Waipawa ECE completes new edible Kai Garden

Students and teachers at Scallywaggs Kinikātene/Early Education Centre (ECE) in Central Hawkes Bay recently completed a new edible garden as one of ten winners in this year’s Keep New Zealand Beautiful Kai Garden Competition.

The competition gives schools and ECEs from across the country the opportunity to create a small kai or rongoā garden to help their students develop a greater understanding of the natural world and to gain hands-on experience gardening for their school.

Named ‘Māra Rongoā’, the large (nearly 115m2) garden is built to supplement an existing kai area and an exisitng area for large native trees with rongoā (traditional Māori medicinal) plants, giving tamariki the opportunity to learn and be involved in learning about healing.

Fran Gray, Head Kaiako/Manager of the ECE, says that the kaupapa, or whole being, of the māra (garden) is about a healing journey for small injuries obtained during regular play. “The most common physical injury at the kinikātene (kindergarten) is a scrape on the hands or knees during tamariki play, and our tamariki experience a range of emotions that they can’t always express or regulate without help,” says Fran. “Our māra will help empower our tamariki in these moments by providing a tangible, accessible, healthy and effective way of healing, that they can prepare themselves or for others, creating opportunities for tuakana-teina (elder/younger) connection and empathetic practices.”

A lot of thought has gone into integrating this rongoā garden into the school environment, and honouring a Te Ao Māori perspective on healing. With all plants carefully suited to suit the local climate and a liberal use of recycled materials, the garden also offers a journey of healing. From the play area, a small bridge welcomes tamariki into the garden space from where they can touch, smell or taste the medicinal plants. A recycled tyre taniwha — representative of the legend surrounding the Waipawa and Tukituki townships — guides youngsters towards some seating, for them to take a moment to calm themselves.

Of course, a child doesn’t need to be injured or sore to use the garden, as “the māra provides opportunities for imaginary play, ‘bear hunts’, relaxation, physical adventure, all of which are beneficial for the tinana (body), wairua (living soul), hinengaro (mental and emotional wellbeing) and for learning to take home to whānau,” says Fran. The rear of the garden area “provides space for our youngest tamariki, those not yet crawling to relax and enjoy the scents, sounds and sights of our māra rongoā.”

Materials used during construction of the māra included recycled pallet wood for the bridge and seats, reclaimed burlap sacks and denim for vertical garden bags, and recycled tyres from a local store for the taniwha depiction. Medicinal plants include Calendula, Koromiko and Harakeke (for skin irritations or small wounds); Lemon Balm, Lavender and Sage (for calming anxiety); and Rosemary and Spearmint (for alleviating digestion issues).

“The māra will play a huge role in the daily lives of our tamariki,” says Fran. “From its creation I believe it will become a daily joy in our space.” 

More info about our Kai Garden Competition can be found here.

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