|dc.description.abstract||Urbanization has destroyed and fragmented previously large areas of natural habitat. Small remnants that still exist in numerous cities will be unable to sustain many viable wild plant populations if they do not expand into the surrounding urban matrix. Residential gardens surrounding such remnants, and which form a significant component of urban green space in many cities, could play a role in redressing this problem.
Riccarton Bush, a 7.8 hectare forest remnant, and its surrounding suburban residential area, in Christchurch, New Zealand, is a good example. Over 125 years the reported number of native vascular plants in the bush has declined by a third. My study was an attempt to understand: 1) the ecological, social and cultural factors influencing the dispersal and regeneration of 12 native bird-dispersed woody species from Riccarton Bush, into surrounding residential properties; and 2) the potential role residential properties could play in the future of the bush. To examine these diverse factors I adopted an interdisciplinary research approach combining methodologies, concepts and theories from ecology and the social sciences. In a broader context my work was an attempt to demonstrate how urban ecology can further develop and strengthen by adopting and integrating new methodologies, theories and concepts.
The ecological component involved recording individuals of the study species found on 90 randomly selected properties within a 1.4 km radius of the bush. Soil samples were also collected from 31 of those properties and placed in a glasshouse and the study species that germinated were recorded. Results showed some species, particularly kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides), the most abundant species in the bush, are being dispersed and establishing on properties predominantly within 250 m of the forest margin. These juveniles are not reaching maturity as most gardeners tend to remove all non-planted woody species.
Qualitative interviews with 16 residents and a quantitative survey of the residents of 85 of the properties provided insights into the social context which these natural processes were operating. Using notions of place and performance I argue that gardens are continuously created and recreated by humans and non-humans. Residents attempt to create and maintain a garden that fulfils their individual and familial needs and desires (e.g., aesthetics, leisure and privacy), and public responsibilities such as ensuring they have a ‘neat’ and ‘tidy’ garden. This involves selecting plants for colour, shape and the care they require, and encouraging certain performances (e.g., flowering) while controlling other undesirable plants and performances (e.g. growth, spread and shading). While people make connections between native plants, belonging and identity; the ‘scientific’ demarcation between native and exotic species often becomes obscured as the garden is co-created by people and plants. Some plants become more significant than others but usually this is attributable to their performances rather than whether they are native or exotic.
Residential gardens have the potential to play a major role in the conservation of species restricted to urban remnants. My research suggests that although the potential exists for woody species restricted to Riccarton Bush to naturally regenerate in nearby gardens, this will not happen without human intervention. Plants will need to be eco-sourced and propagated to avoid detrimental impacts on the genetic health of remnant populations, and then actively planted in gardens. The success of such planting initiatives will be increased by providing residents with information about the plants that are suitable for their performative needs and desires (e.g., the size, colour, and maintenance requirements of plants) and, most importantly, control over the location of plantings. In concluding, I argue that by adopting new concepts, theories and methodologies, the productivity, creativity and relevance of urban ecology can be significantly enhanced.||en