Notes from Gahnia Grove

From time to time we feel moved to describe what we are seeing in our single-handed restoration project “Gahnia Grove“, covering about half a hectare of regenerating wild kauri forest along and below the Glenfield Rd margin of Eskdale Forest.

The site has three major sections – Tanekaha Ridge, Rimu Ridge, and Gahnia Grove-the-original-2018-roadside-site, in June 2018 almost nothing but vine, shrub and tree weeds with uncontrolled kikuyu tangled in honeysuckle and blackberry,

Honeysuckle smothering native forest edge

so that area was the most urgent, and made the most difference to the survival of the forest hidden behind it – see below:

At random, then, these notes from a visit last week to “Flame Tree Bank”, visible from the roadside just uphill from the strawberry stand:

Plant species diversity beginning to increase on Flame Tree Bank

Flame Tree Bank is part of the initial 2018 Gahnia Grove restoration project. It comprises the slope around the big stand of Flame, or “Coral”, trees, from the edge of the forest canopy, uphill to the recreational mown kikuyu area bordering Glenfield Rd, nearly opposite the petrol station.

In 2018 Flame Tree Bank was completely dominated by environmental weeds. The entire tangled mess, on a steep slope above regen kauri forest margin, was (and remains) overhung by invasive Flame trees. One or two trees planted in 1999 has spread through suckering and falling branches, becoming over 30 trees, most of them now occupying space in the canopy of regenerating kauri forest.

After a request to Council for intervention when we initiated our restoration of a section of forest margin we called Gahnia Grove, these trees were expected to be controlled by arborism.

Above: Flame Tree Bank in May 2018, with Elephant’s Ear, Arum lily, Cape Honey Flower, honeysuckle and Tradescantia, and kikuyu in the foreground

Below: Jan 2019: after honeysuckle was controlled by uprooting it wherever it was easy, and rolling it up, invasive bindweed took over.

The planned arborism would have destroyed or smothered much of any regen present by that time, so we did not attempt to maintain much weed control here till 2020, when it became apparent that there would be no Flame Tree control by Council.

( On the positive side, this meant the site was not subjected to the injection of poison prescribed to accompany the arborism. And over the years since 2018, necessity being the mother of invention, we have discovered we can manually control all but the largest trees, through partial breaking of branches and ringbarking of small trunks and lower branches, both of which procedures appear to have suppressed or slowed growth in the large trees of the smaller stands, while eliminating the small trees in the forest itself).

So in 2018-19 on Flame Tree Bank we controlled only honeysuckle, bindweed, ginger, Alocasia, Arum, moth plant, extensions of Flame Tree invasion, and kikuyu, allowing the more benign weeds including Tradescantia to maintain ground cover and suppress spread of environmental weeds.

Above: The second image shows Flame Tree Bank in October 2021, after control of vine and shrub weeds, with only a few wild native plants (shrubby toatoa and karamu) emerging so far among the ground-covering weeds .
(The top half of the cabbage tree on the right was knocked off by a falling Flame Tree in 2020, so it is now half the size, and has grown a new head)

During hundreds of explorations and interventions, only 12 wild native plant species were observed on this bank from 2018-2023. In addition to the wild regen, only a dozen or so 10cm H nikau seedlings were planted.

The new wild native species seen were very young seedlings released from Tradescantia in 2019

Karamu seedlings in thinned Tradescantia
Ti kouka seedlings released from Tradescantia

and later dying (due to natural attrition or drought). These seedlings were ti kouka/cabbage tree, karamu, and a few kahikatea.

The forest canopy edge down the bank had been released from Tradescantia in late 2018, and the same species of seedlings were found beneath Tradescantia regrowth in 2019:

Karamu seedling and moss in thin Tradescantia regrowth on vertical bank

This week, under the shelter of the rapidly developing regen spreading from the boundary of Flame Tree Bank top with the adjacent Cape Honey Flower (CHF) Bank top, we found:

  • a single mapou seedling
  • a single Pteris tremula sporeling
  • 2 Hebe (Veronica stricta) seedlings
Hebe seedling

and several Carex lambertiana – with more karamu seedlings, which have become common on Flame Tree Bank since 2022.

Juvenile Carex lambertiana, released Jan 2024 from Tradescantia regrowth and creeping buttercup

These 4 modest finds are all well-situated among 2-3 year-old native regen on likely to be overtaken by weed, drought or flood, not extraordinary or even of note in other situations, are very significant here.

A very weedy site gives enormous rewards, through the contrast of ugliness, waste and destruction with the harmony seen in emerging native plant communities, and the lush growth in sheltered soil enriched with the composting weed material.

We hope to find time to present some other views of Gahnia Grove before, during and after the ongoing restoration.

Free container-grown plants for planting in Autumn

We have re-activated our little cottage nursery that supplied Council restoration projects and home gardens from about 2004-2006. Hundreds of native seeds fall and grow, even in our own little garden and gravel driveway, so we have been potting them up in recycled pots with roughly-composted wood chip mulch so our garden restoration clients can have free plants for planting season (or earlier if they have a loose soil and are prepared to water them…but Autumn is much easier!)

We are now offering 10-20 plants (depending on size), in a limited range of species – this year we concentrated on kawakawa, karamu, nikau and Carex – free with every 10 hours of gardening or habitat restoration, while stocks last.

We will look after the plants till autumn.

Here’s what they look like at present:

North Shore Wilds nursery plants, November 2023
NSW nursery plants November 23

Kawakawa fruit are beginning to ripen

Following the development of the kawakawa fruit observed in earlier posts, I noticed a few ripe fruit on the tree outside this dining room window.

ripening and unripe kawakawa seen through open dining room window

In summer kereru clamber in the taller branches of the tree, alone, in pairs, and one year with a chick, all within a metre of this window.

Fortunately for the kereru, who are far too trusting for their own good, a dog keeps the garden cat-free, and the dog can’t reach this part of the garden.

A low branch outside the window has ripening and unripe fruit overhanging purei (Carex lambertiana)

Above: a fully ripe kawakawa fruit, found half-eaten on the ground, discloses the many seeds within the orange flesh of a single fruit

The wood of the kawakawa is soft, easily pruned to keep this paved path clear.

Wild native sedges and grasses and moss are allowed to cover the earth under the tree, and the smaller plants are allowed to spread to fill the gaps between paving tiles, keeping out most of the dandelions, creeping buttercup and other weeds.

The native kawakawa looper makes holes in the kawakawa leaves.

These holes are said to correspond to the leaves with the strongest medicinal value, perhaps because of substances produced in those leaves in response to the caterpillars eating the leaves.

Another explanation is that the caterpillars know which leaves are the best to eat.

Either way, this 2 square metres of clay is cool and refreshing to look out on through hot summers, hosts a lot of wildlife, lets morning light play on the windows all year round, and, with fallen leaves and twigs mulching the ground naturally, requires almost no attention to stay beautiful and weed-free.

Cool summer evening gardening

One evening last week, putting out the compost turned into an after-dinner garden wander – a weed to pull out here, a “volunteer” tomato seedling to pop in there – and I realized this is how it will be for the rest of the summer, just like every other year; the cool stillness of evening and gentle sounds of roosting birds keeps me outside till dusk.

For this shade-loving gardener, it has already become too hot for work in the afternoons except under or among big trees.

It occurred to me that there may be people who would like an evening garden ecology assessment, learning session or even their weeding done, when they are home and can collaborate or advise.

For morning or evening garden restoration services, or forest restoration anytime, contact us.

Free native plants for your garden’s wild spaces

In the 5 months we have been working with some of our gardening clients, they have learned to recognise and make use of the wild native trees, shrubs and grasses that spontaneously grow all over the North Shore, from the soil’s seedbank from former forest and wetland, or from seed and spores brought by birds or wind.

In this time, even small areas of mown lawn, or gardens containing only the common non-native ornamental species, have produced a few tanekaha, rewarewa and kahikatea seedlings, lots of baby Cabbage trees (Cordyline australis), five-finger (Pseudopanax), Karamu (Coprosma robusta) and mapou, (often referred to as Pittosporum, though it is actually Myrsine australis), and numerous native grasses, sedges and creeping ground covers.

tanekaha seedling hidden among Clivia


Wild tanekaha seedling hidden among Clivia in a small garden of ornamental shrubs

Of course, those who are lucky enough to have a patch of native bush in or beside their garden, and some undisturbed areas of ground, have seen all kinds of forest species emerge and thrive, including native vines, ferns and orchids, and the less common “forest giants” like tanekaha, kahikatea, rewarewa and kauri.

wild karamu seedlings found among ivy and other weeds in a large weedy garden, a small area of which is now being restored to dense wild native vegetation

wild karamu seedlings on bermbank
wild rewarewa seedling among cut ivy under Norfolk pine

wild rewarewa seedling discovered while weeding under a Norfolk pine, now protected with some cut ivy and uprooted weeds

For new clients, or as a “stand-alone” service, we provide a 1.5 hour assessment of your garden’s potential for visual transformation and the recreation of diverse native pant communities, solely through plant identification, soil protection and chemical-free weed control.

Contact us or learn more about how we do it here.

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Michelle’s Bank-top Bush – Pigeonwood seedlings among the weeds

Our client Michelle has a large front garden on a slope above a quiet road. Around the edges of this garden there are several large exotic trees, and numerous smaller native trees.

Michelle in her garden – transformation begun

When we started working on this garden transformation, the fences on all three sides were overhung by ivy, which had climbed the fences and the smaller native trees on the other side of the fences, and about 10 metres up a large Norfolk pine. There was also some honeysuckle growing through and under the fence, with some remaining beyond our reach on the steeply sloping roadside berm.

Michelle loves walking in the local bush, and dreamed of enjoying some of that ambience in her own large garden. Once she learned it was possible, she became keen to create a shady little bush-walk by converting the lawn and weedy borders of an unused part of her own large garden to a mostly-wild native plant community, solely by weeding, protecting the weeded ground from trampling and desiccation, and nurturing the wild native seedlings that would arise.

lawn behind woodshed, with juvenile wild karamu in foreground

We set about cutting and uprooting as much as possible of the ivy,

oxalis and grass weeds uprooted and/or suppressed with pulled weeds and cut ivy from the fenceline

and cut, uprooted or suppressed the major weeds around the edges.

Weeds turning into rich soil, with a pile of cut ivy foreground left, drying until it can be spread as mulch
A wild mapou juvenile against the fence, mapou seedlings in the foregroundh, and (lower left) a remnant of a large clump of Agapanthus being successively suppressed then uprooted

Hundreds of tree privet seedlings in the borders were easily uprooted while the ground was wet during winter, and larger ones, along with other tree weeds, were suppressed with a versatile pruning technique that leads to the weed-tree’s death over a year or two.

foreground – a newly uprooted Agapanthus (left) and 4 or 5 wild mapou seedlings (centre foreground -yellowish leaves and reddish stems)

at the base of a large Norfolk pine and a young totara, (left) a wild Macadamia seedling being suppressed by pruning, and helping to suppress other weeds, including ivy and Agapanthus which were later uprooted easily

Many native tree seedlings had already arisen wild among the weeds, and were released over a month or so to provide the basis of the new bush garden. As is usually the case, karamu was the commonest wild native,

one of the many wild karamu seedlings found hidden by the invasive and very dominant Blue corn-lily (Aristea ecklonii – suppressed, top left and foreground – later easily uprooted)

but as the hand weeding proceeded over the next few months we also discovered many wild mapou and houpara seedlings, and several rewarewa.

Today we were thrilled to find two wild seedlings of pigeonwood (porokaiwhiri, Hedycarea arborea).

We have seldom seen pigeonwood outside of forest reserves. These seedlings have appeared in Michelle’s garden under a large Norfolk pine and young totara, with many species of trees and shrubs nearby, including those that attract birds that feed on berries.

There are no pigeonwood in this or neighbouring gardens, so a bird has fed on pigeonwood somewhere else, then come to Michelle’s garden to eat; perhaps the berries of native karamu, mapou or houpara (five-finger), or the exotic (and invasive) cotoneaster, ginger or Mexican fan or bangalow palms.

These two pigeonwood seedlings germinated among ground-covering weeds including Aristea ecklonii (Blue Corn lily), oxalis, ground-runners of ivy, kikuyu and Veldt grass. Fortunately we had suppressed most of these weeds a few months ago, leaving all the loose weed material as a thick mulch to rot those that did not uproot easily.

left of centre – the two tallest wild karamu seedlings under the totara and Norfolk pine, with cut ivy piled against the fence

Today we were able to uproot most of the remainder of the weeds, and used the newly pulled weeds to mulch a little more of the lawn’s weedy edge. The soil after weeding is a lovely loose loam, full of composted weeds and lawn clippings, making a seed-bed that will support many more seedlings.

However, the soil surface is drying out fast now the prolonged rainy period is over, so we placed handfuls of weed-material around each of the native seedlings, and shaded small seedlings and bare soil (potential seedbeds) with the woody ivy branches which had been cut and piled over the last few months.

The leaves still hanging from the cut ivy branches provide a scattered partial shade, and the woody branches will keep their shape well into summer, providing a “tent-frame” over which other plant materials can be hung once the ivy leaves fall from their branches.

a karamu seedling found wild elsewhere in the garden has been transplanted here in the rich, friable soil formed from decomposing grass clippings and weeds, and now partially shaded by some cut ivy

Not all seedlings survive, especially outside of the shade and protection of a compatible plant community. We hope to update you on the fate of these two pigeonwood seedlings in a future post.

Wikipedia has this to say about pigeonwood:

Hedycarya arborea, commonly known as pigeonwoodporokaiwhiri, and poporokaiwhiri[1] is an endemic tree of New Zealand. Found on both the North and South islands of the country, the tree grows to a height of 15 metres. The leaves are oval shaped with shallow serrations. Ripe fruits turn red and the plant received its common name back when it was assumed that the New Zealand wood pigeon particularly favoured them, based on observations of the birds eating the fruit. It has since been discovered that the New Zealand wood pigeon does not prefer these berries, and tends to eat them as a ‘famine food’ when better fare is not available”.

Availability for new clients

Chemical-free weed control for two of our major garden restorations has now been completed and those projects now only need monthly maintenance. This means we will have 8-10 hours a week free for an intensive start to one or two new garden restoration projects where some rapid transformation is needed in addition to the longer term transition to a low-maintenance outdoor environment.

Learn more about our garden services, what to expect, and how we do it.

Below: the narrow space between house and fence (1.5m including a paving block path, out of view in the foreground) has been transformed from kikuyu, bare clay and weed trees to native shrubs and trees that need only annual pruning to maintain access along the path directly beneath the windows, from where the residents can watch kereru, tui and songthrushes eating kawakawa fruit in summer.

Foreground left is a nikau, about 10 years old and a metre high. Each year for the next 20 years, one of its 2 or 3 new leaves a year will grow towards the house, obstructing the path, but in this seldom-used area it can be pushed aside, or if necessary tied back or even cut off.

Much later, it will present only a single trunk, and each year two or three of the leaves, canopying the path and surrounding garden from above, will fall to the ground and be carried down the back to add to the natural environment (and invertebrate habitat) under larger trees.

There’s nothing more splendid to watch from your kitchen table than a kereru feasting on nikau fruit an arm’s length away, but if the big leaves are not for you you could skip the nikau and just have karamu, kawakawa and smaller shrubs and groundcovers, such as the sedges (Carex lambertiana) shown here. A couple of seedlings planted here have multiplied themselves by both seed and division, and will continue to spread until they cover the ground without further intervention.

North Shore Wilds garden services

We started this business just before Christmas last year, encouraged by comments from people who have enjoyed watching the progress of Gahnia Grove, the restoration project in Eskdale Reserve which we began in 2018 for pleasure and for our own further research into the most economical way to control weeds and restore the plant communities native to this area.

Our methods of restoring or creating outdoor order and beauty are very different from what is commonly practised commercially.

For example, Phoenix palm seedlings quickly become deeply rooted. We never dig them out. The photo below shows two of them, each controlled within seconds by knotting its few leaves.

phoenix palm seedlings knotted

Learn more about what to expect, based on our experience over the year and the feedback of our customers:

More about dragon trees

There are some fascinating photos and information about their history in Auckland on the Auckland Museum website:

https://www.aucklandmuseum.com/discover/collections/topics/the-mystery-of-the-dragon-tree

We have not noticed – or perhaps not recognised – an adult dragon tree in the Kaipatiki area, and wonder where the birds are getting these seeds? Does anyone know of a mature Dracaena draco (dragon tree) in the Glenfield/Birkdale area?

Of course, the parent tree does not need to be close by, as kereru can fly up to 20km and back to feed. From our own observation, kereru droppings usually contain the undigested portion – eg seeds – from a very recent meal. But maybe dragon tree seeds take a while to be excreted.

Anyway we would be interested to hear if there are dragon trees growing in this neighbourhood…and if so, whether many seedlings are being found in the gardens around them.

Learn more about our chemical-free garden and forest restoration services, how we do it, and subscribe for emailed post updates.

Yuccas and Dragon trees grow wild in local forest edges

In 2018 we started to notice yuccas growing wild in local native forest reserves. The ones we saw were either hidden among native trees or inaccessible down steep banks or cliffs.

2018: Wild yucca tree growing on the Kaipatiki Road side bank of Kaipatiki Stream

So when we saw these unfamiliar seedlings near the Kaipatiki Walkway along the estuarine shore, we suspected yucca.

We found a larger group of them a bit further downstream. Having been assured by botanists they were not native, we pulled out some of the larger group.

To find out what they were, we had to do some research. It included watching those seedlings until they were larger, but also, unexpectedly, finding a few unidentifiable hard-as-rock seeds dropped by kereru in our own garden,

then planting and growing these seeds on in a pot until they could be identified by an expert. (The one pictured above was dropped still encased in its fruity outer casing, but we opened it and found the same hard seed inside).

Turns out they were the same new invasive species as the unfamiliar seedlings we had found on the Kaipatiki estuary … Dragon tree (Dracaena draco).

The following year we found, identified and uprooted a single dragon tree seedling in the youngest outer edge, still mostly manuka, of Eskdale Forest.

And the next year, two more…and a single seed, (with several bangalow seeds, under the growing myna roost…which may be relevant?)

We suppose we should not be surprised that the kereru, lover of the fruits of nikau, puriri, karaka and taraire, nowadays finds as many if not more fruits on bangalow, Phoenix and queen palms; and instead of a side-dish of tataramoa, porokaiwhiri or kohia, the kereru swallows … and delivers by air … the seeds that will become yucca and dragon trees.

This year we found a single seedling further inside the forest…under the taller kanuka, which have now successfully burst through the canopy of the naturally-dying-out manuka.

Not a problem for our local ecology as long as every corner of every reserve, including gullies, streambanks and cliffs, is tended with care by an eagle-eyed weed seedling spotter.

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