How Matariki guides landscape design - People NZ
How Matariki guides landscape design

How Matariki guides landscape design

As Aotearoa gathers to celebrate Matariki 2022, we take a look at what this means for landscape architecture and how the Maramataka – the Māori lunar calendar – can be woven into your landscaping plan.

Words by ArchiPro Editorial Team

A special occasion in the New Zealand calendar, Matariki marks the start of the Māori New Year – signified by the Matariki cluster of stars reappearing in the night sky. It's a time of remembrance, celebrating the present, and looking to the future.

Traditionally, the Māori lunar calendar guided hunting, planting and harvesting and today can be used by us in the same way. So, if you're planning on landscaping your outdoor space, here are some ways you can integrate knowledge about the phases of the moon into your plan. 

The Matariki star cluster

Consisting of approximately 500 stars, six or seven stars of the Matariki cluster can be seen with the naked eye from early June before sunrise. In the mid-winter sky, it can be found northwards of the three stars of Tautoru (Orion’s belt).

The reappearance of this star cluster signals the start of the Māori New Year – but not all iwi celebrate at the same time. Some festivities commence on the first full moon after the cluster rises, while others begin with the following new moon.

“Those in the far north and deep south welcome and celebrate the appearance of another star, Puanga or Puaka (Rigel) at this time of the year,” explains Liliana Clarke, researcher and associate investigator for the Society of Māori Astronomy Research and Traditions (SMART) Trust. “Some mark the New Year at Whiro (new moon) following the appearance of these stars; others use the Tangaroa phases.”

In a webinar held by the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects (NZILA) presented by Liliana earlier this month, she shared that as well as the stars, it is also important to look at Maramataka – the different phases of the lunar cycle, which consists of 30 moon nights, or 29.5 days.

“This happens every lunar month and this is the same with the seasons; we have Maramataka within these seasons,” says Liliana. In terns of landscaping, each phase of Maramataka dictates what should be done or shouldn't be planted. “We use the stars of Maramataka to do certain activities, certain mahi within the daily planning of life. We use the Maramataka as a daily planner.”

Each phase of the moon has meaning attached to it, and dictates certain activities, such as planting vegetables.

Phases of the moon that tell us when to plant

According to Pauline Harris, chairperson of the board at the Society of Māori Astronomy Research and Traditions (SMART) Trust, “the lunar component of the Maramataka recognises the different phases of the moon, with each moon phase named with multiple references to such things as agricultural, environmental and ecological information for each phase.”

Whiro is the phase of the new moon, says Liliana. "Within Whiro, which is red, there's certain activities [for example], it's not a very good time to be planting."

That is because during this moon phase, there are a lot of insects around.

"This isn't a time to plant. This is also a time to stay at home and gather your thoughts."

In the moon phase Tamatea Kai Ariki, it's not the best time to be out and about. "We've just gone through Tamatea Kai Ariki and we've had lightning, thunderstorms, we've had mini tornadoes and swell up in the moana. This is the best time to stay inside."

Rakaunui is the full moon, and this is the best time to plant.

"Because it's the highest time at the water table, it's the best time to grow your kumara, your potatoes; it's the best time to be planting."

Tangaroa a roto is the moon phase when we will celebrate Matariki this year.

To know the best time to plant, it’s important to understand that different Māori lunar calendars are used across the country.

And as Dr Nick Roskruge explains, our personal connection to whenua is also important: “The Maramataka is both a general knowledge system which we all can draw from, and a personal knowledge system to which we all add our personal observations, experiences and learnings.”

What is Matariki?

What does this mean when designing a landscape project?

Of course, as well as adhering to the phases of the moon when planting, there are times for different parts of the country when it’s best to grow certain plants. As Dr Diane Menzies says, Matariki is place-based, and this is important for landscape architecture.

“That’s what we deal in, our place and our whenua, and that’s what Matariki is also about. This is a good opportunity to bring our profession together, and it’s also a time to review and remember and plan for the coming year – that’s something that we as a profession also need to do.

“Aotearoa is a special place, it’s also about being respectful to the land.”

Learn more about Matariki for landscape architects from NZILA’s panel of experts.

Recommended reading