Titoki Native Nursery

May 2014

A nursery supplying local native plants for restoration planting

Titoki Nursery sows, propagates, grows and sells local native plants and trees for use in restoration projects, landscapes, roadsides, parks, riparian plantings, etc. Owner Tim Le Gros personally collects seeds from remote locations to ensure that the plants are pure natives and have not hybridised. He is also involved with preserving natives that grow only on the dolomite soils of Mt Burnett, Collingwoood, and with Project Janszoon that involves restoring key species in the Abel Tasman National Park.

Tim Le Gros is a science graduate and majored in ecology. His family has a farm in Moutere and after graduation he became involved in establishing a wetland there. That brought him into contact with Titoki Nursery and its owners Martin and Jo Conway. They had started the nursery in the 1980’s growing garden plants and shrubs, particularly natives. At that time their property had a few remnant trees – matai, kowhai, titoki – in the paddocks where stock grazed. They fenced off the area and learned how to collect and grow plants to restore an area of native bush that they later put into a QEII Covenant. Then neighbours wanted plants and demand increased, and the business grew from there. As well as natives, they grew non-native trees and shrubs for garden centres and home gardens.

“I worked for the Conways for a season. Then they decided to retire and offered to help me out through the first year, so I bought the business,” says Tim. We now grow solely native species, probably over 100. Most of them are local species, but we do grow some North Island ones like kauri and pohutukawa for local gardens.”

Tim uses the root trainer vegetation system for local species. These are envelopes about 200mm in length that contain four plants and that encourage roots to grow down rather than spiral around the bottom of the bag.

“We grow them for a year until the plants are probably 30 to 50 cm tall depending on species, and these are landscape grade,” he says. “Other species like kauri trees, we grow in landscape pots for two or three years to a metre or a metre and a half tall. Most of our customers are local but we do sell around the top of the South island and a bit down the West Coast and Christchurch.”

The nursery’s philosophy is to eco-source local plant stocks that are adapted to the region’s environment. They are planted by local councils in parks and reserves, beaches and riversides. Property developers in both urban and rural subdivisions use them in landscaping and to stabilise land; farmers select species for shelter, shade and riparian plantings. They also supply some garden centres and the home garden market.

While nursery staff carry out most of the routine work, Tim likes to source seeds and cuttings for propagation himself.

“I collect from natural stands, not ones that have been planted. Specimens in somebody’s garden could have come originally from anywhere, and some species like kowhai hybridise easily so you have to go a long way up river valleys to find ones that haven’t crossed or hybridised,” he says.

“Most seeds ripen between December and May and it is a matter of knowing when and where. Sometimes I have to go back two or three times because they are not quite ready. I have permits to collect from DOC land, and the QEII Covenant area is another good source because they are local original stock.”

“For stream sides we collect flaxes, cabbage trees, toi-tois, pittosporums and kanukas; and for open areas we collect trees like beeches and kahikatea. I also do some vegetation planning, for example for farm stream sides, I work out which species would be best and how and when to plant them. For open areas I recommend setting the scene with quick growing colonising species for two or three years before planting trees.”

The nursery’s focus on natives has also involved Tim in a number of interesting projects:

  • Growing seeds and cuttings of plants from the Stockton Plateau for rehabilitation of the mined area
  • Project Janszoon – plants for rehabilitation of the Abel Tasman National Park – a 30 year project that will involve planting 12,500 trees per year for 10 years

Learning how to collect, grow and replant five species of unique plants found only on Mt Burnett near Collingwood as part of the consent.