Lauraine Jacobs

Food Writer and Author of Delicious Books

Lauraine’s blog

26 August 2021


For my last column in the now lost and lamented local publication The Hobson, I visited Māra Kai (food gardens) in the Ōrakei Te Pourewa gardens in Kepa Rd, the initiative of the local Ngati Whatua Trust of the local Ōrākei marae.

I wanted to learn that more about the plantings of their first food crop of kumara as Matariki was imminent. This root crop is much loved by Māori and one of the tāonga or treasures of traditional cuisine. Widely accepted that kumara was introduced to New Zealand in the fourteenth century from Polynesia, it has been cultivated in the northern climate ever since and local iwi Ngāti Whātua, who run these gardens, harvested 3 tonnes of delicious kumara in their first growing season. In addition over 3000 kg of other vegetables crops were harvested there and distributed last season.

The gardens are really worth a peek as they provide an opportunity to feed the needy and hungry with a range of traditional native and colonial vegetables planted according to the knowledge and science gleaned from the stories and experience of the whenua and those who first cultivated land on the Auckland isthmus. Native puha, kamaho and watercress, much loved in traditional diets will be grown in 2021 along with five varieties of kumara and a sophisticated electronic-controlled composting system will produce copious quantities to nurture the two edible native mushrooms, tawaka and harore. Observant onlookers and passers-by will have noted the development of the gardens, with their native tree nursery and garden in full production on the land formerly known as the pony club paddocks.

Roger Small, the curator and designer of the mara kai gardens was formerly a director of Regional Parks in the Auckland area, responsible for the Auckland Botanic Gardens in Manurewa and explained that the layout, a grand circle represents energy with paths crisscrossing from east to west and north to south within the garden. The science behind the plantings has been gleaned and learned from the experience and stories handed down from the kaumatua of the area. As he said, the people of the Tamaki isthmus “Once Were Gardeners” and the local members of the Ngati Whatua carry on these traditions. Local specially grown traditional crops will include five varieties of kumara this year, prized kamokamo and puha, and an impressive watercress pond with fresh running water.

An electronic compost machine will provide two large recycled containers with enough dark matter to raise harvests of the two edible native mushrooms. Alongside these native plantings there will be plenty of traditional colonial vegetables and herbs.

The vision, which includes a Wellness garden with a centre of excellence to learn about traditional healing, and a Weaving garden to provide fifty species of plants and shrubs for harakeke and dyes, is for Te Pourewa to welcome people and show Ōrakei to the world through produce, expertise and innovation.