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Gardening with Gael - An enchanted forest


thumbnail IMG 1702-119Tourism New Zealand has recommended that we explore our own country and over the last couple of weeks we joined numerous other New Zealanders doing just that. Part of our plan was to visit Milford and Doubtful Sounds, areas neither of us has visited before.

Taking local advice we booked a day tour with a small operator, Fiordland Tours, for our trip to Milford. Part of the tour included a walk in the beech forest on the way to the Sounds, something I have always wanted to experience. What an exceptional treat that turned out to be. The brilliant green of the mosscovered understorey was remarkable. Having recently read ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ which is based on beech forests I was intrigued to witness first-hand the evident life cycle of the trees. There it was, old trees lying mosscovered on the ground, smaller trees growing up to take their place in the canopy.

Our tour leader pointed out the large seeds which don’t travel by wind and take root not far from the mother tree. They grow quite rapidly to about five metres and then wait until a large tree dies. At that point they grow rapidly to fill and dominate the canopy.

I noticed how easy it was to walk among the trees and inspect the moss. There are roughly 500 types of moss including a moss I had never seen which looked like a small pine tree, hence its name ‘pine tree moss’. Three main types of beech dominated this area. Silver beech, which is easy to identify with its silver bark, red beech which grows in the river valleys and foothills and mountain beech which grows on higher sites. We wandered through mosscovered logs with moss clambering over the base of the trees. The majority of the roots live in the top 20 centimetres of the soil and the rest go down between 30 to 70 centimetres.

The temperate rainforest of Doubtful Sound featured dense undergrowth which we only viewed from the bus. Five hundred types of moss grow in this region and it is home to sphagnum moss which has many horticultural uses including growing orchids, floristry and as a growing medium in terrariums. Spagnum moss can hold approximately 25 times its weight in water. The sheer sides of the road on the way into Doubtful Sound featured many waterfalls and equally beautiful were often covered in a fall of fern leaves which I can only describe as a fern fall!

The sheer sides of the fiords have been carved out by glaciers and we marvelled at the trees growing on the vertical cliffs. A tree fall can cause a slip which causes an avalanche of trees to slide into the water. The trees and branches from these slips slowly find their way out to the sea and are often deposited as driftwood on the nearby beaches. Slips can take 150 years to regenerate. Moss and lichen slowly cover the rock face and a layer of silt is produced giving seeds a foothold. Slowly the forestation regenerates.

The majesty of the fiords is truly impressive. I am so pleased we listened to the local advice and picked a small company which took us into the forest and gave us the wonderful memory of the moss covered forest floor.


Part of our South Island trip included staying with one of our kids on her sheep farm. Sorting dags today reminded us what excellent food and mulch they are for the garden, and apparently have never been cheaper. We used to buy bales of them from Whangarei when we were establishing the garden.

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