Overcoming entomo‑ignorance, Dale Williams

A Houseful of Strangers
Patrick Dale,
Collins, $19.95 (139 pp)

Insects’ lib – the author attempts to defend the smaller occupants of our home environment against what Ruud Kleinpaste calls ‘entomo‑ignorance’. Subtitled ‘Living with the common creatures of the New Zealand house and garden’ this chatty but solidly informative volume deals with two dozen or so familiar creepy‑crawlies from ants to woodlice, telling the reader in most cases far more than we want to know about their secretive lifestyles or beastly personal habits. You will never again feel the same about sitting on the grass once you’ve seen a colour photo of the grey field slug’s slime circle left after courtship. Patrick Dale is on the side of the insects, but broadmindedly nonetheless gives advice on eradicating those none of us really want around – cockroaches, wasps and their ilk.

The passionvine hopper drinks the poisonous sap of the … tutu. The honeydew it secretes may be lapped up by bees which then concentrate it to make highly toxic honey … [forcing] the curtailment of honey production in some districts where tutu is common.



An Illustrated Guide to Fungi on Wood In New Zealand
I A Hood,
Auckland University Press, $39.95 (424 pp)

This should settle a few arguments – a hefty and handsome paperback identifying more types of fungi than you’d find in a month of Sunday walks. In black and white, 171 figures illustrate as many varieties, and there are 48 colour photos, too – yet Hood claims to have covered only ‘common or distinctive forms’. Although the bulk of the text is straightforward botanical description, a fascinating introduction looks at the history of the study of fungi in this country, and their place in breaking down dead trees and releasing their carbon. Hood marvels at the variety of their forms in the New Zealand bush, citing fans, shelves, hoof-like brackets, toadstools, cups, discs, spheres, jelly-like masses, coral forms and flat sheets. The place of fungi in our economy is touched on, and the lack of research on their edibility is noted. As well as the scientific and educational readership for this smartly produced guide, there will be interest in it from trampers, conservationists and those who have recently seen something nasty in the woodshed.

… many Maori people are partial to species of Armillaria (harore), but, apart from this, fungi growing on wood are not generally eaten in this country.



Weaving a Kakahu
Diggeress Te Kanawa,
Bridget Williams Books, $24.95 (42 pp)

Renowned Maori weaver and daughter of another (Rangimarie Hetet), Diggeress Te Kanawa has at last set down in book form the instructions for weaving that most beautiful and dignified of garments, the feather cloak. By her account, the art seems to have been rescued from the brink of being forgotten within the space of a generation. Gil Hanly’s accomplished photographs take readers explicitly through each step of the long (around eight months) and complex process, from cutting the flax, through dyeing it with natural materials, to weaving, shaping and patterning the garment. The book’s layout may look a little confusing at first, but persevere and all becomes clear. It could be used to teach yourself the basics, or alternatively used in group work. Whether you want to emulate her feats and head meaningfully towards the phormium bushes with a gleam in your eye, or just to admire a visually appealing description of an ancient applied art form, this is an inspiring instructional text.

I regard my mother as an expert – a perfectionist with a wonderful eye for colour and design, and still ready to experiment with new techniques at the age of 98.



Delights of Cottage Gardening in New Zealand
Olive Dunn,
Random Century, $24.95 (94 pp)

The current passion for modem interpretations of ‘cottage’ gardening has not yet reached its peak, and you can expect more books like this from local publishers. This paperback reprint of a very popular recent hardback now has an extensive colour section, but its spelling errors are still uncorrected. Olive Dunn, a retired Invercargill florist whose splendid half-acre garden is open to the public, is an unabashed garden romantic. Not for her the regimented rows of Webb’s Wonder or bedding begonias – her approach is altogether more fluffy and dreamy. She talks to other prominent South island gardeners and describes their successes, writes dearly and knowledgeably about which techniques work and which don’t, discusses how to create special effects, and gives a few herbal recipes and tips for pots-pourris. All effected with great charm, but if it sounds a bit lavender-scented and Mrs Tiggywinkle for your personal taste, at least it will come in handy when you’ve been right through the toiletry shelves in search of a Christmas present for a maiden aunt.

The one dreaded enemy of all lilies, even the tough old tigers, is botrytis, so lilies can be a blend of success and failure. One should in theory follow up the successes and drop the failures, but we gardeners are complete optimists and keep trying.


Dale Williams was until recently Associate Editor of Terra Nova.




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Posted in Māori, Natural History, Non-fiction, Review
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