Ecology Walking Tours with the Auckland Office

Boffa Miskell’s staff have been holding internal walk and talk sessions to explore local urban environment ecology to understand New Zealand’s plants better.

To improve general plant knowledge, the Auckland office has started lunchtime walking sessions to review recently planted projects and more established plantings around the city centre. The fortnightly walk and talk sessions are led by Ecologist Sarah Flynn and Landscape Architect Heather Wilkins, with the aim of getting out of the office and observing how different plants respond to various environmental conditions and situations.

Following several threads of discussion around the Auckland office around plants and how we use them in design, the fortnightly walks to seek out interesting uses of plants around the city. There are a variety of leafy destinations within a short walking distance of the office, so it is a good opportunity to observe planting successes or otherwise, review projects and to share our own collective plant knowledge. Previous plant knowledge is not required to attend the sessions, the idea is to come along and soak up some of the discussion.

The first session was to Wynyard Quarter, where native species and cultivars have been widely used in both public and private plantings in a style that is now influencing the whole area as it develops. It was found that the climber Tecomanthe speciosa which was trained upwards supported by wires headed for the sunlight, leaving exposed stems below in the canyon-like Waikokota Lane. The natural regeneration of a number of native species in the Jellicoe Street raingardens, illustrated the success of an innovative new management initiative currently trialled by Auckland Council.

The second session took in the street trees and green wall on Federal Street and then on to Albert Park, one of Auckland’s oldest parks that has numerous specimen trees over 100-years old. On these trees, many epiphytic plants were noted, which are plants that grown harmlessly on other plants, predominantly Pyrrosia eleagnifolia (leather-leaf fern). Epiphytes were the theme of the day: as part of the Federal St upgrade, Boffa Miskell collaborated with GreenAir Ltd to create the Southern Hemisphere’s first ever circular green wall. The plants, both native and exotic species, have established well in the two years since the project was implemented in 2014. Species of note were Fuchsia procumbens in flower, Elatostema rugosum (parataniwha) doing well in the shade, and the brave use of larger growing species such as Grisilinea lucidaSchefflera digitata and Piper excelsum.

The third session followed through Takutai Square, Britomart and down Fort Street. Chris Punt discussed the limitations and successes of the trees planted along Fort Street. Under some of the trees where the irrigation system is located, weathering and traffic had compacted the sub-soil under the footpath pavers, causing them to slump and become loose. However, the Metrosideros excelsa trees have flourished: both container-grown under contract and transplanted specimens. In just the two years since they were put in the trees have almost doubled in size, and the container-grown specimens have caught up to the transplanted ones.

During the walks, Sarah discusses the provenance of plants and relates how a species may be found in nature, how this assists with the selection process, how a species may be applicable to an urban situation and also which species have become dominant and why. From a design point of view, we discuss how the planting has matured, the arrangement of the planting, what could have been done differently and the future maintenance that is required to be undertaken.

So far there has been an overwhelmingly positive response, with people from the full range of disciplines and teams attending – even the National Office. The beauty of these sessions is that you don’t need to be a professional ecologist to have knowledge about how well plants grow in various locations and sharing experience of your own home garden is still valid information.

Sharing this planting knowledge and experience between the offices further supports the quality of our urban planting designs.

For further information please contact Sarah Flynn

31 March 2016