The year 2010 marks the Jubilee of the establishment of Jolendale Park on Bridge Hill in Alexandra. This is also the International Year of Biodiversity – marking an important chapter in the worldwide commitment to conservation and sustainability.
Jolendale Park consists of a modest sized(6 - hectare) but representative example of the much admired schist rock dominated landscapes of Central Otago, New Zealand.In common with much of these extensive "high country" sites characterised with block mountains and semi - arid inland basins, the upper slopes of Bridge Hill, Alexandra(238 metres above sea level) was in earlier settlement days much denuded of its natural ecological features with the advent of fire and over - grazing – more recently by rabbit infestation.
The introduction of unusually hardy trees was seen as a step toward longer term ecological recovery with the aid of robust pioneer "nurse" species capable of withstanding periodic and persistent drought and occasional out of season frost.
When the Manning family commenced planting in 1960 there were few remaining indigenous plants and animals on the site – native grasses and sedges, divaricating shrubs and bushes, with the presence of lizards and low nesting birds.The spectacular schist rock outcrops still provided however a home for lichens and mosses.Scattered remnant patches of raoulia(known as scabweed) and low growing thorny bushes were more resistant to rabbit infestation.
In 2004 the QEII National Trust for Open Space bestowed a permanent protection covenant on Jolendale Park as the Trust's sole registered "semi-arid woodland reserve" in New Zealand. In 1995 the Otago Regional Council nominated Jolendale Park as the leading subject for its prestigious annual provincial Environment Award.
Jolendale("jol" for Jolyon, and "en" for Enny) Park was the chosen title although "rabbit's delight" was a clearly favoured second runner, for a 6 hectare "experimental" block of typical schist rocky countryside at the top of the emerging Bridge Hill suburban subdivision in 1960. "Research Parklands" was the initial label for at that time Jolyon and Enny were keen to experiment with tree planting on this lovely sunny but totally barren landscape earlier devastated by fire and rabbit infestation.
Apart from its attractive outdoor climate Alexandra boasts more seasonal contrast in landscape colour and structure than elsewhere in New Zealand.Its unique rockland features show to advantage in the early morning and evening hours as the lengthened shadows provide prominent outlines, particularly spectacular in the moonlit evenings.
The project in the earlier years was a very challenging venture with local residents being somewhat sceptical of any favourable outcome.Amongst the early supporters however was well known local garden enthusiast Glad McArthur of the famous Conroy's Dawson Cherry fruit establishment family and who made a bold bid for the planting of lovely flowering iris plants and peony roses in the district and was a major contributor to the emerging national Iris Society who have recently celebrated their jubilee in Cromwell. Enny has played a significant national role in the Society in recent years as new cultivar registrar for international recognition.
Today it is difficult to imagine the earlier paucity of trees and plants on this parkland site but there are plenty of signs to be observed in the surrounding drier slopes of the hills nearby.For this is the driest ecological district in New Zealand.Exposure to more windiness on the upper slopes of Bridge Hill means that the dessication factor is significantly higher than is the case in the nearby Alexandra township alongside the Clutha.In particular the site's exposure to the regular summer-time on-shore "barbecue breaker" wind poses a real challenge to many trees and plants.
During the past 50 years Jolyon and Enny have learned much from careful observation of tree and plant survival in this most challenging environment.Such factors as the role of glaucous leaf wax protection from both frost and drought, the importance of sub - surface soil mycorrizal and fungal activity in promoting greater efficiency in moisture and mineral absorption by plant rooting systems, presence of nearby shelter, critical importance of weed control and competition for extremely limited moisture, and various features relating to climate.
Jolendale Park as a semi - arid parkland is always close to critical threshold boundaries relating to survival and the range of viable trees in the absence of regular irrigation supplement is very limited indeed.Specialist scientists in silviculture and horticulture have gained significant understanding through observation of the Jolendale Park collection of trees.
With Jolyon's lifetime interest in climate and climate change and Jolendale Park being located in the driest ecological district in New Zealand this topic has been a dominant factor in observation over the past 50 years. Unfortunately there is no advance notice of the length and intensity of droughty conditions with the onset of very dry weather. Alexandra has the unique distinction of having been witness to the driest 12-month rainfall total ever recorded anywhere in New Zealand since records were first assembled. 167 mm's or approximately half of its average annual total for this climate station.This event occurred in 1963/64 and at a time in the evolution of the park when a large number of introduced little trees were at risk. A memorable lifetime challenge.
In subsequent years the occasional sequence of drier than average years has created great stress for many well established trees – notably European Larch, Spruces and occasional Firs and Cedars. Many introduced amenity and ornamental deciduous trees which add colour and interest – more especially in the spring and autumn months – are totally dependent on the application of supplementary watering. Out of season frost is another hazard and occasional very heavy winter frost a challenge for attractive winter flowering eucalypts that play an important role in encouraging bird life in the park.
There are two particularly notable features of the semi-arid climates of Central Otago. The park is never far removed from critical climatic threshold boundaries – the stress levels that can lead to the death of plants. This is particularly important when considering the re-introduction of native and endemic plant species in a landscape largely devoid of natural shelter and an established mosaic of stable plant communities such as existed before the introduction of fire and over-grazing. And secondly, there has been a close study over the decades in the possible role of the 11-year sunspot cycles in shaping medium term weather patterns – and the incidence of the El Nino and La Nina atmospheric southern oscillation phenomena.
For the past decade an automatic digitalised climate station has been installed at Jolendale Park and the records added to the nationally compiled statistical record. Jolendale Park is located at about 238 metres above sea level, somewhat higher than the Alexandra township alongside the big Clutha River (150 metres a.s.l) and offers a comparative site to measure the winter time temperature inversion associated with downtown atmospheric pollution.
Through the passage of time the focus on the administration of the park has moved towards its role as a significant public recreational asset with the presence of local walkers and visitors from elsewhere in New Zealand and increasingly overseas becoming more noticeable.The Mannings have encouraged free public access and placed park benches in appropriate locations.The walking trails have been materially advanced with the help of the Dunedin-based Malcam Youth Employment Trust.In recent years we have employed very skilled arborists to assist in the better management of trees throughout the park. And every endeavour is being made to protect treasured ancient lichen coated schist rock structures from the lower limbs of large trees.
We have been very fortunate indeed to have had lengthy associations with two leading forestry and high country landscape specialists. The late John Johns ("JJ") established a very high reputation for his capture of forest setting photographic images throughout the country in his lengthy term with the former N Z Forest Service.In addition to the legacy of valuable photographs John shared with us a quite unique understanding of the landscape values of trees – both indigenous and introduced. He drew our attention to the detail as well as the enlarged setting.
Dr Brian Molloy, South Island High Country consultant to the QEII National Trust and nationally renown taxonomist, has shared with us his unrivalled understanding of the flora of the South Island high country landscapes.Brian earlier made an appeal to the NZ Ecological Association for more sustained care of "semi-natural reserves". Like "JJ" his close on the spot observation(s) and personal enthusiasm has been a constant joy in this lifetime journey with trees and plants.
A very much committed conservationist Brian has shown that in the drier places in Central Otago the critical site for highly valued at risk survival of endemic plants is frequently clustered around the impressive and sometimes massive Otago schist rock outcrops. The "drip line" along the skirts of these formations that often feature overhang veranda's is the refuge for such little plants as Carex inopinata – which can be seen around the rocky escarpments rising steeply above SH8 on Jolendale Park. These little places of treasure have over the years escaped extensive fires and stock and rabbit grazing.
Likewise Jolendale Park features prominent rocky caves that in years gone by were the nesting sites of the huge Moa birds. In more recent times there has also been quite extensive excavation by gold sluicing pioneers with associated remnant water races still evident. These very dry landscapes have limited the range of "cultural layers" and historic remnants to gold mining and pastoral grazing.The introduction of supplementary irrigation waters being essential to the establishment of sustainable plant and tree growth.
Jolendale Park, apart from the treasures of the rather unique collection of trees and plants - all of which have added materially to its role in biodiversity, has provided two additional valuable elements. Firstly, the presence of this permanently protected landscape feature typical of much of the favoured Central Otago wild landscapes, adds materially to the quality of the entrance-way of a key motoring avenue in and out of the Alexandra township.
Secondly it continues to provide a source of enjoyment and inspiration to a growing number of residents and visitors. The open access to such semi-natural "wild" landscapes is more restricted these days in privately owned farm properties and the nature of Jolendale Park contrasts very much with the more typical "sports domain" (such as Pioneer Park) which feature in towns and villages throughout New Zealand.The role of semi-natural landscape reserves typical of the district, located within settled townships and where practicable linked with green corridors that provide a more sustainable environment for birdlife, has recently been highlighted in a Danish forestry study for the EEC on the topic of "neighbourwoods". We believe that Jolendale Park in Alexandra provides such a model that could be promoted for other Central Otago townships. There is a growing interest in such reserves with easy access to local residents with good walking trails and a more healthy lifestyle.
Jolyon and (Dr) Enny Manning, 9 Peterson Place, Bridge Hill, Alexandra 9320. Tel. (03) 448 9399
Email address: jolenda @ihug.co.nz April 2010
"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands"