One of the few occupational hazards that David Straight faced during our travels for ‘Vernacular’ was the danger of interesting native plants sidetracking my attention from the main task at hand. In the case of our Otago and Southland trip, this kind of botanical distraction was part of the deal, as the trip served the dual purpose of research for the book as well as researching and gaining images for the regional planting guides that I wrote for Landscape Architecture NZ magazine. However, on other trips, excitement over rare plants occasionally needed to be tempered, so as not to wear on David’s patience.
The short walk into the magnificent Gridiron Rock Shelter (within Kahurangi National Park) provided me with the additional opportunity to view a plant that I have planted within gardens - a green-leaved (as opposed to orange), nonaploid form of Libertia peregrinans. On a more juvenile note, the shelter also bore a large rope swing that looked like too much fun to leave alone. Further north, the cliffs adjoining Wharariki Beach’s beautiful white sand dunes, are home to an interesting form of Coprosma, loosely referred to as Coprosma ‘Wharariki’, which I made a beeline for on our sojourn in Golden Bay. At the other end of the South Island, our visit to Slope Point (the southernmost point of New Zealand’s mainland) gave me the chance to see swards of a native herb that at one stage unilaterally decided to become a popular surface on bowling greens (Leptinella dioica), as well as an attractive pale, tawny-coloured ‘grass’ called Carex fretalis.
Our trip to Palliser Bay allowed me to see a coastal tussock only found in the lowermost parts of the North Island, Chionochloa beddiei, perching on the jagged rocky outcrops on which the lighthouse stands. Amongst the ancient stone walls of Māori gardens, low, sprawling shrubs of Melicytus crassifolius dot the paddocks in this area. This was a scene that I was particularly keen on experiencing, as it is the subject of a painting that my good friend, Michael Shepherd, gave me several years ago.
As David kept his eye on the job at hand at the base of Castlepoint’s lighthouse (where he recorded a beautifully simple steel post-and wire fence), I ‘added value’ to my trip by looking closely at plants of the Castelpoint groundsel (Brachyglottis compacta) and two interesting species of ‘native daphnes’, Pimelea carnosa and Pimelea villosa. At this stage, it occurs to me that it may well be advisable to cease listing the many plants that our project allowed me to see in person, lest anyone get the impression that ulterior motives played a part in the far-ranging travels that ‘Vernacular’ entailed.