Clark York - part 1 | Plantsman & hairdresser

Manukau, Horowhenua | June 2015

"With a place this size you could work on it full time and never get it under control... "more text below images

Clark York - part 1 Plantsman & hairdresser | Manukau, Horowhenua | June 2015

For the last 11 years, we’ve lived on a 30 acre rural block in Manakau, in Southern Horowhenua. The topography is varied ranging from elevated sandstone terraces, flat paddocks to steep ravines leading down to a small spring fed lake which overflows into low wetlands. Mostly sunny, sloping to the west and north. We are surrounded by commercial market gardens.

The soil varies with each aspect but is generally very fertile sandy loam. Drainage is variable but once soil has been worked, drainage is ok. The soil is acidic.

With a place this size you could work on it full time and never get it under control, so it's a case of deciding what interests you or is important to you and accepting that you can't do it all. Guy mows the grass (big job without a ride on) and keeps the weeds controlled in the grazing paddocks. Animal care/feeding takes a couple of hours a day so dents time. We have 2 pigs that help with tradescantia control and excess friut disposal. Chooks deal to kitchen waste.

The property is really about conservation, the frontage (a few acres) is a protected reserve known as 'Significant Natural Area 41' - it is one of the few remnants of the forest that was here before the land was stripped for farming. The forest here was unique in this district as it was Kauri & Kohe Kohe which is similar to forest in the North, the climate here is wetter and warmer than the surrounding districts - Manakau was once described by National Geographic as one of the world’s top 10 microclimates for growing.

That doesn't mean it's subtropical - the last 5 nights have been below 0, with hard frosts.

Eight acres on the lower western side is a QEII National Trust Open Space Covenant, a permanent protection status. This includes the lake and lower wetland which are 40 years into the regeneration of a Kahikatea wetland forest. Along with some rare birds this covenant is home to a native snail species which exists only on this property, as owners we are not even permitted to take the shell of a dead snail out of the covenant. This space must also be weeded of any exotic weed or tree. (endless work)

Steep slopes are used for timber and firewood production – Gums, Conifers, Black Walnuts etc, but no Pines. One area is planted in Totara, Rimu, Matai  and Kauri for timber, it is now 40 years old, the trees are unprotected and will be ready to harvest in about 200 - 400 years. I like the idea of growing something that will be of value and use so far into the future and hope others will consider similar plantings. Pinus radiata will give you cash in your own lifetime but is UGLY - I don't love our hills blanketed with the drab green of monoculture.

The reserves were created, fenced and planted about 40 years ago by Stephen Harding and Sue MacIntosh, we took over their work 11 years ago. Last year Sue celebrated her 70th by the lake and introduced her grandchildren to what they had created. Sue hadn't seen the place for a decade and was amazed at the growth in that time.

We don't have a vege garden, there is no time. However, I rely on passive production from trees, shrubs and vines located randomly around the place to feed both ourselves and our birds. Fruit trees give plenty of year round produce with little or no attention given to the trees. Tamarillo, passionfriut, kiwifruit and mountain paw paw grow self sown in bush margins. Plums, apples, pears, loquat, quinces etc are just grown where there is enough light and not too much competition from natives. Jerusalem artichokes grow wild and are useful for foodie friends. Thornless blackberries are care free and produce heaps. One of our most valuable shrubs are the feijoas - they feed everybody for months. Seedling feijoas are grown not a singular cultivar, this ensures different fruiting times for a longer supply.

Only nuts and citrus are grown in dedicated groves. We have success with walnuts and hazelnuts but almonds have struggled - they need perfect drainage and have died off as a mature tree in wet seasons in the location they were planted.

Citrus is grown in a grove which has been wonderfully productive for decades, but the bush around it has grown and reduced light so soon another grove will need to be planted in a better spot.

I keep birds, so need lots of year round spray free fruit for them. The nuts are used to feed my parrots and us. The nuts are grown in wide spaced rows to allow grazing in between for 4 horses and 2 beautiful Murray Grey cows. Early autumn means picking up nuts daily and drying them on the decks around the house. Our 5 dogs stuff themselves with nuts during this time so have extra fat going into the winter. The nuts also benefit our biggest pest - rats. A powerful air rifle has proven to be the most effective and humane tool in managing the rats. Along with the nuts they eat all our fruit including bananas.

To be continued... next month we'll feature Clark in his green-house and showcase his flower breeding inventions. 

POD thanks Kirsty Cameron and photographer Sara Orme.