Growing Green Tamariki at Paekākāriki School

Hannah Zwartz, long-time Paekākāriki School parent, member of the School Garden Group and Potty Potters, talks about an exciting new project coming up at our kura along with the year-long work done to support the gardening curriculum.

This year’s popular giant Paekākāriki School plant sale, on Saturday October 23 of Labour Weekend, will help fund a major transformation at the heart of the school. After two years of planning, and several lockdown delays, a scrappy patch of asphalt is becoming a new pā harakeke (flax plantation).

The maramataka (Māori calendar) says October 23 is a good planting moon. So plant sale punters will be able to watch and learn about the flax planting process, as well as stock up on plants, takeaway food and coffee. 

With thousands of tomato plants, summer vegetables and coast-loving perennials, the sale is the major fundraiser for the school’s gardening, health and well-being programme. Ngā Honongā ki a Papatuanuku (Relationships with the Earth mother), is a holistic environmental education/health and well-being programme which tamariki enjoy every Wednesday with long-time school kaiako (teacher) Raima Kingi.

Ngā Honongā ki a Papatuanuku, known by the kids as ‘doing Rongoa’,  combines student well-being – which could be arts, gardening or cooking kai with garden produce – with the wellbeing of the wider school environment. Students explore the local plants and creatures, including birds, insects and lizards.

“It’s not just for the school, it’s for the whole community and for the birds too,” says Whaea Raima. “The flax is usable on many levels. The kids have already been learning how to make stuff, and now we can take a deep dive into the whakapapa.”

“It’s a healing space too”, she says. “The wind deals with trauma, the flax deals with trauma and for kids that can’t be in the classroom because of whatever stuff they have going on, it’s a safe place they can be in.” 

Flax plants have come from the Renē Orchison national collection, of the best varieties from different parts of the motu (country) chosen for different characteristics of length, strength, colour and flexibility of the fibers. It will be harvested not just by the kids but by local weavers, building community around the heart of the school.

Hannah, Holly and Raima collecting harakeke. Photo: Hannah Zwartz

The plants are arranged in maze-like patterns, with spaces to play and hide, areas for parents to congregate and for outdoor learning. The design was made by a summer scholar from Victoria University as part of a participatory design programme led by lecturer Carles Martines Almoyna Gual. Eventually it’s hoped the whole field will be surrounded by native plantings providing play and education spaces, rongoā (bush medicine), and food and habitats for birds, insects and lizards.

Projects like this take a whole village, and for the last couple of years the mahi (work) one day per week for Raima and school garden teacher Holly Andrews has been paid for by the twice-annual School Plant Sales, with huge thanks to the Potty Potters group who meet at the school nursery every Friday morning to volunteer their time making plants. There is also a huge amount of mahi done by this team (and others) during the lead up and running of the plant sale.

The sale has become famous on the coast for healthy plants at bargain prices, with varieties chosen that do well in Kāpiti’s dry, sandy soils. There will be takeaway coffee and baking provided by the PTA, and EFTPOS is available at the school office. And if we move to Level 3, plans are being made for contactless delivery of plants.

The pā harakeke project gratefully received funding from Pelorus Trust.

Paekākāriki School Plant Sale, Saturday October 23, 10am-1pm

Paekākāriki.nz is a community-built, funded and run website. All funds go to weekly running costs, with huge amounts of professional work donated behind the scenes.  If you can help financially, at a time when many supporting local businesses are hurting, we have launched a donation gateway.