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Collaboration culminates in the cultivation of native plantings

23 November, 2023

Rongoā gardens grow with wide-ranging support


A conversation about bringing awareness to the importance of planting at Matariki has grown into the development of some special gardens at Ara | Te Pūkenga.

The Rongoā (traditional Māori medicine) gardens located near ‘C’ block and plantings alongside the newly installed hāngī pit at Te Puna Wānaka were opened recently, supervised by Kaumātua and Rongoā experts.

Planning the sites, sketching plans and gathering resources have been worked on over time to get the native-rich plantings approved and in the ground. The Rongoā gardens were supported by Grounds and Services Ltd. (GSL) and Ākonga Success at Te Pūkenga in support of initiatives focussing on mental health.


Reimana Tūtengāehe, Kaiako Reo Māori (centre) recites karakia before the two-day planting project commenced.

Ara’s Director of Māori Achievement Tate Tiatia said the gardens will be enjoyed and used in a multitude of ways to support increased mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing, and connection to the environment.

She said the project had been achieved after listening to the needs of ākonga (learners) and responding to them.

“Our kaimahi are well-tuned to the fact that our ākonga want to learn about maramataka, rongoā, raranga, taiao, te reo, tikanga, karakia, waiata and haka,” she said at an event to open the plantings.

“Knowledge about themselves and our indigenous practices supports a sense of belonging and assists them develop a positive Māori identity,” Tiatia said, adding the creation of the gardens brought life to Ara’s Framework for Māori Achievement.

The gardens have formed with the assistance and input of many, some of whom were present at the two planting days which saw them take shape.

Thanking Ara Kaumātua Harry Westrupp for his active engagement and strong links with community, Tiatia also acknowledged the presence and expertise of Aperahama Te Aika Kipa, from Kahukura Trust who had advised on plant selection after viewing the prepared plots.


Ara head gardener Ken Jackson gave tips on planting and spoke about the care and cultivation of the Kawakawa (Māori pepper tree), Koromiko (hebe) and Horopito (mountain pepper tree).

Ara’s Head Gardener Ken Jackson’s interest in Māori culture, and care for the campus environment, was also acknowledged. His employer, GSL, demonstrated its strong support for the kaupapa by providing many plants at cost and a keen interest in overseeing maintenance.

Renowned Māori tohunga raranga (master weaver) and Kaiako at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, Mōrehu Flutey-Henare, along with other tohunga rongoā and learners, was also present to see the gardens take shape. A regular contributor to teaching cultural practice at Ara, she was able to share her knowledge around rongoā with those assembled to begin planting.

“The expertise of our cultural experts is critical to our journey toward bringing mana ōrite or equal status of mātauranga Māori to our service and programme delivery here at Ara,” Tiatia said. “Valuing indigenous knowledge and perspectives, raising up mātauranga Māori in its standing and position in our organisation and society is supported through projects like this, where everyone learns together.”


Executive Director of Tiriti partnerships Te Marino Lenihan (left) said the species of harakeke (flax) harvested from the Tuahiwi region was chosen for its superior characteristics for weaving into kono (kai baskets). It will also provide a shelter border for the hāngi pit and the wharekai.

Ara | Te Pūkenga has a strong history in acknowledging the importance of planting and restoring native flora and fauna to the whenua. A Matariki initiative involving the Sustainability and Outdoor Education department with guidance from Executive Director Treaty Partnerships Te Marino Lenihan had been running for six years to restore native trees to Kaiapoi Pā. Funding will be sought to extend restoration work through to the Tuahiwi Centenary celebrations in 2030 which would see upward of 1100 trees planted at the significant site.


A large group of ākonga joined in the planting event, supported by Kaiwhakamānu (Student Advisor) Taryn Williams and under the guidance of Pā Whakawairua - Reimana Tūtengāehe and Te Puna Wānaka kaimahi to ensure sound tikanga practices. Ākonga and manuhiri enjoyed kai to acknowledge the commencement of planting.

Tiatia said the planting projects were a talking point for mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) and the intention was to also have them categorised in Ara’s Taonga Māori project so they can be easily located and referenced.

“The Taonga Māori project has recalled many of the narratives associated with our treasures, our art works, and anything of cultural significance so that it can be recorded and retold,” she said.

Departments across Ara have expressed interest in sharing the knowledge and incorporating the new plantings into future projects such as creating signs to explain the uses of plants for medicinal purposes and including QR codes with links to videos created by ākonga.