Planting a forest

With Dad’s Army at Ocean Beach

We’re building a new forest on the hills at Ocean Beach in Hawke’s Bay. There’s a strip of land behind the sanctuary fence where a gap between the pines and the sand dunes – once farm land – is being lovingly covered in native plants.

I say lovingly because the whole project is wrapped in aroha, from the care with which the seedlings are planted to the breathing living forest on the hill. It’s a beautiful place with magnificent views down the coast; now thick with healthy New Zealand natives and full of birds.

We were on the hill this morning in luminous winter sunshine with narrow leaved Maire and Rewarewa, infilling the gaps in last winter’s planting. There weren’t many gaps. Peeking up from the long grasses, the hillside looked full of potential already. There are tall trees in stately groups, protected by under-story shrubs. I’m not good on names but am slowly coming to recognise and remember what we plant. I love the sound of a spade in the earth and the feeling of soil underfoot.

On Wednesday we staked kauri on the new patch. There are several kauri plantations (just big groups, really), relatively closely gathered as they would grow in a forest. No one is too precious about the fact that kauri haven’t grown naturally in Hawke’s Bay for about 7000 years when they retreated north in a cold snap and never made it back. They feel like they belong and are growing fast. Perhaps they’ll thrive in the Hawke’s Bay climate as it warms.

The project is about seven years old and I’ve been planting out there one morning a week for eighteen months. I’m one of about ten regular volunteers who turns up and gets given a task. The others do more hours, they’re mostly retired blokes with skills to burn, and they call themselves Dad’s Army. There is a Captain Mainwaring, and we defer (mostly) to him.

I have huge admiration for the Dad’s Army men. They’ve all had interesting careers and want to do something useful in retirement. And by God, they’re useful. Being DIY challenged myself, I’m amazed at how things happen, fast. Build, dig, plant. They seem to enjoy long, companionable smokos but look away for a minute and they’ve fitted sturdy shelves across the entire nursery, or jacked up an irrigation system for a hillside.

I could sum it up with that old Greek proverb:

A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.

Ha! They’ll kill me for the reference to old men. We’ve all got our reasons for going planting, but it comes down to the fact that it makes us feel good.

There’s such a variety of trees that this forest will eventually become a seed bank for the whole region. That’s a good reason to go tree planting on a Friday. If you have four hours or more a week, live in Hawke’s Bay and want to plant trees under which your ungrateful grand-children will sit after you’ve long gone, drop me a line.

Author: cristinasandersblog

Novelist, trail runner, book reviewer and blogger.

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