Arba Cielo
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Site launched 6 November 2005

Reconstruction slowly progressing through 2018

A photographic record of my first tree planting project at Ferndale in Southland, other arboretum projects, trees in general and weather records from various sites. I originally chose the name "Arba Cielo" (Esperanto for "Tree Heaven") for the Ferndale property but it is no less suitable for the name of this website.
Right: 23 Sept 2014. The latest arboretum project, 2ha of bare land acquired near Twizel in December 2014. My hope is to live on this property within 5yrs. The land isn't as inetersting as my Ferndale property, but the climate is preferable and the broader landscape of MacKenzie Country is exactly the kind that attracted me to NZ. Twizel project  
Autumn view of Lawrence Lawrence property Jan 2010 Telephoto view of Canna St property
Lawrence property landscape plan Above: 3 views of the Lawrence project. From left: 29 April 2008, 23 Jan 2010 & 4 June 2008. Bought soon after the reluctant but necessary sale of my Ferndale property it lacks the best virtues and worst drawbacks of the Ferndale property. Its positive attributes are affordability (relative to other options I looked at in Canterbury), manageable size and (hopefully) a superior horticultural climate. Drawbacks include its small size (0.5ha), E & S aspect, and urban surrounds. I view it as a stepping stone to a 4 or 5ha block around Raes Junction or perhaps a larger cooperative project within 2yrs. (2014 update: sold the Lawrence property in early 2014 and bought a 2ha block near Twizel in December 2014).

Left: Feb 2008. The first landscape design proposal for the Lawrence site. It's not a suitable site for large trees so I'll have to restrain my ambitions (this will be difficult - I love grand trees).

Below: Two views of the Lawrence property from Canna St, 3 Dec 2007 & 23 Jan 2010.
wave cloud View north over Canna St property Lawrence property Jan 2010

: Updated 9 July 2012. Site shifted to new server after close of Apple Mobile Me. Links under reconstruction.

Seasonal Notes: Launched 5 Sept 2006, from Ferndale, Lawrence & Dunedin. Updated 7 Nov 2009.

Species List: A list of species planted at Ferndale & Lawrence, including failures. Updated 9 Oct 2009.

Broadleaf Evergreens: Photos of the more successful evergreens at Ferndale and observations. Updated 20 Jan 2008.

Deciduous Trees and Shrubs A-F, G-P, and Q-Z: Photos of the more successful deciduous plants at Ferndale and observations. Updated 3 May 2008.

Conifers: Photos of the more successful conifers at Ferndale, and comments. Updated 8 May 2006.

Garden Links: Garden websites around the world. Updated 10 Sept 2008.

the homepage for 12 pages of weather observations, climate info, and photos of some notable weather events from Ferndale , Lawrence, Alexandra & Dunedin, updated as time permits (last update - Lawrence & Dunedin 15 March 2011) .

Trees of Dunedin (4 pages, Updated 2 Jan 2010), Trees in Australia, Trees in New Zealand: Trees, parks and gardens that have inspired me.

Birds: Photographs of birds observed on the Ferndale property - lots of Pukeko images. Updated 17 April 2007.

Tree Maps: An attempt to keep a record of trees planted on the Ferndale property. Launched 21 March 2006.

Future:Thoughts on a cooperative arboretum project. Launched 14 July 2008.

More recent photos of Lawrence, Dunedin and elsewhere can be found on Flickr, and

Acer rubrum
Deciduous A-F.
Pinus thunbergii
greenhouse project
Future plans: a greenhouse project.
Nothofagus cliffortoides
Broadleaf evergreens.
View over Ferndale 2005 View over Ferndale 1996 View over Ferndale May 2005
The Ferndale project at 895 Old Coach Road near Mataura. View from near summit, May 2005 November 1996. View towards nursery & cabin, May 2005. Foiliage colour at this time in Tasman poplars (yellow), Amelanchier lamarkii (red) and larch (orange).
"Grow Useful"
Since my early 20's one of my life goals has been to plant a colourful, mainly deciduous, forest. My inspiration was largely from images of such forests in North America that have captivated me since childhood. The Permaculture movement and some great public & private gardens in both Australia & NZ have also been important sources of inspiration. Years of searching for the right place in Australia were followed by years of searching for the right place in New Zealand. I judged the Queenstown district just about perfect but so do a lot of other people so land prices were and forever will be far beyond my reach. With a large potted tree collection assembled in suburban Queenstown by 1996 I was faced with the decision to either sell it off or settle for a less than ideal block of land within my price range. That led me to the purchase of a 25.7ha pastoral block at Ferndale near Gore.

My broad intention was to transform a rather inhospitable wind tunnel into an attractive and pleasant space to live in - a forest park and bird sanctuary. Originally called "Arba Cielo" I changed the name to "Autumn Woods" for a time, thinking I should reserve the first name for future use elsewhere, but in 2007 I felt it was too late for me to embark on another tree planting project so I restored my original name choice.

After many attempts to get help with the project I finally caved in to financial pressures and sold the property in October 2007. The new owners took possession on Oct 23 and I finally departed on Dec 28 . My next project will be a 0.5ha section at Lawrence, commencing 1 Feb 2008. Hopefully that will be a stepping stone to larger purchase (ideally 4 to 10ha) in that region by 2010.


The species collection at Ferndale represented plant life from all over the world, both rare and common - approximately 530 species by 2007. Species selection was based on the following criteria:-

- My personal taste (my greatest horticultural passion is autumn colour).
- Historical or potential usefulness (to horticulture, forestry, industry)
- Cold tolerance.
- Ease of maintenance.


I support the need to protect air, water and land from pollution. Maintaining areas of permanent "green space", particularly in the form of forest & preferably of the "untamed" variety, is an important step towards this goal, as is the need to halt the expansion of global human numbers and the urban areas most of us choose to live in. Arba Cielo was intended to be a permanent and largely "untamed" forest free of the grazing animals that cause much of the pollution in rural regions.

There are a few plant species in this collection that some people consider to be "environmental weeds" because they are viewed as a threat to the purity of native ecosystems. That by itself is not a good enough reason for me to destroy a plant. I am not an environmental purist, and neither is Nature - it is a force of change. Life has evolved and will continue to progress by exploring new possibilities and new combinations of existing forms. In Nature the "right" of any species to exist in any location has nothing to do with its geographic origins or rarity, but relates only to its capacity to survive. The idea that "natives" are more virtuous than "exotics" is a strictly human concept stemming most likely from nationalistic sentiments or a fear of change. The very terms "native" and "exotic" are rendered meaningless by the passage of time - everything we call "native" came here from somewhere else in the world at some point in the past.


While "environmental weeds" are a largely a product of a particular environmental ideology there are other practical weed issues for the present and future. Gorse and to a lesser extent broom were present at the time the property was purchased and are controlled with herbicide and brushcutter in some areas. Generally it is hoped they'll be shaded out as the tree canopy develops. Many other species will self seed here in the future and for a "naturalistic forest" that is acceptable, even desirable, particularly with the native shrub species as these are destined to become a major component of the forest understorey. It is accepted that some control of self seeded plant life will always be necessary.


Wind, cool summers, and late spring frosts are the biggest climatic obstacles on this site - many specimens are going to struggle until the shelterbelts start to become effective. While the land is topographically varied it is predominantly south facing. Springs, water courses and a stream have provided a valuable resource for both practical and aesthetic reasons. The clay soil is mostly of good quality but there are challenging areas of the "pottery" standard. Hares are a persistent nuisance, possums have been a serious problem and no doubt will be again in the future.


I like the space around my home to be somewhat on the wild side - as human numbers continue to grow and cities expand too much of the world is becoming tightly controlled. So the goal for this project is a naturalistic, very cosmopolitan forest, loaded with interest at all times of the year, and representing some of the most economically and horticulturally important cool climate tree and shrub species that Nature and human ingenuity have produced.

It is hoped this forest/park will eventually prove to be both decorative and educational, serving to promote an appreciation of natural beauty as well as highlighting those plant species that have been, are, or may be useful to human survival and prosperity. While technological change may seem to be rendering many biological products obsolete, we’d be wise to remember that civilisation is not a constancy and the future is likely to know dark ages as the past has repeatedly demonstrated. The people who rise first from the next such event will be those with access to the most knowledge and resources. Good enough reason to support parks and roadside plantings full of historically useful trees as well as libraries in every town large and small stocked with essential knowledge on paper.

Mark McLeod
5 July 2008

PO Box 5975
Moray Place
Dunedin 9058

New Zealand


Mark McLeod in art studio Left: 10 June 2007 - me in the art studio at Ferndale. Giving up this space was one of the most difficult decisions in my life (and I somewhat regret it).
Right: First tree planting at Ferndale, January 1997.
Early view of Arba Cielo 1997
First tree planting Jan 1997 Ferndale Plan gate view 2003
Above: Jan 1997. View from front gate, above May 2003, and below 29 April 2007.
Big Pond 2005 Gate view 2007
The big pond, 20 Nov 2005. Above: Broad landscape design for the Ferndale property.
Below: My art studio at Ferndale, 21 August 2005.
Snow 2007
  Art studio 2005
  Above: View from the gate 8 June 2007, about 5cm snow on ground.