Otari-Wilton Bush Manager

Rewi Elliot doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to plants, in fact the Wellington City Council’s (WCC) Manager of Otari-Wilton Bush is very passionate about the subject – and his mission is to get everyone on board.

Rewi Elliot

Otari-Wilton Bush Manager, Rewi Elliot

Otari Native Botanic Garden and Wilton's Bush Reserve (Otari) is the only public garden in New Zealand dedicated solely to native plants. This unique five hectare garden sits adjacent to a 100 hectare forest reserve.

The forest here contains some of Wellington’s oldest trees, including an 800-year-old Rimu, and in the native botanic garden many threatened species are grown. Partnerships with the Regional Council and Department of Conservation mean some are returned to the wild in recovery programmes.

Locally born Rewi says working there is his dream job because he’s really into plants, but also enjoys educating people on the importance of plant conservation.

“We’ve really ramped up the educational focus here with school holiday programmes coming through, and we have loads of signs, walks, and talks. One of our most popular tours is titled: ‘Plants that Poison, Maim, and Kill’ – it must be the name, I’m sure there are no sinister motives!” adds Rewi.

After eight-and-a-half years at the site, he recalls lots of great moments where visitors have been excited by what they’ve learned, but a recent case stands out.

“We had an accountant in one of our walking groups and at the end he admitted that he’d been dragged along by his wife, but couldn’t believe how much he enjoyed it in the end – so if we can get an accountant excited about plants, we can do that with everyone,” laughs Rewi!

As Manager of a team of six, he spends much of his time indoors, and although it doesn’t sound very glamorous, he knows it’s important for the future of plants.

“These days I’d be in the office 90% of the time, but all the paper pushing I do means improvements to Otari, so it’s just as important as being out and about.”

Staff work closely with the Otari-Wilton’s Bush Trust, a community group that promotes Otari, supports education, and provides a doorway for many volunteers.

“We have about 50-60 volunteers helping with a range of activities. They assist with garden maintenance, have planted 1000s of trees back into the forest, and help with trapping rats and mustelids (weasels, stoats, and ferrets) – they’re pretty much charged with getting rid of all mammals that come in... except of course humans, dogs, and domestic cats!” he adds.

Appropriately enough the name Otari means place of snares in Māori, because the formerly heavily forested area was ideal for bird hunting.

Following European colonisation most of the trees were felled for timber, but luckily local farmer, Job Wilton, recognised the importance of the area and fenced off seven hectares of the native bush that now forms a large part of the Otari-Wilton Bush.

One way Rewi suggests you can help the Otari forest and remnants around Wellington is to control weeds on nearby properties and avoid planting plants that can ‘jump the fence’.

“The arum lily, Himalayan honeysuckle, periwinkle, agapanthus, and ivy may seem innocuous but can seriously damage natural areas, and cost Councils, Government, and the community millions of dollars and thousands of man hours to control.”

He recommends checking out the following websites: Weedbusters.co.nz and the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network, as well as the ‘Plant Me Instead’ brochure to see what a weed is and what’s not.

Rewi is a born and bred Wellingtonian who first volunteered at Otari in 1996 when he was doing his National Certificate in Horticulture, and after a stint at the Wellington Botanic Garden ended up back there 10 years later.

“My favourite place in Wellington is still Otari, but I do like to have the odd beer at the appropriately named Sprig & Fern in Thorndon, or go for a walk along the waterfront on the weekend to get a bargain at the markets.”

To find out more about what goes on at Otari-Wilton Bush there’s an open day on Saturday 20 September where you can go on walks, hear talks, buy plants, and check out what goes on in front of, and behind, the scenes.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown will also be there to open the new Leonard Cockayne Centre at 9.30am, with plant sales starting at 10am.

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