Pukerau Nursery

March 2015

Growing native plants for riparian planting and community restoration projects

Arne and Jenny Cleland run Pukerau Native Plant Nursery specialising in revegetation and restoration of rare and local plants back into the landscape. A good example is the restoration of the local red tussock reserve with the local school.

Pukerau Nursery is one of the main growers of native plants for shelter, revegetation and landscaping in the lower South Island. Arne and Jenny Cleland have specialised in growing native plants for over 30 years, learning the right plant for the right place. Most of their stock is grown from seed collected from throughout Southland and Otago.

“We started in February 1979 and wanted to grow shelter for farms. Most of the plants grown then were exotics and natives were gradually introduced. Landscaping was done as part of that. Most of our production was open-ground.” As the nursery developed they lived off Jenny’s teaching wages.

Now they employ six staff in the nursery, four of whom are full time. They have reduced the landscaping component and now sell between 150,000 and 300,000 plants a year into Southland and Otago.

Arne and Jenny eco-source the seed for the nursery, collecting from wild populations of native plants. A lot of their focus is on riparian and revegetation proejcts, as well as shelter.

They’ve had lots of success in landscaping projects, most recently for their McClimont Green project at Mt Somers in mid-Canterbury. They won Landscaping New Zealand’s premier award for the best use of native plants and two gold medals for landscape design and for horticulture.

The McClimont Green project started back in 2009 for the local community, a village green in harmony with the character of Mt Somers. The judges said it was an outstanding example of working with interesting and innovative native planting design to tell a story. “The quality of the planting using a range of species showed a sensitivity and innovation demonstrating the highest order of plantmanship.”

They also worked on a major restoration of the Wangaloa Coal Mine at Kaitangata for Solid Energy, a seven year project which saw more than 100,000 plants in the ground to recreate a coastal podocarp and rata forest on a 50ha mine site.

They specialise in growing threatened species including olearias, brooms, grasses and coprosmas. “We try and collect local material for reintroducing back into projects. We spend a lot of time out in the hills collecting seeds. Most of what we collect is from private land and roadsides.”

“We sell a package of the plant with a tree protector. These are made up of a combination of a woollen mat, a plastic sleeve 30cm high, bamboo poles and plastic netting on top. These help with establishment and keep the rabbits and hares off, and they make maintenance easier. Standard plant guards are 30cm but this is not high enough for protection against hares, so we buy in heavier precut bamboo and put a net on top to stop the hares. It is a bit of a fiddle but it works. Hares are a problem because they moved in after rabbit numbers dropped. On one project, every tree was nipped off at two inches high.”

This year Pukerau Primary School was highly commended in the Environment Southland Schools Awards. An Enviroschool, Pukerau is in its fourth year of a significant restoration project, successfully revegetating one hectare of the Pukerau Red Tussock Scientific Reserve.

There was very little remaining protected red tussock within the Gore ecological area, which makes the Pukerau Primary School’s restoration project vitally important. This wetland acts a bit like a kidney, soaking up excess water and letting it out slowly.

“While red tussocks have become fashionable to plant, this is the only red tussock wetland restoration project I know about which is focussed on red tussock in Southland,” says Arne.

The area was damaged by nesting black backed gulls, but the school took on the project with the support of the local community, Pukerau Nursery and the Department of Conservation.

Students are responsible for collecting and sowing tussock seed, potting up the plants, planting, protecting the plants and weeding the reserve.

With the help of the Department of Conservation and Pukerau Nurseries, students will again be planting 200 red tussocks season this year and aim to increase the diversity and character of the place by reintroducing the pygmy pine, the smallest conifer in NZ.

Only one plant has been found here, and Arne has been collecting seed and cuttings from other pygmy pines so there is a greater mix of genetics and so that the plants will be able to breed.

Roz Cole, DOC ranger, says “Arne helps by looking after the plants, uses his vehicle, uses his skills and knowledge to teach the students how to look after the plants. He has a great way with the kids, and has developed a cool method of protecting the plants. He’s a really good advocate and supporter of the programme. All of the kids have spent half a day in the wetland and learnt something.”