Teaching the way with native plants

Chris Rance created the Southland Community Nursery with her husband Brian.

Locally-sourced and grown, native plants from the Southland Community Nursery can be found throughout the region. Laura Smith spoke to those involved in its creation and development during the past 25 years.

A PERSONAL struggle sourcing native plants in Southland, prompted Otatara residents Chris and Brian Rance to create a community nursery.

More than two decades later, they have helped agencies and individuals transform landscapes to incorporate native plants.

Manager Chris said the land was originally a house and 4ha of paddock, plus a section of kahikatea forest.

However, they wanted to turn the paddocks back into bush.

“We’ve managed to do quite a lot of that, with our volunteers and ourselves.”

The couple decided to create two ponds, which were planted with native wetland species and aimed at increasing biodiversity.

Their work was used as an example of what to do when teaching others how to care for their land.

“People can come and see what we’ve done, and how we’ve done it.

“Hopefully, follow our lead and do it themselves.”

The nursery has grown during the past 25 years.

With flora, came the fauna restoration developed, birdlife increased.

Now prevalent, bellbirds, tui and even the at-risk fernbird call the property home.

She said their advice was free to those who wanted it, and their specialty was Southland plants.

People’s desire to learn had increased in recent times.

“There’s always been lots of groups wanting native plants that are locally sourced, but it’s become much more marked in the last couple of years.”

Plants, which were for sale, often went to catchment groups, farmers, conservation groups, individuals and schools.

Proud of what they had created, she was in constant amazement, she said.

“But there’s lots of facets to it. It’s getting outside, like-minded people coming together, people giving their own information and sharing together.”

Physical work outside was also beneficial, she said.

For Chris, another important aspect of the nursery was the community element.

“It’s very social, it’s a learning experience. There’s networking and there’s good food, as well.”

Morning teas were a significant part of volunteer days, and some of these edible contributions had been collected into a recipe book, published just over a year ago.

The nursery also incorporated a foraging aspect.

A variety of workshops were held, including foraging, art, native plant identification and more.

The nursery, which is a charitable trust, encountered challenges with funding.

A major aspect of that was paying someone as an educator.

As well as volunteering at the nursery, Bronwyn Graham teaches visitors at the education centre.

A local herself, she had volunteered for more than 10 years and her own children grew up around the nursery.

Ms Graham believed the nursery had enhanced what her children had learned about nature.

  • For information about the nursery go to www.southlandcommunitynursery.org.nz