangi (the name of one of the Poor Knights Islands) - unique to the tribes of the Tutukaka Coast. It also features the giant squid and the floral imagery ascending the pou is the native plant Pohuehue Muehlenbeckia complexa, commonly seen growing on the east coast of Northland and, in particular, on the Poor Knights Islands, also well represented at the Tawhitinui Garden.
"The idea was to keep it authentic to the Poor Knights and we are aiming for it to have 100 per cent Poor Knights' plants," said Bowden.
"Hopefully it will help in raising awareness of the importance of these offshore islands in housing rare and endangered plants."
Lease said: "It was just a jungle and now it has purpose. It's been a real journey and it's ongoing. We're the gateway to the Knights here, the stepping stone, so it makes sense, that's just what's so magical about it."