Anogramma (2005)

Anogramma (2005)



the Proceedings of

the Christchurch Botanical Gardens

Horticultural Apprentices'

Mutual Improvement Society



During the 1950s, after I left school, I worked for some years as a horticultural apprentice at the Christchurch Botanical Gardens. It was my intention then to work in the field of the growing of native plants. All apprentices were required to attend monthly meetings of the Christchurch Botanical Gardens Horticultural Apprentices Mutual Improvement Society. We met on a Monday night at the curator's house, a handsome stone building on the river bank at the south-east corner of the gardens; it's now a restaurant.

In March of this year (2004) there was a reunion of the apprentices of the '50s, and memories of those meetings featured in our recollections. Beforehand, intrigued at the concept of the Mutual Improvement Society, I had done some research and had discovered that it had, fifty years earlier, been a widespread means of distributing new ideas. In this coal town where I now live such groups had been used to convey Marxist philosophy.

Out of this research, infused with nostalgia, grew this work. Close attention has been paid to historical and botanical accuracy, but the characters who take part in it are composite characters-none are actual-and the names they bear are names then popular.

Leicester Kyle



A Collective Term For A
Natural Life

Nothing matters
nothing else at all
but the past
so we meet
after fifty years of toil soil
and chlorophyll
to reminisce

gardeners all ––
Judy Peter Robert
Barry Graeme Ross Alison
Lynley Doreen Donald Chris
Lorelei and me
In a group
with drinks
and finger food
by occupation
and experience
a Gathering of Gardeners?
(there are Packs of seeds
and Beds of bulbs)
a Bouquet, perhaps?
–– too floral
a Graft?
–– inimical
a Huddle of Horticulturists?
–– verbose
Something oblique that packs a punch
and carries meaning with it ––

a Mulch?



OurWe try to take the window seat
Assemblyhalf-hidden by the drapes,
from here you can miss the boss’s eye
at question-time, reprimand, or praise
and rest at the end
of a day’s hard toil at the soil.
I can’t recall it raining
but it must have on several
of those Monday nights.
by memory it was dusk,
and you could look from the bow window
over lawns and formal flowers
to the museum and the avenue elms
and the university.

it’s spring,
and the Malus floribunda’s
a pink pavilion by the path

it’s summer,
and the tuberous begonias
flash electric at the wall

autumn leaves
blow in dunes
across the beds

and muffled students scurry by
on gothic winter nights

It’s easy to dream
in the window seat
of a time when study’s past
and journeyman days begin,
while Judy or Peter or Robert
or Barry Graeme Ross or Alison
Lynley Doreen Donald or Chris
or Lorelei
address us.


The point
is to use knowledge,
to order display and apply,
to manage in formality.
We’re all to be head gardeners,
curators, directors, have charge
of domains and tropic houses
parks, boulevards or businesses,
potting sheds, collections, seed exchanges,
and must place by rote
in our young minds
the whole Linnaean universe
of order family genus and species;
we must be able to awe with fact
landscape with certainty
and lead floristic fashion,
to write books that remake gardens
right around the land,
introduce new vegetables
flutter hearts with grasses
preserve maintain and hybridise
and be visionary,
especially for the towns
that hire us.

they will treat us with respect,
employers will be loyal,
clubs ask us to address them,
and a tree might be planted
for remembrance
when we die,
a new vireyan rhodo bear our name,
or a park
or a street
or, if we are industrious,
a pot-plant mix.


These are formative nights:
the men in ties,
women scented and in dresses,
anxious to serve
when supper’s brought in
at the end
by Mrs. Thomas
Whose husband is our boss.
They live
in this house of peninsula stone,
fronted by wisteria,
distinguished by its site
in this academic corner of town,
by its grace,
and botanic gloss.

His power is inestimable —
to change the colour of the times
and their perspective
by planting
and uprooting,
by bedding choice.
He oversees
tends the trees
and diagnoses.
He must also liase with the city
and care for us.

He likes his job,
is competent,
but sometimes has a dyspeptic look
and the restlessness of someone who
has too much else to do.

We admire him in his eminence,
his power to construct
from pine and paulonia
pinoak and plane
avenues knolls and savannah;


herbaceous borders so glorious
one wants to go to sleep in them;
rockeries so hospitable
that their plants feel at home
as if on tundra Andes or other alp;
tropic houses draped in vine
and orchidaceous splendour;
and water gardens surreal like paintings
of iris lily carp;

and the natives,
from the Torlesse Range the Craigiebums
the Clarence and the Peninsula –
leafless brooms and vegetable sheep,
furry-leaved Senecios,
Pen wipers Buttercups Gingidiums,
leather-leaved Celmisias,
and undercovers
which smell of thin air
with names like Chrysobactron
or Latin; they don’t have common names
they’re not enough seen to be known,

like we who move amongst them
weeding and repairing,
seen as bent backs and barrows,
hoes rakes
at hoses mowers
clearing paths
spraying trenching
and all the while learning
the requirements of the species,
who have preferences set,
even to affection.


ProceedingsWe’re talking lightly with each other
Beginwhen he calls us to attend,
and asks the secretary
to read the minutes.
Chris, last month,
had made coffee
from Coprosma berries
by cooking them
and extracting the seeds.
He had roasted and ground them,
made a brew,
and shared it round.

It was a sort of coffee.
A distinctive indigenous taste could be made,
he said,
by grinding manuka seed to mix.

That’s Chris,
his stylish touch
and novelty,
his interest in the facts we overlook,
like the chemistry of leaves
and mycorrhiza.
He casts doubt upon the inevitable,
such as sex and food,
to confuse his friends
and worry his mother,
and then he distinctively enjoys both.
Once he’s worked his life out
in his mind
he’ll head off down some unlikely path.

The boss now gives us notice
of the exams,
which stand each year ahead
a carrot or a guillotine.
We each must sit
and we each must pass.


The evening deepens.

(I can still see
on the lawn
in the darkness of dusk
the statue of the Superintendent
who marked out our town,
carved these grounds,
and even now,
a century on,
sets this ordered pattern of my life.)

Don’s now invited to begin;
he moves forward
to speak from the table:
TheThere was a time when people mostly ate meat, he says.
VegetableThere were fruits,
but they weren’t much,
being small and sour.

There were some greens in the popular diet,
like fat-hen nettle cabbage beet dandelion and cress.

The bread was bad,
often made from barley and beans,
and so people had skin diseases
which were called leprosy.

Queen Elisabeth didn’t eat greens;
they made her gassy.

Our vegetables entered the diet in the 17th century.
Some, like celery and endive, from south Europe.
Others, like com potatoes tomatoes
from the Americas.
They were only slowly taken into use –
it took twenty years
for the villagers of Selboume
to begin to use the potato.
As vegetables became more popular,
both root and green,
the health of the people greatly improved.


We ask questions
about the origins of others
like cabbages and carrots and radishes,
for we like to get to the beginnings of the craft
as well as the names.

Botany isn’t names, of course,
but they’re the beginning.
Once you’ve named a plant
you’re its proprietor,
as Colenso found,
whose names were taken away
and then returned,
whose plants were his
their identities fixed
into his life.
Even knowing the name gives rights –
of approach
of affection
to grow
curiosity sympathy fear anger
as with a pet
on silver plates and tablecloths,
or a car.
Take the potato at Selbourne,
for twenty years outcast,
lodged with aristocrats
eaten with recipes and refinement
and easily grown,
but new,
and therefore unfitted for the labourer.

In due time
it got itself passed
hand by hand
to those who needed it,


then over the seas
to this island
as a small thing and purple,
to take the place
of the yam the fern the kumara,
to be roasted baked boiled fried
or made flour
for breads;

and now it’s tied to our lives
with seasonal attentions
and constant consumption.
We know its inclinations,
diseases water needs and soils,
how best cooked served used.

In all its doings
gardeners are placed.
We educate the plant
as engineers a stream
to obedience –
firstly, to grow bigger;
the larger size is pleasing to the eye
and suggests an increase in worth.
The leaves must be so placed
as to suggest vitality;
a fit vegetable
is the most suitable,
being meatier, tastier,
easier to cook and less fibrous,
which is all the more likely
if the plant is content in its bed.
Colour signifies –
if green,
let it be lustrous;
if red,
New Zealand likes it firm and strong,
America blanched and bland.


The search for looks
conflicts with taste –
we remember our youth
and want
sweeter swedes
sharp-edged beans
and radishes with pepper in them.

[Don mightn’t say all this;
it’s what I hear in my bias
to the dignity of the trade.]

Another I have in my memory
is the talk Judy gave
‘On The Weather’.
She gave us diagrams
and pictures –
of how it moves
from West to East.
She made the sunny day the norm,
and variations from that into ‘weather’.
Look to the south,
she said,
to the far S.W.
where the change first shows
as cirrus in a high blue sky,
the evidence of a front.

The succession,
she said,
of fronts and highs
is our weather,
and it’s what the Tasman does to the front
that makes its vigour.


Before the front is the nor-wester,
which dries us,
and following that’s the sou-wester
that brings rain.
A low may form on the front
and bring a storm,
or a high behind it
cause a gale.

There are times when this procession stalls,
the weather is still and grows stale,
there are floods
or droughts.
Sometimes there are eddies—
the parade changes route
and comes upon us from the warm N.E.
the East
or the South
and is cold.
Watch for variety,
she said,
it is infinite.
The signs are all in the sky,
she said,
in cloud type and movement,
and she showed us some maps
to illustrate routines
which weather tends to have,
which help prediction.

She left the picture in my mind —
the revolving roof above us
with its environments circling,
seasonally presenting
something of the same.


There’s comfort in the concept –
It eases anxiety,
the neuroses of our age,
that everything’s edging out of control:
progress to regress
temperate to extreme,
that even the sea
in its profound indifference will engulf us.

The weather,
says Judy,
has happened before.


The elements are for men,
it’s we who battle them
they are our wider wild,
but we like Judy’s talk,
the way it moves from day to day
and centres upon the event.
We learn a lot from it,
knowledge we need,
for the gardener should know
about the weather –
how to work with
or in spite of it;
we comment
and pronounce upon it,
basing our wisdom
upon vegetable and floristic hints
developing traits
cloud types
prevailing winds
repetitive sets
and droughts from west of the sea.
The weather is part of our basic skills
with fire water and earth.


We admire Judy’s talk.

Alison surprised us
when she gave her talk on soil.

Soil is not an inert mass,
she said,
but is a compound
of living organisms organic matter
chemicals and the base materials
from weathered rock.

We hadn’t thought of it like that.

She gave it in her serious way
with lots of useful points,
and told us of the various types
of digging (which we knew),
of how to bring the soil
to its mealy best,
of sand loam and clay,
how to water
how to drain
and how to sterilise;
of manures,
and how to fertilise.
There were diagrams.

We didn’t know she could be like this,
so competent with particulars and facts;
and we respected her the more
until Ross found her out,
that she had taken whole pages from
the book the Boss had written.

It was a lazy thing to do.
No-one said a thing;
the facts were right
no harm was done,
but we wondered what the Boss had thought.


Some of our girls
work as florists
and don’t have to come to this group
as they might not share our future,
it’s up to them.
Those who do
have other work —
budding grafting potting
and pricking out,
and the rose garden.
They don’t do the digging
the machinery
or the boiler in the morning,
which has gasses
that make us feel sick.

I like Lorelei.
She’s shorter than me
and has full lips.
I would like to make love to her
but I don’t think I know how.
Most probably I do
but I’m not sure.
This is how things are —
we know about sporangia
but not about sex,
which is more work yet
for the Ch.Ch. Botanical Gardens
Horticultural Apprentices
Mutual Improvement Society.

to learn it
is just one
of the things
I will do
when I’m a

The Boss puts out his specimen tray.

He does this after the talk.


It’s our testing time,
so we can help the public
when they stop to ask us
at the rock gardens
the water gardens
the herbaceous border
the rose garden
the tropical house
the cactus house
the alpine house
the native section
the primula garden
the archery lawn
or at the pinetum
the name of this or that
and how to grow it.

We must learn to be accurate
and own authority,
as I’ve said before.

On the tray are:

two pressed ferns
one blown rose
one heather sprig
two dry cones
one oak twig
three strips of bark
two potted plants
and an epiphyte on a
cut branch

We gather round —
those with more confidence
in at the front,
the timorous at the back.


The rose is guessed at Double Delight
the sprig as Crimson King;
the two dry cones as couteri
and cembra,
the oak twig is cerris,
two strips of bark can’t be guessed
the other’s Quercus suber;
two potted plants are Rhodos both,
one mollis one vireya.

I know one of the ferns;
it grows near home
on a ledge of coal
in a seepage;
it’s a little Lindsaya;
and the epiphyte too,
from the autumn bush
when my father would say
‘smell that scent’
and we would hunt upwind
to find it –
on the cliff
by the falls.

They look at me,
and the Boss approves.
I feel warmed.
I begin to see
that I’m meant for
the indigenous.

Lorelei says
in my ear
from behind:
‘you’re native anyway’
which I know she means as encouragement,
though she doesn’t know what she means.


I see also, with
Colenso on the East Coast,
Munro on the Nelson hills,
Cunningham until he died of his fever,
the particular power of knowledge
and how it drives you.

Robert challenges the Rose:
perhaps it’s not ‘Double Delight’
but a faded ‘Botanica’;
we know well enough –
the scent proves him wrong,
and Mr. Thomas enjoys the discussion:
he talks about the rose,
the species the colonists brought with them
to the hybrids since created.
We even touch on what makes a rose,
the combination of flower and leaf
of scent with colour
peculiar to the genus,
the consequence of its three thousand years
in the garden
We talk of its relatives.

Ross is uneasy in this aesthetic,
and suggests the moral advantage
of growing potatoes.
He once gave a talk on the genus Solanum.
It was commended by the Boss,
who admires research.

Ross has an historical bent,
and grows on his parents’ land
old fruits
and vegetables like Cardoon.


He has
yellow raspberries
purple gooseberries
black apples
four species of blackberry
a yellow currant etc.
He likes to know where things started.
He’s a nervous and sensitive lad,
concerned with being clean,
so we’re pleased he’s fond of Lyn
who likes the less ordinary.
She eats native fungi
and once gave a short talk
on how to cook Urtica dioecia,
which she said is like spinach,
makes a good soup,
and binds other vegetables it’s cooked with.

She served up some
at a supper once
with butter.

I’ve not asked him
if he eats meat
but I’m curious.

TheIt’s dark outside;
Philosophythe street lamps in the avenue
throw a little light upon
the Superintendent.
The gates are shut
so there’s no-one in the grounds;
several with bicycles
talk at the college gate.
At the museum a light is on.
The grounds fade into the dark.


This tended world
could be all there is,
bounded on three sides as it is
by the river of the water of life,
and along the avenue
the wrought-iron fence
be patrolled by celestial guards,
and flaming swords if necessary.

Within these bounds
might be all that is required,
the tree of life itself,
and we,
the apprentices,
its unknowing guardians.

who have,
in all innocence,
eaten of the apple,

who shall not grow old
but shall in perpetuity
attend it,

or else,
and equally perhaps,
the tree shall be created
by successful hybridisation
and then,
as with the last name of God,
the trump shall sound
the bounds be removed
and Eden be in actual space eternal,
God be in the Museum,
milk and honey at the Tea Kiosk,
and the scent of roses
waft with the Saints


So I dream,
a gentle Anglican Apocalypse.

A group of gardeners
is a kindly thing
and we, though young,
epitomise the type.

Some soils make sour folk
but this is benign.
We at work
are scattered about the gardens,
and when we meet
there’s a break in our solitude
and pleasure in company.
We share wholesome interests:
seasons sun moon,
flowers trees lawns,
other gardeners,
earth rock water.
Amongst our number is all humanity
though writ modestly:
several are ambitious,
none are greedy,
several slack,
one depressive
no-one manic,
and all want an ordinary life
though the plant takes the preference
before all else and all desires —
a charming sanity.

If Jesus had not been a carpenter
he would have worked in soil.
The feel of it,
the smell of it in rain —
that we return to it
and from it we came,
is at the root of our humanity.


Barry now produces
a puzzle of his own;
we gather round the table
to view:

He’s put out four plants in pots.
He’s a tramper
and collects as he goes.
We guess these
are gathered by him.
He says they’re Celmisias
but how, he asks,
do we know?

He asks:
‘What’s a Celmisia?
What marks it
from any other species?
Can you spell that out?’

We all perk up.
This is profound,
like the meaning of life,
but this is horticulture
and the mystery of growth;
we must expect it to be deep.

We crowd in to peer:
one has leaves like a sword
another like grass,
the third has spoon-shaped leaves
and the last like a dagger
small and flat against the soil

Mr. Thomas tells us:
(we sit at his feet) –


Genera have common traits,
as there are to plants of a region –
South African plants have a look, he says,
and Australian.
We have few deciduous plants
and few annuals;
a lot of our alpines felt themselves
for protection
and grow leathery.
The Celmisia does both.

What does Cheeseman say –
(there’s always a ‘Flora’ handy)
“perennial herbs or subshrubs of diverse habit; leaves
densely tufted or imbricate along branches; usually to-
mentose, at least on lower surface, petioled or lamina
passing almost directly into a persistent sheath’.

He writes of a complex range of forms;
of three rather well-marked groups;

but over-all,
apart from several species at the edge of the genus,
there are these shared traits:
1. they’re perennial.
2. they’re daisies.
3. they’re herbs or sub-shrubs.
(These three characteristics eliminate much of the rest of our alpine flora from consideration, e.g.
4. they’re woolly underleaf
5. the leaves in most species are leathery, rather rough, and with parallel venation.


On top of this,
make your own experience.
Know the Celmisia,
take your ‘Flora’ with you,
and establish identification
with every variant plant;
rehearse it in your mind
until your knowledge becomes instinctive
and you can say,
as you pass by,
‘That’s a Celmisia’
whether it be in the grass on the scree the rocks or meadow,
and it’s monroi or parva or graminifolia etc.

We murmur our thanks
and withdraw,
to make sure he stops.
Barry’s pleased;
he’s had a satisfying response.

Mrs. Thomas brings in the supper.
It’s on a trolley made of two aluminium hoops
and two formica trays.
‘Here’s some griddle scones’ she says,
and Allison asks
‘What’s a griddle scone?’
‘That’, says Mrs. Thomas, pointing,
which is as good an answer
as one often gets
to the identity of things.

I think,
as I consider my position
in this little elite
in the kingdom of the greens:
even now we’re being groomed —
to eat scones in a carpeted room
and talk with a cup of tea,
as gardeners must,
to further the trade,
like farmers and hunters.


I’m surprised that I’m me
and not one of the others here,
that I’m here.
I wonder why this is,
and how the others think

Next month Allison speaks
on grafting roses;
she’s good at it,
and demonstrates to visiting groups.
Next after that
I give the talk,
on the orchids of New Zealand.
I feel anxious.

For something
for us
to do
during supper
I put out my fern,
found in the tussock near Kennedy’s Bush,
in a pot,
on the table,
while everyone’s at food.

As they turn,
with their tea and scone,
it’s there before them,
a distraction
and convenient.

What is it?
they ask,
(it’s a very small thing)
‘I’ll get my Dobbie’, says the Boss,
‘here, p.206 —


A small genus of terrestrial ferns,
widely distributed.
The number of species is usually given as seven
but the individuals vary greatly
with the stage of development,
and the distinctions are not convincing.’

This is A. leptophylla,
our only Anogramma,
an annual
and worldwide.

This is its usual size,
and insignificant.
If the purpose of a plant
is to gain attention
you might wonder why it exists.’

I think,
the purpose of anything living
is to live,
but I’m not sure.




At Supper


why bother with a thing like this
why should I spend my time learning this?
a rose yes, or a new chrysanthemum
but this — you can’t pot it
or bed it
it doesn’t show
and it isn’t food
– go on with you
you need to know
– why do I need to know
you tell me
– Rick hasn’t come tonight
– he doesn’t think he needs to
he says it’s a waste of time
he can do better things
– yeah, with Judy
and you know what with
– come on Graeme
she’ll hear
– come on Lyn
you know what Rick’s like
– no I don’t, actually
– has everyone seen that new rose by the sundial?
Peace it’s called, isn’t it?
– I don’t think much of it
I think it’s cabbagey
– but the buds,
they’re terrific
– it doesn’t even smell
– have you seen the weeping broom in the native
it’s out now
– where do you get them?
– up the Clarence
they don’t live long
– there you are again
what’s the use of a tree like that
you’re better off with something that has a life


– have you heard about the fernery?
someone didn’t switch it on the other night
when there was a nor-wester
and all the leptopteris burnt up
– what’s a leptopteris?
– who was on duty?
– Rick
they say the Boss is pretty mad with him
that’s why he’s not here
– who are they?
– you know — the staff
– what’s the use of a fernery anyway
people don’t go to see it
– what do you know?
you’re never round that way
– what’s the use of a botanic garden?
now there’s a good question, says the Boss,
anyone game to answer?
– I’m going vegetarian
– why are you doing that?
– so I can grow my own food
– you could run a pig or a duck
– I couldn’t eat my animals
– you don’t have to be fond of them
– I always get fond of the things I look after
– don’t you look after your vegetables?
no-one’s answered my question, says the Boss
– what was it?
– what’s the use of a botanic garden
– it’s like a museum, but for plants
so people can know what plants there are
and what they look like
– museums are for dead things
– well then, it’s a vegetable zoo
– it’s educational
that’s why it’s opposite the university


getting closer, says the Boss
– have you heard that Nayland’s closing down?
– they’re not closing down
they’re for sale
they’re not closing down
they’re shifting out to Tai Tap
– what will they do with the trees?
– they’ve been planning it for years
– it’ll be hard for the staff
– they won’t need so many
they won’t be selling on site any more
– anyone read that article in ‘The Gardener’
on Maori gardening?
– didn’t know they had any
– what did they grow?
– kumaras and stuff
– what sort of stuff?
– yams and taro and gourds and fem
– the fern would have grown anyway
– they say their gardens looked quite neat
things in rows
the gourds grew over the whares
sounds interesting Don, says the Boss,
why don’t you give a talk about it
in a month or two?
who’s coming with me on Saturday?

– where are you going, Mr. Thomas?
up one of the peaks near the Bealey
we’ll have to leave early

– what are you looking for?
there’s a Myosotis and a couple of Gentians,
and I want some more Leucogenes
who’s coming?
all the men
what about the girls –
it’s a long climb but not a tough one
Judy Lynley
what about you Doreen – good
we’ll sort out the cars later


– Before we go, Mr. Thomas,
could I ask one question —
the Madrone
by the footbridge —
how old is it?
about 50 years, I think
Where does it come from?
from the western USA
Is it any use?
you can make a jam from the berries
does it have to be useful
why do you ask?

– it’s such a good-looking tree
good. Research it
find out what you can
and give us a brief on it next month
after the main talk.

Barry often does this
just as we’re closing down.
He’s shy,
and it takes him all the evening
to nerve himself up
to ask.





I go by the western gate.

There’s a dew,
and the air holds the scents
of grass leaf and flower.

I could ride,
but I push the bike
for the pleasure of the walk
in my workplace
in the dark,
and to think,
of Lorelei,
whom when I said goodbye at the door
had held my hand for an instant,
and kissed me.

At last,
I think,
I’m a man,
I’ve someone for the permanent life.

On along the gravel path
along the river bank,

the Malus florabunda on the left
with its slight hawthorne scent,

the Clerodendron trichotomum,
of cream-white flowers
and sea-green fruit;
it smells of warm places.

in a drier bed;
it smells of chocolate rain,

and the great Madrone,
my shelter at work.


I’m farther now
from city lights.
The hospital’s behind me,
through the trees on the other side,
and there’s a slight hum of traffic
from the avenue,
but I don’t mind the dark,
it’s my home
and I’m familiar,

with Rhododendron bibiani,
the first to flower here,

the hazel bush
that sometimes bears,

and the Erica walk
by the rockery.

Here I near the centre of my being,
where the garden,
no more a pattern of beds and lawns,
turns intricate
with the small things
that make our world
and bind it to the whole,

iris anemone narcissus
cyclamen and cistus,
small species culled
from wood
and wild places
which I myself must visit
when I’ve taxonomic skill,
and money.


Here the path twists
as it wanders through the rocks
and there’s a step or two
by the pond.

I cross Lime Walk;
the river’s at one end of it
the glasshouse at the other;
I feel gravel underfoot
as I enter the Natives,
in an alpine garden sunken
and sheltered by its shrubs.
There’s a slight pea smell
from the broom.

This is my charge,
where I work.
All other parts are nothing
to this.
Here the plot of the world can be read,
its story told
by names I revere —
with whom I’ll go
when I’ve skilland money.
On the isthmus between two ponds
there’s a tree,
a Macrocarpa;
a seat makes a skirt round its trunk
and I sit for a time.
There’s no hurry.
My parents will have gone to bed
and I’ve a key.

I’m beginning to know myself.
It’s time to think.


Lorelei’s mine;
something will happen now,
and something must be done.
We must decide
what to do
with the time
which lies before us
in decades,
or even more.
It must be housed
and supplied with philosophy.
The scope of it thrills me,
and though I’m in the dark
I see my prospect
has a rising sun.

The gate’s near.
I take the path that skirts the ponds
of nympha iris gunnera
past the paulownias
on to the bridge.
The others will be home by now,
no-one’s far to go.
The city’s not a big one
but I,
with all my years ahead,
see no limits.

To calm myself
and quiet my mind
and pass the pedalling time,
I start to plan my talk.

It will be on Anogramma,
the little fern that has no use
but takes itself
to everywhere
we go.





Cyathodes juniperinus
Ross is quiet.

His girl-friend
(at Baylis’s Nursery)
complains he won’t argue,
that he’s always in the same moderate mood.

There’s a short-life look to him
as if he doesn’t expect to go on.
he doesn’t prepare
nor think ahead,
and when you ask him his plans
he’s surprised
that the future
should matter.

He passes this as wisdom,
that you take what comes,
but you soon get the feeling
that there’s not much there to take.

Sometimes he says
that he’s not very well,
but he’s steady enough
and grows herbs.


Lepidothamnus laxifolius
All of us respect the church
(No-one’s said they don’t)
but Graeme goes to one.

He reads the bible at lunch,
would like us to
and to pray
be virtuous
and work hard.
which are good things,
but we don’t like being made.

He’s not one to imagine much,
he’s straight down the line
and square
so he can’t
understand us
when we evade.
We wonder what’s going on inside
and think it’s to do with sex.
We’re patient:
Though he’s black and white just now
in due course he’ll go grey.


Sophora prostrata
A flatness in his speech
makes him seem dull,
but he has ambitions to reform society
through the force of enlightened philosophy.

He’s our senior,
and is soon to marry
a girl he’s kept in privacy.

He likes nursery work;
plants are to sell –
pricked out in trays,
nursed and fed in pots,
staked and washed,
carted about on the backs of utes
to shops.

Seasons are to exploit,
to prepare for
and make use of,
to sell in.

In the back yard is the vege patch,
near the back door the herbs,
and the front lawns
of every house
should be edged
by floral bedding.


Coprosma rhamnoides
Most of us are tired by the end of the week
but Robert isn’t;
he’s always off to a party
and wanting us to go.

It’s all he talks about next week,
of girls and cars and crowds
and you wonder if he works,
but he knows his job
and studies it.

He’s red scotch and proud
so he doesn’t study the natives;
as long as he’s with the traditional stuff –
herbaceous things and bedding plants –
he’s fine.

He’s thin
with knobbly arms and legs
but when he’s on the town he’s great –
shoes and shirts –
he’s style.


Olearia virgata
We see him getting on well.
He has his UE
and is on the way with his NDH
though there’s trouble,
he says,
with the fertilisers –
the mixes are hard to remember,
which you must do
else you burn the displays,
like Gloxinias.
He’s tall broad and fair
and has an easy charm,
that doesn’t like to hurt.
We don’t grudge him,
nor envy.

He’s engaged to Liz
at Linwood,
where they meet
in what is aptly called
the propagating house.


Gentiana cerina
She’s older than some of us,
yet she’s an orphan.

Her parents died in a crash last year
and she has the house at St. Albans;
money too.

She lives quietly –
it suits her, she says,
to work the day
then home to her cats
and a quiet night.

She likes her house
and likes her cats;
she likes her work
in the potting shed;
she smokes a lot
and is coughing more these days.

We think she has a man
but doesn’t tell.
Most of what she pots
does well.


Forstera bidwillii
is round and bright
the sort of girl you meet in a lift,
always going on up.

Her world is better,
always getting better;
her sun is in the east
and will not be in the west
until the end.

It’s how she sees —
it’s in her head
that life is a staircase
with the best at the top;
she always climbs,
never descends,
and each day anticipates
the step;

is so she might rest for the day,
is to grow for the sun.

The cactus house
is part of her charge.

She can tell a Euphorbia
when she sees one.


Gahnia setifolia
Flower fruit and foliage
are at one in the vase
when managed by her in arrangement,
and seem always to have been so
to have grown for display.

Lyn is the florist
who embellishes the city when it meets,
does standing vases at the Council
decorates at civic dinners
and halls at formal occasions.

All the garden’s her resource:
hot-house exotica and the bizarre,
beds for cut flowers,
the roses,
and the displays.

She’s gifted,
and she studies as well.

She seems set,
but you never know with talent —
she could go.


Pteris tremula
Her training’s near done,
she’s considering things.

It’s in her
to advance.
Her practical ways
and intelligence
are admired,
and good passes in exams.

She does the seeds
and she knows people.

She’s been around forever,
people think,
and she acts to it
with wisdom
and the assumption of a past.

Her glasses make her come up close
to peer,
but she’s not
as old
as she acts,

nor so severe.


Carmichaelia stevensonii
Theory engages him
as much as the now,
and already
at twenty
he’s a library we envy —
Gardening in the Temperate World
Principles of Soil

and things like that.

He’s a stocky lad and ruddy
curly haired
and looks like a farmer
who’s not very clever.
He’s near the end of his time.

We like him
because he’s straight and true
and always does his job,
but you have to watch out —
he doesn’t like to be teased,
nor offended.

He likes Lorelei,
but I think
he should look for someone
his own age.


Pittosporum obcordatum
His mother’s a Jellie from Ikamatua
his father an Ell from Tai Tap,
which is nothing to boast of
but does define
and give him a place,

which is something.

He says his parents are slipping,
fading out
in their troubles,
though it might be in his mind.

He thinks of things
that are out of our range
and ahead of his time
in consequence,
for distraction,
so that his world doesn’t weaken
and there’s something strong in it.

This separates him;
he sits apart at lunch
and reads,
and doesn’t come in at breaks.

He’s very good at grafting –
one fruit on another;
he likes the idea of changing things.


Herpolirion novae-zealandiae
Her favourite saying
(for self-assertion) is
‘I’m not just a pretty face’,
to which I say
‘You could at least be that’,
for familiarity,
a right to tease,
that we’ve gone way past compliment.

I can think of nothing greater
than my love for her;
she’s my future,
my whole ambition;
her country clothes
(she’s from Cust)
are my ideal of fashion;
her rural slang
is innocence and charm,
her taste of film
is my discrimination.

We’re so at ease together that
the world spins slow with us,
its wounds are dressed
its gardens graced.

Even its lights depend on us,
its rising;
we’re spirit and fertility
sea and tide.




An Elegy At Cora Lyn


We didn’t go by car
but by the Coast train,
at 2.0
for the Bealey.

We won’t sleep,
for there’s a moon,
and when we get to the edge of the plain
we stand on the tray at the end of the train
to watch,
Chris and Don and Pete and me.
None of the others have come,
and the Boss takes a snooze
in his seat.

It’s a pale light and sepia,
like an old film.
There’s a trace of snow
on the Torlesse range
but the mountains,
pale in the moon,
have hardly any shadows
and no depth.
The gorge below us
is faint in the dusk
like an old memory
that could vanish in a blink,
cliff and stream, braid and stones,
flat and track.

We’re there at half past four,
and walk through the matagouri
to a grassy flat,
where we sit
until the light comes up
and we can see
where we are
with the river.


It’s sparking moon-made lights.
It’s low,
says the Boss;
we can cross where we are
to the black range
on the other side
with the blacker bush upon it
to the crags at the top,
which are luminous against the stars,
by reflection.

We’re dull before the dawn
and are disinclined,
so the Boss lights a fire
to make some tea,
and puts out a snack;
he does this
when we’re in the field.

There’s no track.
We have to make our way
up that forested face
to the cliffs at the top,
where the iridescent myosotis grows
in wet places
on the rocks,
and we with wet feet
from the crossing,

which we shrink from –
cold feet
in the cold dawn
which is grey now.

It’ll be warm on the tops
in the sun.
It’s summer
and the Rata’s out;
the birds will be about,
and the flowers –
Celmisias and Ranunculus,
Gentians Orchids and Ourisias,
and Leucogenes on the rocks
in the sun.


The exhilaration
of enduring to the top;
then the drama of emergence
out of the beech
out onto decorated meadows.

Firstly there’s light ahead,
through the trunks,
(a public light
against the privacy
of the bush)
then snow-grass with thin scrub;
you push through that,
higher still,
through Celmisia Ranunculus Aciphylla
and then to the meadow
and the flowers
dawing at our feet,
an alpine firmament
in thin cold air;
it has the youth of an antique mosaic
like Bach in a desert.

Their beauty is of contrast –
the pure against immensity
the frail against chaos,
and ingenuity –
to flourish and scatter across
these aether-islands atolls and cloud-peninsulas.

We love them,
flannel and satin petals,
their down-wind scents,
the forms they take
from cliff to tarn.


We come,
a swarm of Lowland bees;
we seek the Myosotis
for the alpines
in the shadehouse.
We know it grows here,
it’s one of the sites;
there’s a fear we might miss,
in spite of our skill.

(I see it already in my mind,
a soft herb
on a damp cliff.)

Who knows what else is here,
something curious
something rare,
in this crowded congregation
of separated worlds.

Hope lures us,
and the wonder of the rare;
small triumphs maybe,
but it’s sweet to find an admirable thing.
a green Lyperanthus
a pink Caladenia
a blue Thelymitra

Light grows,
and now the sun’s on the tops.

There’s a stir of scented air
from up-river.

We drain our mugs,
secure our packs.

They say there’s a yellow Celmisia there,
says the Boss.
Let’s go before the sandflies wake,
says Pete

ISBN 0-476-01604-5

Published in 2005 by Heteropholis Press
P.O.Box 367
Westport, N.Z.
Botanical illustrations from: 'N.Z. Nature Studies'
Wm. Martin 1947

Map of the Botanical Gardens by Edgar Taylor
The Ch.Ch Reserves Dept., 1958

© Leicester Kyle, August 2005

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