Our happy place – Inside the Jean Malpas Community Nursery

Date: 12th December 2023

At the heart of our planting operations is a sun-soaked spot at the end of Kelvin Peninsula. Here, each week on a Wednesday, people from all parts of the world and all walks of life meet to work towards a shared goal: growing native plants to restore biodiversity to key sites around Whakatipu Basin.

The Jean Malpas Community Nursery was established in 2014 and nowadays 10,000 plants each year are nurtured from eco-sourced seed here until they are ready to be planted out at our sites. 

Catherine Robb is our Nursery Volunteer Coordinator and each Wednesday morning from 9.00am to 12.00pm she hosts volunteers who carry out all the tasks involved in propagating plants, maintaining seedlings and generally taking care of the nursery site.

There’s always plenty to do – from “potting on” seedlings (separating and putting them in larger pots) to weeding the growing plants, washing equipment and helping our chief seed collector and plant propagator Helen in the propagation shed. 

Anyone is welcome to turn up at a nursery session – it’s drop-in style – and stay for as long as they’re able. 

Jen Seed has been volunteering regularly since she moved to Queenstown six years ago. “I look forward to it and if I’m in town, I make sure that I can go because it really is an enjoyable experience. It’s a great way to meet like-minded people, and feel good knowing you’re contributing to a better environment.”

Out of the nursery sessions, many a friendship has sprouted along with the ‘Cop prop’ seedlings (nursery-speak for Coprosma propinqua), kōwhai, beech and hebes. “The people that go care about the environment and in that sense they are like-minded,” says Jen. 

But it’s also the learning that keeps Jen coming back. “I’ve learnt a lot more in general about plants, and also because I’m from the North Island, the native plants up there are very different, they’re more subtropical. So I’ve started to appreciate plants like matagouri.”

Working alongside the very knowledgeable people who volunteer at the nursery is a bonus for anyone interested in plants or who want to learn more about the unique native flora of this region.

“You’re learning something different from doing it in your garden, working at scale. We’re always learning – things like that beech trees do much better if you’ve got some of the fungi in with it, and that the tiny beech seedlings do better in bunches than separated into root trainers. That’s something we trialled this year.”

In addition to the learning that goes on, the sessions serve as a connector for all kinds of people in the community. Some are visitors looking for a different experience of local life, others are new arrivals looking to meet like-minded people or sole business operators and freelancers taking a break from the laptop to “touch green” for an hour or two. There are horticultural students who visit as well as retirees and parents with kids.  

These individuals may well be joined by students on our Educate for Nature programme or a local business who have come along as part of a team-building experience or community activation day. 

So if you’re thinking of joining in, don’t be shy – as Jen says, “there’s always a good conversation to be had,” amongst our eclectic group of green thumbs. Or if you’re interested in bringing along a work or school group, feel free to get in touch by emailing Karen on volunteer@wrtqt.org.nz.

We’re incredibly grateful for our wonderful volunteers. Without their dedication, the nursery’s success simply wouldn’t be possible! 

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