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Eco-sourcing
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Who we are

Oratia Native Plant Nursery Ltd is a family business, owned and operated by Geoff and Bev Davidson - with some added skill input at times from the second generation.

The nursery began as a hobby in the early 1970s in response to Geoff's conservation interests and his desire to provide an alternative to the many exotics that he saw becoming a problem as garden escapees. This underpinning philosophy remains unchanged. Demand for native plants has grown tremendously over the years, but we remain one of the few large nurseries still in private (or even NZ) ownership, and are able to determine our path on the basis of ethical values rather than commercial ones.

Over the past 30 years the nursery has developed to become a major supplier of native plants to the Auckland area. Our market is not limited to Auckland and we have many significant customers throughout the North Island and some in the South Island. As a matter of policy we do not export - our indigenous species have proven their potential to become weeds overseas.

The transition from ‘overgrown hobby' to serious nursery took place in 1988 when we won a tender to supply 8000 larger grade plants (PB18 to PB40) needed for the Commonwealth Games Village. This required doubling the nursery area to about one hectare on our home property. In 1990 a fully developed nursery site nearby at 625 West Coast Road, Oratia became available and for some years we used both sites with about two hectares of open nursery, some 2000 square metres of shade houses and 1000 square metres of plastic growing houses. Demand for native plants has continued to increase and in 2005 we took a lease on another nursery site in Henderson Valley which gave us additional production space and allowed us to move most of the stock from the rather hilly home site. When the lease on this expired in 2009, changes in the global economic situation and in major revegetation projects led us to reassess our situation and we made the decision to concentrate our operation back in Oratia. We are happy to report that small is, indeed, beautiful.

We propagate most of our own plant material by seed, division, or cuttings. Because most of our plants are grown in the open on a moderately exposed site, they are well hardened off by time of sale. It is no surprise to us that customers regularly report their success rate is far higher with our plants than with more ‘cosmetically perfect' plants from other sources.

In recent years we have grown large numbers (10,000 plus) of plants on contract. Each of the City Councils of the Auckland area has required eco-sourced material and we now carry stock of plants appropriate to each ecological district of the Auckland isthmus. Transit New Zealand has used our revegetation grade plants along motorways, while other revegetation plantings include NZ Waste Redvale Quarry, the Unitec wetland project and Waitakere City's Twin Streams Project.

We strive to grow all the native fern species and on several occasions have supplied Auckland City with large quantities of ferns for the refurbished Domain Fernery.

Auckland University and more recently Massey University for their Albany campus have both been regular customers for specimen trees. The opening of the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, required a wide range of specimen trees complete with historical records of their provenance. We were able to meet these requirements and the established "Bush City" is now a flourishing microcosm on Wellington's waterfront. The cabbage trees at the Viaduct Basin in Auckland which were field-grown in Oratia have adapted well to their new environment. Other waterfront sites we have supplied range from the Far North and Bay of Islands to the Kaipara Harbour, Taranaki, Cape Kidnappers and the Chatham Islands.

We are known for our specialist range of wetland plants including endangered species such as Sporodanthus ferrugineus and Myriophyllum robustum. Since the introduction of the Resource Management Act in 1991 the use of such plants has increased dramatically as they are necessary to improve water quality in many situations. Stormwater drains, saline estuaries, riparian strips, sewerage ponds, and farm effluent ponds all function better and release purer water if the appropriate wetland plants are used. While the study of these systems is still in its infancy, we are able to provide some positive guidelines that will ensure the best plants are used for each purpose. To further our knowledge we recently supplied plants for a research project undertaken for a Masters thesis by Kieran Whelan who investigated the effectiveness of various wetland species in the uptake of mineral leachate from the mine tailings at the Golden Cross Mine at Waihi. Working in with scientific researchers has been one of the many rewarding aspects of the nursery's work.

In 1994 we collected much plant material from the Nelson area and so established a good range of species, including alpine plants, which have proven to be tolerant of Auckland's growing conditions. Subsequently we have visited other parts of the country accessing species from a wide range of habitats and proving the versatility of our flora in its ability to adapt to garden conditions.

Being specialist growers of New Zealand native plants we have many of those hard-to-find species that garden centres do not stock. Most of our stock has a known provenance and we can identify which of our plants come from which area of the country, albeit most are from the top half of the North Island. This ensures that where required we provide eco-sourced plants that are appropriate for each area.

All this information has to be stored but be immediately accessible, so in 2001 we purchased an Australian nursery-dedicated computer system. This proved to be a vast improvement on the simple database we had previously used, but by 2006 we had again outgrown it. We now run a version of MYOB Exonet, an accounting package with a purpose-built utility designed specifically for our needs. This provides all the historical data we require and tracks batches of plants through the growing process, recording their eco-sourced provenance. Our 2007 website upgrade has enabled us to import inventory directly from the stocklist on our computer database, ensuring the information you see on our website is always up-to-date.

While interest in native plants has grown hugely, we have been aware that knowledge of the expanding range of plants available, and how best to use them, is still lacking. To meet this need we have reintroduced the after-work seminars we ran in the past, with a series of lectures on different aspects of native plants and their uses. The popularity of these seminars has proven the need to provide easily accessible and understandable information for people with a range of skills. From the home gardener to the professional ecologist, there is a desire to better comprehend the complexity of our flora. We are producing support material for the lectures and this is available at a nominal cost. The first of what is intended to be a continuing series of newsletters was sent out to subscribers in September 2007.

A new venture has been to bring in specialist outside speakers. John Lyall, well-known in the art world, has developed a keen interest in the use of native species for bonsai trees. His workshops have provided a practical experience for participants who have taken away the fruits of their labour after the lesson.

Our interest in native plants extends beyond the commercial possibilities and we work closely with various agencies and groups to increase our knowledge of many plants, in particular endangered species, to the extent of growing ‘orchard trees' to provide a seed bank for future replanting in the wild. New species are still being recognised as scientific knowledge differentiates species and more detailed exploration unearths unknown plants.

A long association with the NZ Native Forests Restoration Trust continues, with the nursery supporting Geoff in his efforts on behalf of the Trust. The Trust has embarked on an ambitious programme of purchasing reserve land throughout the country. Selection criteria include proximity to an existing reserve. By enlarging an ecosystem, greater biodiversity can be achieved, ensuring the long term viability of our native flora and fauna. Since the Trust was set up in 1980, more than 5000 hectares have been purchased and protected. The momentum continues with new initiatives, in particular a partnership with the Regional Council, ‘Environment Waikato', to manage reserves in their region.

More recently the nursery has been active in supporting the work of the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network, a group established in 2003 with the vision that 'no indigenous species of plant will become extinct nor be placed at risk of extinction as a result of human action or indifference, and that the rich, diverse and unique plant life of New Zealand will be recognised, cherished and restored'.

We were honoured to win the NZPCN inaugural award for the best Native Plant Nursery in 2005, and in 2007 Geoff Davidson was further honoured with a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award'.

Remaining true to our values has not always made running a business easy. Business advisors are horrified at the number of species we carry in stock and talk about the "80/20 rule". However, we remain convinced that it is imperative that lesser-known treasures are recognized and made available. Our rewards are in seeing the escalating growth of public awareness, giving us confidence that New Zealanders are beginning to work together to protect and enhance their environment.

We invite you to join us in restoring NZ's natural heritage.