About eighteen months ago we planted the beginnings of my pa harakeke with over 30 fans of flax from the Auckland Botanic Gardens. We were novices so a little unsure of what we were doing, but we followed instructions from Kerry Gillbanks, curator of the native plant collection. So far we have been absolutely amazed at how well they have grown.
A couple of weeks ago, on a visit back to Whitianga, I did my first harvest. With local friends Natalie and Brian (who have also volunteered to be caretakers of the pa harakeke while we are living in Kapiti) and my parents, I said a karakia and made the first cuts from the biggest plant. In some ways it was a bit hard because it was looking so healthy, but also it was such a pleasure to be able to bring harakeke home and weave with it. We are thrilled with the layout of the garden, even though at the time of planting it seemed like the fans were being spaced very far apart. They were planted in groups of three with 1.5 metres inbetween each group. The benefits of this have become obvious as we watch them growing. It was great to have room around the plants to lay leaves on the ground while harvesting, and also it makes it easier to do weeding and maintenance. And it means each different variety remains separate to the one next to it.
My next job will be to make signposts with the names of each variety on it. Already I have taken samples from each plant, split them into 1.5cm strips, hapine and boiled for two minutes. I have documented each one with descriptions from the Rene Orchiston Collection and also tested each one for muka extraction. It’s really interesting to notice the different qualities of each variety. A valuable resource. I can’t wait to harvest some more!