From Oranges in Sorrento to Lemons in Hawera with Moturoa School Inbetween

In Sorrento (the south of Italy) earlier this year, Daughter and I were very taken with the use of fruiting oranges for street trees. It seemed impossibly romantic and I wondered whether it was a feasible option for Waitara, which has a climate eminently suitable to growing citrus.

As we walked along, we discussed whether it was appropriate to pick the fruit but the dilemma was solved when we ended up staying in accommodation set in an orange grove with an unlimited supply of free fruit. But even as we admired the orange trees (what a wonderful fragrance there must be at flowering time), the cynical side of me thought that such plantings were unlikely to survive long back home and the trees were more likely to either vandalised or stolen soon after planting out.

So it was saddening to read this week of the destruction wrought on the children’s gardens at Moturoa School. I am sure I was not alone in being absolutely delighted by this newspaper’s coverage of children’s gardening activities. It is just so positive and wholesome and makes one smile to see this type of initiative which enriches the life of everyone it touches. Nobody could fault the projects which teach children how to tend the soil, produce home grown fruit and vegetables and to develop a taste for fresh food – all of which will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives. Some of us are envious that it didn’t happen when we were at school.

It just seems incomprehensible that anybody, adult or child, would want to destroy such projects – not once but twice in the same day. Even worse than ripping out the plants and snapping the trees is the message the children have been given about the unpredictable and vicious nature of some people. This was not a lesson that eight year olds needed to learn. How do you explain to young children that some people are so warped and bent that they derive satisfaction from destroying something positive and cooperative and good? Yes there will be positive outcomes. People will be kind and generous and supportive and the children will replant but they have still been taught a nasty lesson too early in life.

Good on Moturoa School for planning to replant. I am sure that the vast majority of people (and certainly every single person who reads this column) wish them every success and hope that the low-lifes have finished their fun in destroying children’s efforts.

Parents or grandparents who want to encourage young children to garden at home need to remember that successful results are the most important driver. Children need the best and most prominent spot in the garden, not to be hidden away out of sight around the back or in a waste area. They need a position in full view, in full sun and with some shelter from wind. In our experience, they like a defined area of their own with clear boundaries. It does not want to be too large and it doesn’t need expensive edgings or to be a raised bed unless you want a permanent installation. But defining the area with an edging of river stones, pieces of board or stray pavers gives a sense of containment. Being within reach of a hose or a tap is helpful. Preparing the soil in advance gives young children a head start too. Littlies can not be expected to turn over soil effectively and double dig. They will lose heart and be defeated very quickly. But if they can move straight into a well prepared bed and start incorporating compost and planting, the probability of success increases greatly. It is a simple gift to give to children.

I have also been reading about the moves by the South Taranaki District Council to use fruiting trees in public plantings and to supply apple trees to local residents this year. While I would be reluctant to see only fruit trees used (there is a place for splendid ornamental trees as well), there is something very charming about this sort of use of productive planting. I am sure that a community which feels a sense of ownership will take better care and be more vigilant in protecting plantings.

Walnut trees and chestnut trees in public locations are a splendid idea. When we were students at Massey, Mark used to harvest walnuts from an avenue at Acacia Birch and he had an annual race with the local Chinese to beat them to the chestnuts at Awapuni Racecourse. Some years ago, he collected ripe olives from in front of the New Plymouth Courthouse but it was an action tinged with feelings of guilt. At least in South Taranaki, the locals will know that it is fine to harvest nature’s bounty from their trees.

I had an all too brief chat to John Sargeant, the man driving the South Taranaki plantings. He tells me that the aim is to plant 1000 trees in the district in the next 5 years, of which about 10% will be edible. He talked about the role trees play in making memories and that in fifty years time locals should still be harvesting chestnuts, long after the planting of the trees has been forgotten. I was inspired by his passion for the project and the practical way in which he is using trees to add value to the lives of local residents. Mr Sargeant is not scared to experiment. The fig trees in Opunake have been less than successful and he has to be philosophical about thefts of feijoas and lemon trees. At least when theft occurs, the plants are still growing somewhere, whereas straight out vandalism is harder to take. Given that most people only want one lemon tree, one hopes that replanted trees may stand a better chance of remaining. The more South Taranaki residents realise that something quite special and innovative is happening in their district, the more protective they may become of their trees.

Go South Taranaki, I say, and may this set a trend for more mixed plantings in other local body areas of Taranaki. It would be a great project for community councils in the north to pick up and run with. Maybe we could yet see citrus trees, feijoas and nut trees growing throughout Waitara. In fact, Waitara could go one better than most other areas and even use bananas. How about those for defining a desirable climatic identity?