The benefits of native plantings

OPINION: There is a beautiful word in te reo Māori that sums up what we must all strive to be to reduce the impacts of climate change—kaitiaki, meaning a carer, protector, and conserver. By being a kaitiaki and caring for plants, as well as caring for our own wellbeing, we can help to conserve Papatūānuku, our precious earth.

A hand plants a tree seedling

A 2020 report in Science indicates there are no other current carbon drawdown solutions quantitatively as large in terms of carbon capture as tree restoration. It is bittersweet how now the restoration of our native flora is a way we can slow down the climate change created through our rush to claim and own the land.

Increasingly as we move to zero carbon initiatives in Aotearoa New Zealand and locally in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, programs around native tree planting strive to make a difference. Volunteer restoration groups, such as Conservation Wellington, Te Motu Kairangi – Miramar Ecological Restoration, Zealandia, and government agencies are putting in hours of work to transform Wellington’s landscapes.

Planting native plants rather than introduced species in urban areas has a number of other benefits:

  1. it provides or enhances bird, lizard, and pollinator habitats, and restores soils,
  2. by adding to the green infrastructure of the city there are cascading ecosystem benefits to our waterways and catchment areas, increased thermal comfort, and increased resilience, and
  3. participating in planting activities and adding green spaces to the city has mental and public health benefits.

An overview of research examining the effects of gardening and horticultural therapy on people’s health and wellbeing provided strong evidence that the effects are overwhelmingly positive. Planting native plants that were once naturally occurring in our urban environment can connect us to the past of the place where we live and contribute to our future. Maria Rodgers is undertaking PhD research looking at how celebrating our natural heritage in our urban spaces can contribute to decolonisation efforts and to place identity for both Māori and Pākehā.

At Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, students and staff have been working together to design and enhance wildlife habitat. In partnership with Paekākāriki School, Carles Martinez Almoyna Gual facilitated a participatory design project with the school community and Land 321 students. A set of several interventions were chosen and the first of these, a Pā Harakeke, will be implemented this year. It will include 17 different cultivated varieties of harakeke from around the North Island. The management of the garden will be part of the school curriculum and will establish links with the local marae and weaving groups. Local coastal plants will also be planted, and structures will be built for informal play, socialization, outdoor teaching, and school events.

In Trimester 2 this year, a third-year Landscape Architecture regional resiliency studio taught by Dr Victoria Chanse and Visiting Scholar/Morphum Environmental Designer Angie Campbell will focus on climate adaptive urbanism with design professionals from Morphum, Beca, Wellington City Council, and others. This studio project will examine potential opportunities in Wellington to re-envision how to make our public spaces contribute to mitigating climate change impacts, improve habitat for native wildlife and contribute to the overall health and well-being of city residents. For those interested, Beca’s landscape architect Craig Pocock will be speaking about zero carbon landscapes at the Wellington School of Architecture on Thursday 29 July at 5:30pm in LT1 at the School of Architecture at 139 Vivian Street in Wellington (this event is open to the public). The second year Landscape Architecture class taught by Maria Rodgers will be looking at how planting design can create memorial spaces, connect us to our natural heritage and remediate former landfill sites.

University students, staff, and alumni will be out in force at one of our volunteer planting days, called Growing our Future, on 8, 9 and 10 of July. Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington is working with Wellington City Council and Conservation Volunteers New Zealand to help restore native forests around the Wellington region. The project is called Growing our Future (previously known as Growing Graduates). This project allows us all to contribute to the region while offsetting carbon and getting the University closer our zero-carbon goal.

Dr Victoria Chanse is a Senior Lecturer at the Wellington School of Architecture. Maria Rodgers is a PhD candidate and teaching fellow at the Wellington School of Architecture.