Mass planting effort establishes Rongoā at Pourewa Hub

Rob Small, the māra kai’s curator, gives a pre-planting briefing. Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei leaders Etienne Neho (māra kai) and Wendy Watts (plant nursery) are behind on left 
Lots of willing hands 
Malcom Paterson and two sons Taimaro and Davin help out with digging hole for Rāta
Brothers Taimaro and Davin Patterson with the Rātā they planted. 
Kawakawa trees planted in a grove. 
Rachel Waretini and her three daughters helped out on the day. Rachel and her daughter Te Aorangi
Rachel's other daughters Tyra and Hinewai
Gillman Whānau on kai duty: Reihana Gillman (back) and his niece Keira 
A waiata sung by a group from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa lifts workers’ spirits 
Margaret Voyce (Ōrākei Local Board) 
Kim Elliott (EBSP) and Sarah Powrie (Ōrākei Local Board) 
Eastern Bays Songbird Project giving out free traps and advice

Willing hands made light work of planting a thousand plants, shrubs and trees on Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei’s Pourewa Valley land beside Kepa Road on Saturday, July 22. The plants — all natives — will form a māra rongoā to supply ingredients for traditional Māori medical treatments. 

Under the expert guidance of the māra kai’s Curator, Rob Small, a volunteer workforce of  120 men, women and children from Ngāti Whātua  Ōrākei and the community pitched in to plant all 1,000 plants in one morning. The workers included four Songbird committee members, two Orākei Local Board members, some local scouts, a group from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, and local residents.

The mass planting was underpinned by expert planning and preparation. Each plant in its plastic grow pot was positioned exactly where Rob had decided its hole should be dug. Each worker was issued with gloves and invited to help themselves to a suitable spade — there were narrow, sharp trenching spades for making holes, and wider shovels for scooping out soil and clay. White plastic buckets were provided to hold excess soil from the holes. 

The work force assembled outside the garden’s headquarters and, after a karakia, Rob gave us instructions about how to plant, beginning with moving the layer of mulch aside before cutting a cross in the weed mat and folding it back to expose the soil, then digging a suitably sized hole, planting the tree, tamping it in firmly, and finally returning the mulch so that the top layer was mulch, not soil. 

The exercise went like clockwork. Within three hours, the job was done, and the gentle, slope was dotted with healthy young plants and trees, including Rātā, Kawakawa, Kōwhai, Tātarāmoa, Rengarenga, Harakeke, Patete (seven finger), Koromiko (Hebe), Mataī (black pine), Miro (brown pine), Kohekohe and Tawāpou. The last white dirt-filled buckets were put on the trailer that had made regular runs along the central path, and  the workers  returned our spades and gloves. We were invited to share a kai  — a generous feast  which, as well as sausages, featured healthy sandwiches of chicken, ham etc with a generous topping of super-fresh micro greens supplied by the nursery production team of the māra kai, followed by fruit.

The date for the planting was chosen according to the maramataka (Māori lunar calendar). If anyone had any doubts that the date was ideal, they had only to take note of the weather. The previous day, Friday, was cold, with fierce wind and rain. Some doubters thought the planting would be cancelled. But Saturday dawned fine and remained sunny and warm, with a gentle breeze. Rob Small wasn’t surprised.  “Tāwhiri-mātea (the atua of the winds, clouds, rain, hail and storms) really went for it yesterday,” he told me. “But he seemed to blow himself out, and today was perfect.”

- story and photos by Jan Power