When news reached Te Ara that the Horowhenua District Council was planning to remove 300 roses alongside a central town round-about and replace them with flaxes and grasses, hot debate followed among the Te Ara staff. Here is an expurgated snippet.
It’s great to see the people of Levin finally throwing off horticultural imperialism, and realising that they live in New Zealand, and not on a little island off the coast of Europe. Roses were introduced by our English forebears to remind them of home, but they always get thrashed by the wind, and only survive by being sprayed.
Flaxes and natives are easy care – they don’t need to be pruned or covered in chemicals. The council will save $400,000 on their maintenance. Evolved for local conditions, they grow easily here – this was the area where a flax industry flourished.
They move beautifully in the wind; they attract the native birds. And they look so much better – colours that speak of the landscape around, shapes that are dramatic and eye-catching. Who needs the pastels and thorns of roses when you can have the drama of a flowering flax?
It’s tragic that horticultural chauvinism is advanced as an argument to support the actions of a short-sighted council. Let’s be clear from the start – flaxes deserve a place in our landscape – but the flax battleground is not on urban traffic islands or in civic gardens; it’s out on the plains, on our farms, and along the coast and waterways that we need to plant more flaxes.
Do we really want mass plantings of flax in our gardens? Consider the tenax cultivars – they grow into giants and harbour rats (hence the absence of native flax snails and weevils on the mainland). And they’re junk collectors – plastic bags, bottles, paper and empty cans collect in flax fans. They are not low-maintenance beasts – their old leaves droop and whip round and round in the wind, creating ugly bare patches. Coloured fans revert to green and old fans die off. Flaxes need regular haircuts if they’re to look their best.
The majority of New Zealanders are not averse to a flax or two in their gardens, but what most gardeners want is colour, colour and colour – something flowering roses provide in abundance. As a bonus, a rose-grower gets scent, form and beauty. Then there’s the satisfaction from growing a lovely rose. Any fool can grow a flax.
What a shame Levin’s council is failing to capitalise on its rich horticultural history, its equable climate and fabulous soils. It could emulate Timaru and promote itself as a rose-growing centre. Leave the flaxes in Foxton, I say.
Well, after hearing the arguments for and against, what do you think?