Most planters speak to the future as motivation for their work. Evelien Wallace and her family are inspired by the past.
“I’m a geologist,” explains Evelien, “and my brother-in-law is an archaeologist here in Taranaki. We talk a lot about the knowledge that only a few hundred years ago, the ground here was covered in trees: the pā sites across the valley were full of forest and birdsong.”
This vision of ngahere past has inspired a lot of hard work from Evelien—despite either being pregnant or post-partum for the majority of their time on the land.
“Three years ago we moved to this one hectare block,” explains Evelien. “It was just an unloved hillside that led to a gully where the Herekawe Stream flowed through: so we started regenerating.”
The site is on the boundary of New Plymouth city, which Evelien sees as valuable in terms of forming ecological corridors for native wildlife.
“You can plant smaller 1,000 or 5,000 square metre patches around the fringes or in the city and make a real difference for biodiversity. Even if I planted three kōwhai, in the summer that’s food for the tūī.”
So far, this has involved control of wilding pines (the remnants of a plantation cleared prior to the Wallaces’ purchase), pest control, weed control, and the planting of around 600 native trees.
The section also includes a wetland, which the family are keen to care for. “We’ve already retired the sizeable chunk of wetland, but want to get it much more weed-free and plant it up with natives.”
“Our goal is to retire the entire section and have it all as regenerating native bush, eventually under some kind of covenant.”
Native trees have been foremost in the family’s approach to reforesting their land.
“If you’re doing it for the love of the land, you should always plant native trees. They’re best for the soil, and they’ll thrive and even propagate themselves, despite our really harsh conditions near the coast here.”
The Wallace’s section is exposed to both southerlies and northerlies, but Trees That Count’s Taranaki Regional Advisor, Sarah Roth, has been able to assist with advice on species selection to survive the environment.
“The coastal hardy kind of trees are doing well here as pioneer species,” says Evelien. “Tī kōuka do great, tree daisies, mānuka. This is also why I’m raising a lot of plants from seed myself; that way I’m using the stock that I know thrives here.”
It’s a pragmatic and long-term approach to a large and demanding project. This year, the Wallaces will receive 150 native trees through the Trees That Count marketplace, funded by Mazda New Zealand.
“I’ve also got an order for about 100 trees through the Regional Council as well as what I’m propagating myself. This year is about infill planting and also planting out a newly retired third of a hectare. Next year we’ll chunk off another 2000 square metres, and carry on like that.”
“It’s too easy to despair about everything and then not end up doing anything,” Evelien quips. “I’m just trying to focus on my little patch of the world, plant what I can, and just make a difference.”