It was a bit like starring in a botanical episode of British TV’s Time Team. Keen gardener Suz announced triumphantly that she had unearthed a real treasure in the corner of our humble garden. A nikau.
Long buried from view under a cascade of smothering weeds and vines, this lovely native palm had finally been liberated, thanks to the help of half a dozen volunteers—all prepared to get their hands dirty in the name of backyard conservation.
Suz from the Kereru Discovery, had not only offered advice to us on how we could encourage more native wildlife into our suburban garden, but had gone the extra mile by helping arrange a weeding session to kick-start our efforts. So last Saturday morning a crack team had assembled – with gumboots and secateurs – to rid the section of the ubiquitous tradescantia and the swathes of black nightshade that had colonised many patches over years of gardening neglect.
The plan for attracting important bird species like the kereru to your garden is straightforward. Before starting to plant, you need to first tackle the weeds that can smother and kill low and mid-canopy plants and also prevent the regeneration of larger native trees.
Back to the task at hand, our volunteers pulled out and rolled the tradescantia up into bundles. It came out remarkably easily. We lost count of the number of wool bales (or fadges) filled with weeds that were loaded onto the trailer for disposal at the green-waste site of the landfill. Responsible weed disposal is a critical step – otherwise, with a little help from the infamous Wellington wind, you could simply transfer the problem to your neighbours’ properties or local reserves.
As the weeds were uprooted the transformation was dramatic and rewarding. We located our forgotten compost bin, and made it accessible. We spied two little skinks hiding in the undergrowth, a welcome sign that native wildlife is already present. A bellbird paid us a fleeting visit.
By early afternoon a whole section of our bank had been cleared. And we were even able to plant some miniature toitoi seedlings into the newly exposed soil. A task made easier by the discovery of another hidden gem (to excite any gardener, if not archaeologist): a perfectly functioning hose tap.
Common weeds found in Rosa’s garden
Tradescantia (also known as wandering willie). This shiny, white flowering groundcover plant comes from South America. Its stems creep and you can quickly end up with a mat-like plant that smothers everything else in its path.
Black nightshade (or Solanum nigrum). A relative of the more deadly belladonna, the foliage and berries are toxic especially to children – and we have one with another on the way. Best to remove this temptation form young fingers and mouths.
Old man’s beard. Grows to 20 m tall and seeds in candyfloss-like balls with small white flowers, can dominate canopies at any height and kill the hosts and plants beneath it
Jasmine. The fragrant, pretty flowers belie its ability smother all vegetation up to mid-canopy level.
Agapanthus. Personally, I quite like the look of these introduced purple and white flowering bushes but they produce prolific amounts of seeds that can be spread by wind or water.
Alternatives to plant
Creeping fuchsia or mouku/hen fern instead of tradescantia
Renagrenga (native lily) or NZ blueberry instead of agapanthus
Kaihua (New Zealand jasmine), star jasmine or puawananga instead of jasmine or old man’s beard.
Find out more at www.weedbusters.co.nz