Gar­den City

A bit of rub­bish and a few weeds do not this Gar­den City de­stroy, says one green-fin­gered res­i­dent, Mary Lovell-Smith.

The Press - - Front Page - ●➤ Mary Lovell-Smith is a Christchurch gar­den­ing writer and NZ Gar­dener colum­nist.

sta­tus de­fended

Mayor Lianne Dalziel re­cently said Christchurch’s rep­u­ta­tion as a gar­den city is un­der threat. Th­ese com­ments re­minded me of the first time I vis­ited Toronto. I had de­cided the long grass lawns in the city’s in­ner-city squares and parks were par­tic­u­larly charm­ing, meadow-like.

‘‘A nod to the prairies?’’ I asked my Cana­dian daugh­ter-in-law. ‘‘A fin­ger to the coun­cil,’’ she replied wryly, ex­plain­ing the city main­te­nance staff were on strike, so mow­ing, weed­ing and rub­bish col­lec­tion had gone by the board.

Crit­i­cis­ing the con­trac­tors for the poor main­te­nance of the city, Dalziel had said: ‘‘If we’re go­ing to live up to our rep­u­ta­tion as a gar­den city then we’ve got to look a lot bet­ter than we do at the mo­ment . . . un­re­strained na­ture in the form of weeds does not make for a beau­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ment be­fit­ting our coun­try’s Gar­den City.’’

But few weeds are the least of this city’s woes. What about all the rub­bish and lit­ter, es­pe­cially preva­lent in the poorer sub­urbs? Or the patched, pot­holed and un­du­lat­ing roads in the eastern sub­urbs hard­est hit by the quakes? Here, grass grows rank in empty sec­tions, the berms are ill kempt and shaggy.

De­spite be­ing coun­cil land, Christchurch res­i­dents are ex­pected to main­tain them. How­ever, in an area where many houses are still bro­ken, be­ing re­paired or re­cently re­paired, mow­ing your verge is un­likely to be a pri­or­ity. Should the mayor’s com­ments be con­strued as a slap on the hand to the le­gions of city home­own­ers, given that a hefty per­cent­age of the city’s gar­dens are pri­vately main­tained? In the city’s leafy (and more salu­bri­ous) sub­urbs, such as Opawa, Beck­en­ham, Fen­dal­ton, with their ma­ture trees, emer­ald lawns, bustling shrub­beries, neat hedges and pretty flower bor­ders, you’d be hard-pressed to un­der­stand what the mayor is talk­ing about. The less well-to-do sub­urb of Shirley en­com­passes a pleas­ant post-war state hous­ing dis­trict. Neat lit­tle bun­ga­lows sit amid size­able sec­tions. The back­yards more than likely host a sin­gle fruit tree; the front gar­den, a size­able shrub.

Few gar­dens have front fences and curv­ing streets are lined with ma­ture oaks. Fallen leaves blur where the street ends and the pave­ment be­gins. Truly pic­turesque, but you know that in wealth­ier sub­urbs, be­fore this au­tumn bounty starts to kill lawns or block gut­ters, res­i­dents would be ei­ther sweep­ing them up them­selves and mak­ing leaf mold or ha­rass­ing the coun­cil to come and sweep up.

Rather than de­clin­ing, the sta­tus of the Gar­den City is surely grow­ing with the many post-quake works. The new cy­cle­way on the cause­way across the Es­tu­ary is typ­i­cal of the level of fore­thought that has gone into as­so­ci­ated plant­ing. Here, a stylish ar­ray of low-grow­ing coastal na­tives are now flour­ish­ing be­tween the foot­path and the road. (No trees alack as res­i­dents on nearby hills ob­ject to any tiny part of their wa­tery view be­ing im­peded.)

Like­wise, work is un­der way turn­ing Manch­ester St – a ma­jor in­ner-city thor­ough­fare – into a tree-lined boule­vard; great lengths of the Avon River banks down­town are be­ing tarted up with imag­i­na­tive land­scap­ing and plant­ing; and while the CBD green zone – ear­marked for open spa­ces and higher den­sity hous­ing – is not per­haps as open or green as cit­i­zens had an­tic­i­pated, it will be yet an­other green space in a city not short on them.

Then there will surely be the finest jewel in the Gar­den City’s crown – yes, oust­ing even the stun­ning Botanic Gar­dens for the ti­tle – the res­i­den­tial red zone in the east, where 5500 houses on 430 quake-dam­aged hectares have been de­mol­ished. Trees and shrubs more than a cer­tain age were re­tained and the land grassed.

Depend­ing on your frame of mind, it looks like a huge lawn ceme­tery, or a Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown land­scape. Plans for it are ex­cit­ing and range from re-es­tab­lish­ing the for­mer wet­lands and plant­ing na­tive for­est, to ed­i­ble forests.

A bit of rub­bish and a few weeds do not this Gar­den City de­stroy. A big­ger threat is in­fill hous­ing and higher-den­sity hous­ing de­vel­op­ments, where hard sur­faces dom­i­nate and space for gar­dens and trees is not only lim­ited but ma­ture trees have been cut down to make room.

The abun­dance of beau­ti­ful and ma­ture na­tive and ex­otic trees con­trib­utes hugely to the city’s beauty. The city coun­cil should be do­ing ev­ery­thing in its power to pro­tect them.

PHOTO: DAVID WALKER/STUFF

The Botanic Gar­dens have al­ways been the jewel in Christchurch’s green crown.

PHOTO: IAIN McGRE­GOR/STUFF

Depend­ing on your frame of mind, the Christchurch res­i­den­tial red zone looks like a huge lawn ceme­tery, or a Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown land­scape. Plans for it are ex­cit­ing and range from reestab­lish­ing the for­mer wet­lands and plant­ing na­tive for­est, to ed­i­ble forests.

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