Garden Club

Garden Club is a turn-up, the unexpected gift that just keeps on giving. A few years after we arrived in the Northern Rivers new friend, Harry, spoke of his desire to learn garden skills. I’d already been trying to find a way to share the know-how gleaned from my forty odd years of gardening. I’d long believed veggie gardens the best place to start learning garden skills, and I was deeply in need of some help in my veggie patch. But between work, young family and surfing, Harry had little time to spare. So why not come around after work once a week to help in the veggie patch – learn by doing? But in the back of my mind, I was thinking bigger.

Prior to Harry’s interest I had been telling myself that the organic fruit and veggies we grew and sold so cheaply from our roadside stall was our way of giving back to and connecting with our new community.  But that argument rang hollow when most customers were turning up in Teslas, Porches and the like, while I was barely covering costs.  Was this the community I wanted to be part of?  As I toiled away alone out the back, hidden from the stall, I wasn’t even connecting with this community anyway.

Back in Sydney when I set up a school and a neighbourhood veggie garden, I’d found them a great way of connecting with local community. Harry wondered if his afterwork garden stint could be open to any others interested in gardening, but without their own garden. Brilliant idea. In exchange for labour they would learn garden skills, get to take home veggie garden produce (rather than us selling it), and enjoy a relaxed get-together that may just grow into community.

I love the work of weeding, preparing ground, then planting out garden beds – core garden work that deeply connects you with Nature.  But these days I find all the bending a killer on my lower back.  It’ll ache for days after a serious weeding session.  And repetitive tasks such as planting out, harvesting or seeding can get a bit tedious when done alone.  While finnicky jobs like setting up protective netting, sowing seeds, challenge my numbly finger skills. But if there’s a gang helping out, chitter-chatting away as they work, such fiddly, labour-intensive, repetitive tasks are far less onerous. The usually solitary activity of gardening, gets done with ease, humour and love.

This sense of community, the collective vibe, generated by the shared work is a wonderful thing to be part of.  Current and past Woofers, old friends visiting from afar, new friends we’ve met here, families and friends turn up. It’s an authentic way for people to connect, especially those from overseas.  They exchange information, tell stories, gossip as they tend the veggie garden and orchard, or help out in the rainforest while learning new skills to do with plants. Peer learning means the more experienced can show neophytes how things are done.  Tedious, fiddly, time-consuming jobs happen so much quicker when there are many hands. And it’s fun.

I very much doubt if this would have happened if I had set it up as a goal from the start. I just cannot do things very well that way. No, Garden Club is a great example of a process rather than outcome-oriented approach to gardening. And quite a few lives are so much the richer for it. They just have a little difficulty explaining when asked, “So what do you mean why would you just go and work in these people’s garden for nothing?