If there's some quiet satisfaction around Pukerau at the moment it's well deserved.
At Landscaping New Zealand's Landscapes of Distinction Awards earlier this month Arne Cleland and his Pukerau Nurseries team won the premier award for the best use of native plants and two gold medals for landscape design and for horticulture.
The honours were for a community project called McClimont Green at Mt Somers in mid-Canterbury, developed as an expression of local identity, a recreation facility for residents, school children, tourists and travellers.
Mt Somers is a long way from Pukerau, but there's a connection through Anne Chapman, formerly Anne Voight of Pukerau.
She and her husband, project trust chairman John Chapman were well aware of Arne's work, and turned to him to complete the work begun by John's sister Australian-based landscape architect Mary Chapman.
Mary produced a concept plan, but her long absence from Mt Somers made her reluctant to detail the planting.
Would Arne be interested?
Indeed he would, as it called for just the local statement he specialises in.
A garden with a story.
This was in 2009 and he now rates the project as one of his favourites, because of the background planning and the community involvement, even though that added an extra level of demand in supervising so many people, from school parents to farmers to contractors.
Nothing seemed like too much trouble and whatever was needed, someone knew someone.
"It was a really good community to work with."
As when he was taken to a paddock invited to choose rocks. (Note this is Lord of the Rings film set territory with blockbuster limestone formations.)
"You want that one there?
"No problem. We've got some big toys!" he was told.
The concept plan called for a village green in harmony with village character, complementing but not duplicating existing open space.
Shrubland planting should screen unwanted views, and enhance the view of Mt Somers from the store.
It should enhance understanding of the botanical biodiversity of the area, the geology (and the mining history) and provide a setting for the Minerals to Art festival and for rock sculpture.
Design also had to deal with an open ditch along one side of the site.
Early tasks included researching the plants of the area, and amongst his botanical acquaintances Arne fortuitously found one who was happy to make detailed 1970s field notes available.
From this a selection was made of what plants would work to represent zones ranging from braided riverbeds through wetlands to shrubby forest to alpine meadows and screes, taking on board requirements for the green to be environmentally sustainable.
And low maintenance - which excluded anything that might become weedy, like an otherwise lovely little alpine poa grass that would take over if brought down to more friendly levels.
"The horticulture had to work," Arne says.
As with all projects, he also included threatened species, like the little native broom charmichaelia torulosum.
Many plants are the same as would be found in similar Southland situations, but were grown from seed sourced at Mt Somers.
And while there's no cultivars, the plant palette isn't entirely native, and includes some big deciduous trees for summer shade.
The alpine scree zone was the biggest challenge to replicate at low altitude, and incorporates a summer underground watering system to ensure roots go deep.
Its foundations go deep too, to ensure it's stable.
Peter Salmond helped place all the rock and, under his Hokonui Alpines hat, grew some of the rare alpine plants.
McClimont Green won Trustpower community awards but the accolades from Landscaping New Zealand are a huge professional endorsement for the designer and plantsman.
"It's the peer assessment that's the biggest thing," Arne says.
"The ‘Best Use of native Plants' being my thing, that's the one I really liked."
And up at Mt Somers, John Chapman says the community is delighted with the result.
Arne's skills with native plants have achieved all the trust hoped for after purchasing two empty sections on a critical site to protect them from development.
Next step will be installation of interpretation panels in an "information station" (this was railway reserve) explaining the natural and cultural history, which includes exploiting minerals and clay for New Zealand potters, semi-precious stones, and agricultural lime.
"It's been a great wee project for a tiny wee place," he notes.
"On a population basis it's equivalent to Christchurch doing something the size of Hagley Park."
Award judges praised the McClimont Green as an outstanding example of the art of working with interesting and innovative native planting design to tell a story, commenting on the use of mounds and plant mixes blended with local materials to create a sense of character.
The quality of planting using a range of species showed a sensitivity and innovation demonstrating the highest order of plantsmanship.
Story suggestions or feedback on this page are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Southland Times