Innovation in Auckland: growing healthy, biodiverse plants and keeping playgrounds out of landfill

Nicholas Mayne is an A Rocha Auckland volunteer and one of two people who run the Community Nurseries niche in the Upper Waitemata Ecology Network. Innovations abound: keeping plants healthy with recycled softfall playground mats, turning plant waste into potting soil, and championing the collection of biodiverse eco-sourced seeds.

The Unsworth Reserve community nursery on the North Shore in Auckland is a hive of activity. Nicholas can be found potting native trees or sifting through composted plants by hand to grade the mixture and remove any remaining stems. The process creates rich potting soil, and often offers up the hidden treasure of native seeds, which Nicholas carefully collects.

The provenance and genetics of a seed are crucial. ‘Eco-sourcing’ is the philosophy of growing native plants from the same ecological district as where they will be planted. Nicholas follows this principle but notes its limitations – commercially, seed is often collected from the easiest source of harvest, which can mean a reduction in genetic diversity. If a plant is already locally rare or extinct, going further afield to restore populations may be necessary. What Nicholas sees as most important is to collect seeds from multiple sources in a local area in a bid to gain as much genetic diversity as possible to increase adaptability to changes in climate. Nicholas and his colleague, Jan Diprose, train volunteers to collect biodiverse eco-sourced seeds to distribute to local nurseries.

Keeping your plants healthy is another focus: pathogens are wily! Some can even swim through wet soil from one plant to another. Nicholas saw a pile of used softfall playground mats in his dad’s workshop and had an idea. An arrangement with the local Council now reroutes mats from landfill to the nursery where they offer easily liftable, free-draining support under potted plants through which water and soil can travel, significantly reducing the likelihood of any one diseased plant infecting the rest of the nursery.

Nicholas and Jan were finalists in the Innovation category for their work at the Community Nurseries Project in the Auckland Mayoral Conservation Awards 2021. Congratulations and keep up the good work!

Photos: Nicholas Mayne

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