by Julie E Parkinson
Why live in rural New Zealand?
In most cases we choose to live in our particular piece of New Zealand because we love the views, the shape of the land, the character of the landscape, to be part of the land and its history. The decisions we make siting buildings and planting should protect and enhance the landscape character so that we don't inadvertently change or destroy the landscape we have chosen.
What is landscape character?
A rural block on its own or combined with neighbouring areas contributes to the landscape character of the wider area. The values which make up the landscape are landform, geological features, vegetation, wildlife , scenery and cultural influences. These values make up the different landscapes that we recognise today - rolling hill country, river valleys and terraces, wetlands and salt marshes, plains, coastal headlands and alpine mountain tops. Landscapes are always changing by natural or man's influence, but if the essential character is recognised and enhanced the story of the New Zealand landscape can be told.
What are your special landscape features?
Locate the aesthetic and ecological boundaries and special features of your landscape. Natural features such as headlands, escarpments, rivers, bush remnants are important elements of the rural landscape. The edges between pasture and bush, sloping and flat land, the edge defined by rivers and watercourses are cues for integrating rural development into the landscape.
The ignimbrite outcrops are a dominant feature of the Putaruru farm despite the detracting poplars. Buildings are less noticeable when sited on the edge of vegetation or have landform as a backdrop.
Where to build
The highly visible edge between land and sky is sensitive to change due to the light colour of the sky and the defining outline of the land. Aim to align buildings with the land so that the roofline is below the skyline and runs parallel to the contour.
Follow the landform and step the building into the slope where necessary.
Plan to keep the views open
Protect the important views, not only from within your land but from the road so that the beauty of the landscape can be appreciated by everyone. This will maintain property values in the area, as the perception of landscape values wont be downgraded by blocked views. Plant in clumps and groves to provide shelter and privacy, with spaces through to maintain views.
Where to plant
When site planning has been completed a landscape planting plan should follow taking the landscape character, shelter, views and existing vegetation into consideration.
Identify existing forest remnants and bush. Link isolated natural areas by fencing out stock and planting to create more ecologically viable areas, to ensure natural regeneration occurs and the bush survives for our grandchildren.
Planting along gullies and catchments enhance the amenity values by reinforcing landform patterns while improving soil and water quality. If possible protect and plant across the altitudinal zones with appropriate species to benefit habitat diversity and seasonal migration of key species e.g. the keruru feeds on riverside kowhai in late winter and move up the ridge for Pseudopanax fruits during the breeding season.
Site fences along the natural landform to follow the shape of the land e.g. at the base of the slope on terrace edges, or just down off the crest of a catchment or ridgeline.
Roads and tracks should look as if they fit naturally into the landscape. By following the contour and natural edges the impact is lessened, the grades will be easier, earthworks kept to a minimum and maintenance minimised by reduced scouring and run-off problems.
What to plant
The right plant for the right space underpins sustainable vegetation management. This applies to both native and exotic plants. The choice of plants is dictated by the natural environment (climate, existing vegetation, soil fertility, and drainage) local provenance for natives, aesthetic factors and utilitarian purposes (shelter, timber, firebreaks, erosion control, wildlife). Look around your local area to see what grows well and does it fit with the landscape character? For natural habitat restoration you need to know the ecological region, soil type, drainage e.g. a recent compacted anthropic soil would require remedial ripping, liming and fertiliser before planting with plants like Griselinia littoralis, manuka, kanuka, cabbage tree and hall's totara. A site specific planting plan is always the best option so that the character of your block is reflected in the design.
The Environment Waikato and Auckland Regional Councils have unspecific plant lists for streamside planting in the Waikato and Auckland regions. www.ew.govt.nz www.arc.govt.nz
The Nature Heritage fund has assessment criteria and assistance for protecting native forest. www.nhf.govt.nz
Ministry for the Environment 2000 - The impact of Rural Subdivision and development on Landscape Values.
Lucas,D.J 1984/5 Landscape Guidelines, New Zealand Farmer, Vol 105 No 10-21 April/February
Parkinson Julie 1981 Highway in the Landscape. The Landscape, No 11 June 4-5
Crowe Sylvia 1966, Forestry in the Landscape, Forestry Commission U.K.