I have just started reading The Therapeutic Garden, by English osteopath and gardener Donald Norfolk. One of his comments immediately struck a chord with me. He says that gardening is important to help us become ''...active nature livers rather than abstract nature lovers'' (p. 29).
This seems to me very relevant to life in New Zealand today, where over 80% of us live in cities, seemingly far away from wild nature as it is depicted in calendars and on postcards. Or are we?
With an organic garden, we can be much closer to wild nature than most of the tourists who traverse New Zealand seeing the sights from an air-conditioned bus equipped with a video player. Stopping occasionally to put their cameras between themselves and what is really around them.
Nature doesn't have to be wild or rare or hard-to-get-to to be significant and awe-inspiring. A bellbird in the plum tree sounds as good as one in the bush; a pohutakawa may grow as well in your garden as beside a beach. We can't all live in or next door to a national park or nature reserve – but we can turn our quarter-acre into a special sort of nature reserve if we want to.
No, I'm not advocating planting all of your section in native plants and making a mini-bush. By choosing wisely from a range of plants, native and exotic, edible and ornamental, it is possible to get back to nature in the backyard, and have a garden as that looks (and sounds) beautiful as a forest.
Start by planting the perimeter of the section with trees and shrubs that provide nectar and berry food for birds and butterflies. Fast-growing and attractive small native trees for this purpose include the wineberry (Aristotelia serrata), tree fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata), mahoe (Melicytus ramiflorus), lemonwood and kohuhu (Pittosporum eugenoides and P. tenuifolium), kowhai (Sophora microphylla and S. tetraptera) and five-finger (Pseudopanax arboreus). Among the most suitable bigger, slower-growing trees are pigeonwood (Hedycarya arborea), miro (Podocarpus ferrugineus), kohekohe (Dysoxylum spectabile), rewarewa (Knightia excelsa) and puriri (Vitex lucens). Choice shrubs are native flax (Phormium spp), corokia (Corokia spp), kawakawa (Macropiper excelsum), and the different species of Hymenanthera.
Add to this selection some especially attractive exotic species, such as the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), Cotoneaster species, rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), shad bush (Amelanchier spp), and the wilder members of the Prunus tribe, such as cherry plums and bird cherries. For nectar it is hard to go past the Australian flora, particularly the Banksias, Melaleucas and Grevilleas. Also many Eucalyptus – especially the lovely
E. leucoxylon ''Rosea'', which carries its rose-pink flowers in autumn and winter, when nectar-loving birds like bellbirds and tuis are short of such feed. A ''Rosea'' down the road from me was a veritable pub for bellbirds in season – it was a joy to hear them carousing.
Sadly, the tree was cut down to make way for an ugly house. But it proves my point – provide food for birds, and keep the garden free of poisons – and you won't have to travel hundreds of kilometres to hear native bird song in the tree tops, and be someone who lives with nature close at hand, rather than ''loves'' it from afar.