Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

07 October 2009

Kick Out All The Aliens

‘They are wonderful plants for holding sloping ground in place, in the front of the border, among shrubs and flowers, entranceway plantings to the house, around the swimming pool and in cool green tropical plantings.’
Thus spake Colin Hutchinson in The Art of Gardening published in 1991 and described as ‘New Zealand’s finest gardening book’.

The plant Mr Hutchinson was describing was Agapanthus.

Only fifteen years later that ‘wonderful’ plant that graces our motorway medians and one single head of whose glorious blue or white blooms can fill a vase is facing the chop because the biosecurity apparatchiks at both government and local level have decided that: ‘…they are invasive and/or poisonous and crowding out native plants.’

Now, although aganpanthi grow in all the otherwise dead spots of my garden, I don’t know much about floriculture; and it’s not the particular attack on those plants that bothers me. What does make me nervous is that hiding inside the biosecurity police’s statement is a politically correct blinkered yet starry-eyed philosophy that New Zealand should digressively outlaw anything that isn’t ‘native’.

Not long ago there appeared a report that moves were afoot in the South Island to restore parts of Canterbury to its pristine pre-pilgrim state. It was asserted that large areas of native bush had been supplanted by what is now the characteristic patchwork of British agriculture. It was misleading to some degree and although it is true to say that Canterbury has undergone an enormous change, its farmlands have mainly replaced swampland and tussock. The surveyor of Canterbury, Charles Torlesse, writing in 1849, while he described large areas of bush, made much of a country the most part ready for the plough.

This revisionistic urge to take New Zealand back to its beginnings is absurd. The country has moved on, developed, improved, become productive. Inevitably, in its forward march since human occupation around the 14th century of the Christian calendar, there have been casualties: moa, huia and other species have gone, and others are or have been under threat.

Some we can save but the idea of returning New Zealand to a golden age by taking a huge, politically correct leap backwards is nonsensical. To start with agapanthus is like sacking the tea lady at General Motors in order to improve the bottom line. And after agapanthus what? Rabbits, stoats, rats, cats, dogs, cattle, sheep, deer, trout, deciduous European trees; we’ll have to get rid of them all. Maori, European, Pacific Islanders, Asiatics; they’ll all have to go home. But before they go we’ll need to rip up the roads, wipe out transport, raze the cities, eliminate power and telephone lines and, because they won’t be needed ever again, shut down government departments. (Not a bad idea).

Perhaps all that might be left would be a self-sustaining remnant of biosecurity police-persons trotting around planting kauri, totara, kowhai, flax and tussock seeds and cuttings, and warming tui eggs in their hairy armpits. Finally, as they self destructed or paddled away in raupo rafts, they would leave these now unnamed islands to sleep once again awaiting discovery.

There would be only the forest and the birds. Just as it was in the belle epoch before that despicable species homo sapiens came and used its intellect, courage, flawed human wisdom and ingenuity to change it all.
And then, perhaps, a latter day Thomas Gray might imagine from afar a land where:

‘Full many a bird of iridescent sheen
The black-green boughs of hidden bush doth bear:
Full many a rata born to blush unseen,
Now wastes its scarlet on the man-free air.’

Yeah. Right.


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By Don Donovan