Monarch Butterflies at Risk

One of the themes of this New Zealand adventure is species at risk. It as though all of the “sky is falling” warnings of those enviro “Henny Pennys” are finally coming home to roost. As I travel I am encountering fewer birds that before, and therefore fewer penguins. I was hoping to see a Kea on my southern sojourn, but alas, friends say that their range has contracted to Arthurs Pass.

Monarch butterfly populations are crashing in North America, and it seems they are in the southern hemisphere as well. We can do more than wring our hands or just wish for a different outcome. We can plant the species of native plants we know provide food and shelter for Monarch butterflies and other pollinator insects.

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Swan plants at Paripuma in Blenheim, NZ

Whilst I was in Blenheim I learned about the swan plant, the preferred plant of the Monarch butterfly in New Zealand. Similar to the milkweed in North America, it has a milky substance in its stem and flossy flowering pods. The plant is the preferred place to leave its eggs or form a chrysalis.

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Many plants attractive to pollinators also appeal to humans.

My experience with planting milkweed seeds in my home garden has been one of frustration. They never seem to germinate. This year I was able to transplant some dormant milkweed from a native plant garden about to undergo renovation. So far they are slow growing but responding. None of mine look as magnificent as Rosa Davison’s swan plants. Also, if you want to do the Monarchs a favor–stop or greatly reduce using any chemicals including fertilizer in your garden.

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In California you can visit a special grove in Pacific Grove where the Monarch’s overwinter. Their numbers have been shrinking. Similarly in New Zealand, Butterfly Bay in Northland’s Whangaroa Harbour is an overwintering site. They have also seen a dramatic decline in butterfly numbers.

You can learn more about planting a pollinator garden for butterflies, or donating to promote butterfly habitats:

North America—Xerces Society http://www.xerces.org/monarch

New Zealand–Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust http://www.monarch.org.nz

Paripuma, An Extraordinary Garden

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Paripuma is located in the heart of the Marlborough wine district, on the shores of Queen Charlotte Sound near Blenheim, New Zealand

Do you love gardens? You don’t have to love gardening (the sweaty, getting dirty bit) to appreciate a great garden but it helps. With dirt under your fingernails, you quickly deepen your appreciation, because you realize the role that climate, soil, and cold hard cash play in creating a garden. Time is also required for plants to mature and reveal the vision of the gardener. The garden is ultimately the result of hard work for hours and hours every week in all sorts of weather. You might be able to hire labor, but the only guarantee of success is to do a lot of it yourself. Finally, the creative spirit is revealed. Just as not every painting is a masterpiece, not every garden is world class.

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Paripuma is world class.

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Rosa started with clay and gravel. She said that as soon as she planted native plants she began to see the soil come alive.
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A great garden relates graciously to its home and other buildings. 

The gardener Rosa Davison is a classic self-effacing Kiwi. She lets her garden speak for itself. Since 1999, she has transformed a landscape that would have said “hopeless” to a normal person. She had a different vision. Over time it expanded to include a second home and transformation of home #1 into accommodation. Exploring the various rooms of the garden and walking through the buildings, I don’t see evidence of any ugly mistakes. I suspect that Rosa’s eye for beauty has resulted in a consistent and enduring quality. She also has painted her landscape with native plants and New Zealand has a lot to offer.

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Kitchen garden in winter. 

She is currently pursuing a passion for butterflies and pollinator plants. Her intense enthusiasm, that is less articulated in words and expressed in plants, is the mark of an extraordinary gardener, as is her evolving interests.

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I forgot to ask Rosa the name of the grey shrubs that provide contrast and structure in the middle frame. She responded: The plant is Muehlenbechia astonii … It became quite rare in the wild (from stock grazing)  but is now much planted in gardens and sometimes on median strips. It is interesting as it is ‘divaricating’   – which means its little branchlets turn in on themselves to become never-endingly tangled – something a lot of NZ plants do – especially when juvenile! Apparently this was to protect themselves from browsing moas ! Truly ! Often when they grow higher (out of reach of the moas) their foliage completely transforms ie lancewoods (Pseudopanax ferox).

A world class garden also inspires, and I was impacted by the garden. I noted ideas I want to include in my much smaller, very different garden, such as including plants that in winter offer contrast and structure. The biggest discovery was the side aisle to the main show that extends from the house toward the sea. I paced it out and the main garden has a 30 “foot” swath of lawn down the middle, whereas the side garden is just 10 feet. I realized I think small. I would feel audacious to create a ten-foot aisle, and yet the impact is when you go big. That takes moxie! Why am I reluctant to express my vision? I need to stop self-editing and create the garden I love.

My adventure started with a book called Gardenlust by Christopher Woods, I saw that there were three gardens in New Zealand and I began researching if I could visit whilst here. Paripuma is the only garden open in winter (recall that the Southern hemisphere is just peeping into Spring in September). I also discovered that I could actually stay in accommodation and enjoy the garden at my leisure. I quickly reorganized my plans to begin my NZ adventure in Blenheim with a two-night stay at Paripuma. You can too. Indeed, if your budget can manage (it is really good value) and you are looking to relax, then this is a unique experience and Mike and Rosa Davison are terrific hosts.