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The beauty of New Zealand broom has Mar­garet Barker en­tranced.

I had a con­ver­sa­tion with a vis­i­tor to the gar­den. “I love your na­tive broom,” said the vis­i­tor. “Me too,” I replied.

It’s such a gor­geous golden colour,” the vis­i­tor con­tin­ued. “That’s not a na­tive broom. Ours are pink,” I said.

“But we saw it… golden… all over the hills.” “That’s a nox­ious weed,” I added. “Oh no. It’s not a weed. It’s beau­ti­ful.” I put my head down and got on with it. Our vis­i­tor had been look­ing at the Scotch broom ( Cytisus sco­par­ius) and, it is at­trac­tive in the land­scape, but such a weed. It pop­u­lates open ar­eas on river flats, hill­sides and verges of bush tracks. On warm days, seed­pods ex­plode, send­ing seeds many me­tres in ev­ery di­rec­tion.

Our ac­tual na­tive brooms are rare.

Many are endangered in the wild. They com­prise 23 species which range naturally from the north of the North Is­land to Ste­wart Is­land, from the moun­tains to the sea, but with a con­cen­tra­tion on the drier, eastern South Is­land.

They range in form from creep­ing alpines to small trees, with only one climber, Carmichaelia kirkii.

Ex­cept for this climb­ing broom, carmichaelia grow in open, sunny, well-drained po­si­tions. They en­joy nutri­ent-poor soils be­cause, like other mem­bers of fabaceae or pea fam­ily, they are able to fix their own ni­tro­gen from the air through nod­ules on the roots. Most have pink- or pur­ple-streaked flow­ers. A few are cream or creamy yel­low.

New Zealand brooms are worth grow­ing not just for these fleet­ing flow­ers, but for the tex­tu­ral value of their stems. As with most plants, at­tributes other than flow­ers are what you look at for most of the year. They are leaf­less and pho­to­syn­the­sise through their flat­tened stems which are dec­o­ra­tive in them­selves.

Marlborough pink broom ( Carmichaelia glabrescens) has a frenzy of pink blooms like candy floss in early sum­mer.

I have planted it with a same-coloured clema­tis which wan­ders through the broom as its host. There are red roses and pink monarda nearby. These com­pan­ion plants, the ex­otics, all en­joy good, rich, mois­tur­ere­tain­ing soil. The broom, on the other hand, re­quires sharply drained, nu­tri­ent­poor con­di­tions. How­ever it thrives up against the brick wall – per­haps the wall’s con­crete foun­da­tions are to its lik­ing. This con­fec­tion is fleet­ing. The broom’s flow­ers don’t last but its weep­ing grey-green fo­liage, like a wa­ter­fall in ar­rested mo­tion, adds value to the gar­den pic­ture for all of the year.

Na­tion­ally endangered is our weep­ing tree broom, Carmichaelia steven­sonii.

The spec­i­men I planted at Lar­nach Cas­tle at the back of the rock gar­den 40 years ago now makes a telling, struc­tural state­ment. It is in light soil on slop­ing ground and in a rain shadow from the rain-bear­ing southerly winds.

Weep­ing tree broom can grow to 10m. I am look­ing for­ward to my one reach­ing these heights. It had bet­ter hurry up.

At the risk of be­ing a bore, I’ll say it again: Why not in­ter­min­gle our New Zealand na­tive plants with ex­otics. I’m not talk­ing here about reveg­e­ta­tion – an im­por­tant but sep­a­rate is­sue – botanic gar­dens or na­tional col­lec­tions. I’m talk­ing about your home gar­den look­ing at­trac­tive through­out the year.

Hav­ing a lit­tle na­tive gar­den sep­a­rate from the rest is apartheid. Plants are not go­ing to catch some­thing nasty if they mix with “for­eign­ers” (plants from the rest of the world). Don’t be like the Ku Klux Klan; let’s in­te­grate.

Carmichaelia glabrescens.

Carmichaelia steven­sonii.

Carmichaelia kirkii.

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