Through a combination of plant establishment-maturity and selective plantings, Hamilton Gardens has attracted more and more wildlife. And visitors have taken notice.
Gus Flower takes in the wildlife at Hamilton Gardens
Increasing the numbers of natives, particularly the likes of Coprosma
robusta, flax, mahoe,ˉ kawakawa, kowhai and wineberry, has had a big impact on attracting birdlife.
Along with the blackbirds and thrushes rustling about in the dense undergrowth foraging for worms and grubs, dainty natives such as silvereye, fantail and grey warbler have become more common and can be seen flitting from branch to branch in search of smaller insects. But there is definitely one bird where the increase in population has been the most noticeable.
Ask any gardener who works here what bird has established itself the most in recent years and they will say the tui.¯
They used to be just a spring visitor but the menu we have planted and the size of it have rapidly increased bird numbers over the years. Large areas of flax and kowhai plus ornamentals such as banksias, camellias and flowering cherries are on offer to them now.
Fresh from England, I remember the first time I heard a tui burbling, coughing and wheezing its amazing tunes, and thought it was some type of exotic bird in a cage. It’s a sound you never tire of and one guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Other birds here include Australasian harrier, chaffinch, goldfinch, greenfinch, morepork, myna, spur-winged plover, quail, rosella, sparrow, starling, swallow and yellowhammer. We’ve also had visits from kak¯a¯ and New Zealand falcon.
Also, with the Waikato River running the length of our southern boundary, visitors may see kingfishers, mallards, pied shags and white-faced herons.
During the early years of development, some of the outer and more natural areas were planted up with quick-growing natives such as pittosporum and kanuka to provide fast effect. This resulted in limited biodiversity, high canopy growth, and very limited groundcover and understorey growth. Invasive weeds, particularly tradescantia, established and spread, smothering the ground.
Simply clearing the weeds and replacing them with native plants such as hen and chicken fern, and parataniwha have made a great – and heartwarming – impact.
Common practice for gardeners working in the outer areas where maintenance isn’t so intensive is to recycle larger material from tree work directly onto the site. Carefully positioning large limbs on the ground and allowing them to decay enriches the soil and provides habitat for invertebrates.
One of my favourite trees at Hamilton Gardens is an old and dead mature pine.
Standing halfway down a river embankment, safely away from footpaths and totally surrounded by virtually inaccessible bush, this magnificent tree is host to a multitude of invertebrates and supports other life.
Providing the right habitat and food source is the key to success – for all wildlife. Hamilton Gardens has numerous water features including a lake, pond and gullies. Besides being attractions in themselves, these support populations of native long fin and short fin eels, and the jewel-like Australian green and gold bell frog. These stunning-looking amphibians are often heard before seen, emitting a wonderful croak that sounds like a motorbike.
A section of low-lying dense bush, perched on an embankment that remains wet throughout the year, is home to glow-worms.
A path runs alongside this area, leading you through some bush following the river. For a delightful early evening summer‘s walk, you can‘t beat starting on the beach area of the river then winding through the bush looking out for another special resident of Hamilton Gardens, the long-tailed bat.
Amongst the bush there are numerous mature trees, both native and ornamental, that provide ideal roosting opportunities for these mammals. The hosting tree provides cavities and gaps under the bark that enable the bat to hide during the day.
I’ve no doubt that the wonderful dead pine standing on the bank overlooking the river is a great refuge and highly prized.
Many people are surprised to hear that we have two native species of bats in New Zealand.
They are the long-tailed and short-tailed. Longtailed bats are delightful small creatures weighing between 8g and 14g, and have a wingspan of about 250mm.
They are a joy to watch as they perform incredible aerobatic and flying skills in pursuit of their prey. Included in their diet are mosquitos and midges which, for my wife and the many other sufferers of those insect’s bites, gets those bats the big thumbs up.
As a large public park, Hamilton Gardens is a truly wonderful showcase of mankind‘s association with gardens, horticulture and plants.
But look and listen carefully, and you will find many wonderful and amazing extras that you perhaps had not expected.
Gus Flower is Hamilton Gardens’ Operations Manager.