Many hands transform St Heliers community garden, the “Living Wall” vision into reality
Thanks to the leadership of local resident Amanda Warren, the generosity of organisations and the hard work of 21 volunteers, a neglected, weed-filled car park perimeter wall on the waterfront at St Heliers has been transformed into a vibrant garden. The metamorphosis took just three days, with each volunteer contributing 5-6 hours a day, often in the pouring rain.
The garden, which borders the carpark of a group of restaurants and takeaways at the eastern end of the waterfront, was officially opened on Friday, December 16, 2022, by Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson and Chair of the St Heliers and Glendowie Residents Association Kiri Barfoot. The opening was initiated with a welcome from Dane Tumahai of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei with a mihi, karakia, waiata and a procession of volunteers and supporters, who were invited to touch the plants and feel the wairua of the place. Sarah Powrie and Margaret Voyce represented Ōrākei Local Board.
The garden is the latest Gift-The-Garden project, pioneered in Auckland by Amanda and supported by the Orakei Local Board’s Wildlink fund and the 18 organisations acknowledged on a signboard above the garden. Amanda stipulates that no donation be entirely free. “For example we might pay for some material but the business could contribute the delivery, or in the case of the fence palings, Auckland Transport donated them from a property that was being demolished but we arranged to remove and deliver them.”
One very large individual donation of talent is the ‘Game Seat’ designed and delivered by Sandii Macdonald of a local garden center and design business, Babylon Store & Gardens in St Heliers. There’s a solid concrete draughts/chess table with black and white smooth stones to play with. Sandii also designed the planting plan and is preparing a weather-proof version of her design to be installed at the garden, which will identify all the plants used. Plants were both bought and donated, many coming from Sunhill Garden Centre in St Johns.
With a Tahitian lime at either end and a fig and three plum trees in between, the 26-metre-long raised garden is a gorgeous palette of colourful flowers, shrubs, herbs and groundcovers designed to deliver kai for both human and non-human beings, in particular bees and butterflies, which have shown their appreciation by moving right in. There are edible yellow Calendula donated from ‘Flowers for Felix’ , pink Monarda, blue Rosemary, Salvia and Thyme and natives Purple Hebe, Phormium Green Dwarf and sellieria, (“bonking grass – look it up!)”, Amanda says. Blue and purple flowers are used in abundance as the favourite colours of bees.
Large drums inside the wall grow a profusion of tomato plants (already in fruit) and herbs, including Rosemary, Thyme, Coriander, Parsley, Oregano, Calendula and Dill. They’re not just for show: residents are welcome to pick the herbs, and a tomato or lime or two, hopefully taking only what they need so that the garden is a resource for everyone.
“It’s not a vegetable garden or a flower garden, it’s both, a regenerative garden for living beings,” Amanda says. “The emphasis is on bio-diversity and regeneration.”
Design is not confined to the plants; artist Numa McKenzie painted the wall bright blue, with fish and seagull motifs, and Ronane Mooney contributed the wavy line of mosaic tiles.
Mens Shed volunteers made several square “bee hotels” comprising recycled native wood drilled with varying size holes as whare for native bees. A favourite in Amanda’s designs are the gabions, wire mesh cages filled with bark and assorted recycled materials that provide a safe environment not just for bees but eventually for lots of other mini-beasts, lizards, spiders and hopefully wētā.
And — easily overlooked by adults but instantly spotted by children — low down on the wall are several blue “fairy doors” behind which are small ceramic animals, shells, painted stones and other tiny treasures.
What about maintenance? St Heliers Garden Club volunteers have taken on the kaitiaki role. Two prominent members of the Club, Rody Davies who lives two doors away, initiated the idea to transform the place and Rosy Deveraux who lives at the corner of Cliff and Vale Roads both have very beautiful gardens and will also act as kaitiaki. The idea will be to prune and weed small and often, with nothing allowed to grow too big. The garden’s permaculture, no-dig design is created by having at least 20cm depth of good quality compost topped by an equal depth of mulch to discourage weeds. Maurice Faiers of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Māra Kai on Kepa Road, gave valuable advice on the compost.
Keeping the garden damp is very important. Scallini restaurant owner, Mike has helped with the watering. And part of the upkeeping will be to top the mulch with sea grass thrown up on the beach.
Without Amanda’s vision and her commitment of energy, positivity and leadership, the garden would never have happened. But typically, she says: “What blows me away is the reaction this garden has received by local residents – the smiles and laughter it has brought as people stop to chat and wonder at the plants. I was so focused on bringing nature back to the place for the wildlife, I didn’t realise how much people needed this connection too!”
Amanda’s next project with Wildlink funding is to initiate the ‘Eastern Bays Sustainable Garden Trail’ where the public will be able to visit and learn from 12 local gardens, each of which contributes to the kaupapa of growing kai, habitat for wildlife and wellbeing for all living beings. The Trail will run on February 4 and 5 2023 (Waitangi Weekend) and aims to catalyse the learning and sharing of the regeneration of the Eastern Bays.
Link to Video of the making of the “Living Wall” https://youtu.be/gQoK9iSKbqA
-Story and pix by Jan Power