Jeff McCauley | Native plant expert
Piha, West Auckland, New Zealand, November 2013
‘For me growing plants is part of a feeling I have always had and always followed. The more I learn, the more I realize what I don’t know – that’s what I love, its what gets me up in the morning.’
My nursery is set in a valley behind Piha beach, its on a flood plain which means I have great alleuvial soil and plenty of water all year round. It gets full sunshine all day even though its overlooked by Maungaroa bluff.
The growing area covers about an acre with 2 hothouses, numerous raised beds and a shed. Historically this has been a market garden and native plant nursery since the early days of Piha. I have been growing here for about 4 years.
I live and work here – ie I am a prisoner!
I’ve always wanted to do something different, something that encompasses all aspects of New Zealand’s environment – both flora and fauna. For me growing plants is part of a feeling I have always had and always followed. The more I learn, the more I realize what I don’t know – that’s what I love, its what gets me up in the morning.
I garden with my black cat/supervisor, he turned up with a friend one day about two years ago and stayed.
I grow native Puha (not the stuff that comes up in everyone’s gardens) mint, celery, anjelica, nettle – all of which do well. I don’t use any chemicals and so sometimes tomatoes don’t do well. Because the ground is prone to flooding I grow a lot in raised beds. Structurally this is good for the mind as well as the plants. I am partially Aspergers and so structure makes it easier for me to attend to the general maintenance. Aspergers is one of those things - its black hair, blonde hair, quiet etc. just a part of who you are.
Pukekos have cost me a lot of money, they’ll pull everything out of pots and beds as they look for juicy fresh shoots and roots. They trample over everything and shit a very potent mix of weed seeds and compost from other areas where they’ve been eating. I put plants onto tables and protect them behind mesh curtains.
Growing stuff means that I get to live in an amazing place. The reason that my nursery still exists is that I’ve been able to show people exciting alternatives - so my native herbs go round the country to grace the tables of some of our best restaurants. It certainly is satisfying to see my plants going onto people’s plates.
The best time of day here is in the evening, it all cools down and you don’t feel the energy being drained out of you. I often harvest at dusk so that I have fresh produce ready for collection at dawn.
My garden gives me a way of being happy, its where my passion lies and my sanity is safe – its my Prozac!
Deal to a problem when you have a problem. You have to be aware and observant and try to understand why plants face challenges. Practice good hygiene and reduce the likelihood of pests becoming a problem. . Weeding, growing the right plant in the right place and an acceptance that ‘shit happens’ all help.