Green fingers

Robyn Guyton from Riverton's Environment Centre.

Robyn Guyton

In the context of Robyn Guyton’s work, “local vigor” refers to how well prepared a seed is to thrive in its planting environment. Put simply, a seed produced in Southland will grow best in Southland as it has specifically adapted to the region’s soils and temperatures. Robyn has plenty ‘local vigor’ of her own which she uses to leverage and care for the lush landscapes and friendly people of Southland everyday.

Originally from Otago but now a Riverton local through and through, Robyn is a community organiser, grower, ecological historian and advocate for Southland’s natural resources. She is the backbone of Riverton’s Environment Centre and the person behind several of the region’s most well known outdoor projects like her family’s Forest Garden, the Heritage Orchard Project and a recently launched Resiliency Project.

In her words, Robyn started out with two hectares of rough land, two toddlers and an appreciation for common sense and for the land on which we live. Since 1986 Robyn and her partner Robert have maintained an internationally recognised Forest Garden. “We just planted some trees and let it happen,” she said. The Forest Garden is now home to hundreds of species of edible plants, berries, mushrooms, herbs, birds, insects and more.

People travel from near and far to visit this magical place that showcases just how much can grow in the span of one generation. Robyn’s grandchildren, now the same age as her children were when the Forest Garden was just a scrubby patch, rejoice in its hideaways and delicious, organic treats. The Forest Garden is an “invitation to wilderness”  and it is an open invite, tours take place weekly and are about ten dollars.

Robyn has also been a key leader of Riverton’s Heritage Orchard Project which has led to the creation of fourteen parks full of heritage fruit trees. ‘Heritage’ refers to fruit trees brought to New Zealand by early European immigrants. These trees represent some of the best apple, pear and plum trees in the Southern hemisphere. In 2008, she began to carefully care for and catalogue the trees’ diversity in order to preserve them as a valuable resource. She has reinvigorated interest in saving these trees and her work has resulted in a movement to manage and protect them.

More recently, Robyn launched a Resiliency Project. Southland depends on Christchurch for the majority of their supermarket stock, and on any day, Southland only has three days worth of food available. Given the region’s fertility, Robyn felt the locality could do better. In 2018 she was instrumental in 25 towns in the area forming a closed loop and so by relocalising the region can now, in the event of an emergency, support itself.

To experience Robyn’s work and the bounty of Southland on a larger scale, visit Riverton in March for their annual Harvest Festival. Rather, visit anytime. This southern landscape is always bursting with life and local vigor.