Spread a little joy (and shade) this Christmas by taking home a native tree to grow in your own backyard or balcony.

Last year, we launched a Christmas initiative that invited Aucklanders to celebrate the season and help the planet at the same time by taking home a native tree to plant. We were thrilled with the enthusiastic response, so this year we’re doing it all over again at Britomart. 

Come along to Takutai Square from Wednesday 25 to Friday 27 November, where Caleb Scott – who runs the native plant nursery at The Landing, a 1000-acre property in the Bay of Islands, with the same owner as Britomart – will help you find a native plant that works for you. He’s brought everything from iconic species like pohutukawa, tī kouka (cabbage tree) and mānuka to lower-profile beauties like teasel grass and wharangi. Every tree you plant helps restore New Zealand’s lost forest cover, and provides habitat and food for native bird, insect, reptile and invertebrate species.

In return, we’re asking for a gold coin donation to the Motutapu Restoration Trust, which supports the regeneration of a predator-free island sanctuary in the Hauraki Gulf. Last year’s Green Christmas raised over $8000 for the Native Forest Restoration Trust.

Melinda Williams: This is the second time you’ve packed up thousands of your babies and headed to Britomart to give them away – did you learn anything from last year?

Caleb Scott: Ha! Don’t bring as many kahikatea! I brought down about 2000 last year but they were slower to be taken because they eventually become such a big tree that they’re not right for everyone. So this year I’m bringing a few new species. But what we really learned is that people are really into planting trees! That was a bit of an eye-opener for me – it was really great to see that people are so enthusiastic about planting natives and doing something to support reforestation.

So what sort of different plants will you be bringing down this year?

Last year we had a bit of disease in our pohutukawa, so I couldn’t bring many down, but this year we’ve got that all cleared up, so I’m bringing down lots of them. Everyone’s very keen on pohutukawa. I’ve also got some native grasses this year, which I thought would be good for people who are living in apartments – something that they can put out on their balcony. Lots more mānuka this year too. People love them and they’re good bee food. 

What’s the most important thing in regard to care? We’re doing the giveaway a bit earlier this year, to give people the chance to get their plants bedded in before they go away for the holidays.

Just making sure they’ve got plenty of water. At The Landing, we always plant out our seedlings in winter when they can be self-watered, so to speak, so at this time of year you have to give them water regularly. If you go away, you’ve got to be able to water them somehow – maybe ask a neighbour to drop by or there are self-watering pots, which you can get from The Warehouse or Mitre 10, which work well once they’ve got their root systems established. So get them in a pot or into the ground as soon as you can.

Being part of the rewilding process at The Landing, what have been the most significant changes to biodiversity that you’ve seen?

We’ve stabilised a lot of stream edges and created sheltered area around pasture, which is great for stock in the summer – when it’s hot they can go and lie down in the shade at the edges of the pasture. When you start regenerating the bush, everything increases. The trees drop their leaves and you create a nice humus layer, which means that you have more invertebrates and worms, so there’s more food for the birds who live on the ground. We’ve seen a massive increase in kiwi population over the years through creating bush corridors for them to move through so they don’t have to run across pasture, and cool shady areas near the wetlands. Last summer was a classic, being so dry and all – the kiwi were down in the wetlands all the time. There’s a lot more birdlife and variety of birds as well now. Just recently we’ve started to see kereru coming back. It takes a lot of time for the big tree species with berries to grow tall enough for the birds to discover them.