This week is Conservation Week and the local Department of Conservation office has arranged some fun activities out at Mount Holdsworth, including frisbee golf and geo caching. If you are unfamiliar with the latter sport/activity it is sort of like hi-tech hide-and-seek, with treasures secreted away at GPS locations.
You might be wondering what such activities have to do with gardening - apart from all the above being great fun of course. The answer is - an awful lot actually. The DOC officers are also offering a couple of walks - one along the banks of the Atiwhakatu River and the other up the Gentle Annie track up to Rocky Lookout, and if you are looking for gardening inspiration you could do worse than take the time to partake in one of these strolls.
I try to battle my way up to the top of Mount Holdsworth a couple of times each year, partly for exercise but also because the varying gardens you pass through are a constant source of inspiration.
Let’s assume you have a small garden and cannot think of establishing a piece of suburban beech forest, and you are going to think more about some of the smaller growing plants you will find on your trip in the forest. One of the first plants you are likely to see is the stunning white flowering native iris, Libertia. These are great plants for the home garden, coping with varying amounts of shade and flowering with abandon usually. I am fond of the graceful L. grandiflora which has more arching leaves and large flowers. The more common L. ixioides has stiffer leaves and smaller flowers, but it seems to cope better with full sun. There are a number of yellow coloured forms of this species that are worth growing for their foliage alone.
Just once I found a nice clump of the diminutive L. pulchella growing on a damp bank just this side of Rocky Lookout. It only grows about 100mm high, but spreads widely when it is happy in a moist site. This is available from specialist nurseries - the other types are much more commonly found in garden centres.
Among the other herbaceous plants to be found at lower levels on the mountain are lovely blue berried turutu, Dianella nigra. At this time of the year this plant will be looking a little like a small flax, with arching green leaves. It will soon have tiny white flowers are followed by bright blue berries in summer. These are usually deep blue but I have seen some light blue forms in the forest at Mount Holdsworth.
One of the most common ferns growing in association with Dianella is the stunning Crown Fern, Blechnum discolour. I think this makes one of the most amazing garden-like scenes on the mountain, as it appears in large clumps at various along the tracks, looking like a garden carefully constructed by a high priced landscape consultant. The fronds are dark green but at this time of the year the new young fronds are starting to unravel, their lighter and brighter stems looking like a cluster of flowers in the centre of the fern. The fronds can grow up to a metre long, and when well suited the plant will eventually form a small trunk.
I think this looks at its best when it is massed planted under trees, just the way it grows in the wild. It is often available in smaller grades making it economically feasible to be used in this manner. I even have a cluster of them growing among my iris seedlings in the shade of a Magnolia tree.