During Matariki we’re invited to reflect and refresh not only in our personal lives, but in our relationship with the natural world too.
The nine stars which make up the Matariki cluster have stunned Aotearoa’s skies for centuries, its appearance used by Māori not just to celebrate the New Year, but to plan for the upcoming harvesting .
A bright and clear starry sky indicated crops could be planted in September, while a clouded sky with stars clustered together foretold a cold winter – signalling planting would have to wait until October.
Living in symbiosis with nature is deeply ingrained in te ao Māori. As we look for ways to revitalise the old while ringing in the new, why not consider bringing a native plant into your garden?
Introducing natives to your home can do wonders for supporting local biodiversity, especially with much of our natural wildlife at risk of extinction – and, as Kings Plant Barn St Lukes store manager Simon Andrews pointed out, they’ll do well in your garden.
Most native plants, Andrews warned, are best suited for outdoor planting. For the indoor grower, the asplenium nidus, or Birds Nest Fern, will be your best bet for a native which can grow comfortably in a pot, while also offering a lush pop of colour to your home.
The unofficial flower of Aotearoa, ferns and their feathery fronds can make a great addition to your garden, able to grow in shadier spots unwelcome by fussier plants. For Māori, ferns provided an abundance of uses, from kai to rongoā.
Coprosma can also make a suitable pot plant, preferring full sun to partial shade and offering a variety of different colours.
For larger pot growing, the dwarf kōwhai – also known as sophora ‘Dragon’s Gold’ – can grow up to two metres in a 2.5L pot. Like its larger tree alternative, the dwarf kōwhai produces lively yellow flowers beloved by tūī.
Flax, another easily recognisable endemic plant, can also be a great option for your garden, especially if you live in an area prone to flooding, Andrews says.
The plant can aid in stabilising banks and can come in a variety of colours, including the iconic olive-toned harakeke, or the kaleidoscopic green and pink of the Phorium ‘Jester’.
Or, you could opt for a Leptospermum ‘Wiri Linda’ or a Leptospermum nanum ‘Huia’, shrubs which produce appealing pink flowers that will brighten your garden over colder months.
The shrubs are best planted outdoors and can be an incredibly sturdy.
If you’re looking for a hedging option, Andrews recommends corokia, a popular choice with its starry yellow flowers blossoming in spring and a great fit for those living in a coastal community.
The coprosma can also make a great low hedge option, as can hebe, a small, low maintenance evergreen with a variety of white, purple, and pink flowers.
Alternatively, the Tecomanthe speciosa, or Three Kings Climber, is a vigorously growing vine that can make great coverage for walls and fences.
Wanting something bigger? The karaka, an evergreen which can grow to 15 metres tall, can be an impressive fixture in the garden and attracting kererū.
The stunning nikau palm, which Andrews says prefers to be planted in the ground, can also bring great birding opportunities to your home as the tree’s nectar is adored by many birds including tūī, silvereyes, and bellbirds.
Kawakawa, a popular medicinal plant in Māori culture, makes another great tree choice that can be grown in indoor pots with proper care. Its leaves can be chewed or brewed into a tea when you’re feeling under the weather.
If you’re keen on the Kiwi Christmas tree, the pōhutukawa, just know it can grow up to 25 metres high, with large spreading trunks.
For a low maintenance alternative, Andrews recommends the Metrosideros Tahiti, a dwarf hybrid of the pōhutukawa which grows between one and two metres tall.
The hybrid isn’t considered a “true native”, Andrews says, but it still produces those beautiful red blooms which have become synonymous with Aotearoa’s festive season.
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