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Protecting our precious places

Maori gardens

The archaeological remains of New Zealand’s first gardens show how Maori successfully adapted tropical Polynesian gardening techniques to New Zealand’s temperate climate.

The modified techniques enabled them to grow some of the plants they brought with them – especially kumara – as far south as Banks Peninsula.

Heat-retaining gravels and sands were added to soils to raise soil temperature and extend the growing season.

Fertility was also improved with the addition of gravel, shell, charcoal and ash.

In wetter areas, water was controlled through ditch and drain systems.

Storage pits were a new technique invented to protect food and kumara seed stock from cold and wet during winter.

Remains of these pits are often found on ridges and terraces above gardens throughout the North Island and the northern South Island.

Source: Archaeological Remains of New Zealand’s First Gardens, New Zealand Historic Places Trust brochure

Kumara pits preserved

Well preserved kumara storage pits have been protected by a QEII covenant on a dairy farm at Maxwell near Wanganui.

Kumara pits Photo: Kevin L Jones/Department of Conservation

Above: From the air, the ditches of the pa site (lower centre) and the clustered kumara pits (top left) on the dairy farm are clearly seen. Photo: Kevin L Jones/Department of Conservation.

Twelve large pits are clustered on a low ridge a short distance from the ditches and pits of a small early pa site.

The original covenantors, the Hopkins family, managed the 112ha property as a replacement dairy stock rearing unit.

They decided to covenant the archaeological sites, as well as two native forest remnants, to ensure they would be suitably managed.

'There’s a real sense of history, knowing people lived here long ago,' Dave Hopkins said.

'We felt an obligation to safeguard it.'

Kumara pits grazed by young dairy stock

Above: The kumara pits (foreground) are grazed by young dairy animals light enough not to do damage. Photo: Peter Van Essen

Open Space™ Magazine No. 63, March 2005 © QEII National Trust

For more about recognising and protecting Maori garden sites, download the New Zealand Historic Places Trust brochure.

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