Garden Club

A few years after Myrna and I arrived here in the Northern Rivers a new friend, Harry, spoke of his wish to build up his garden skills. I’d already been casting around for a way to pass on the knowledge gleaned from my forty years experience in gardening. I was also in need of some assistance. My aging body had ambushed the dream of creating a garden of sustainable food production and rainforest regeneration. My back would ache for days after a serious weeding session, a constant necessity in this climate. While finnicky jobs like setting up protective netting, sowing seeds, challenge my numbly finger skills. I really had bitten off more than I could chew and needed a hand.

But between work, young family and surfing, Harry had little time to spare, not enough to have much impact in the garden. What to do? Maybe if we could round up a few others interested in gardening to share the labour once a week after work? The usually solitary activity of gardening, could get done with more ease, humour and love. Many hands make light work and Harry knew quite a few garden-interested local hands.

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 was beginning to ring a bit 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.

Previously in Sydney I had set up a school and a neighbourhood veggie garden. Veggie gardens are the best place for novices to pick up basic gardening skills. I had also found these garden projects a great way of building community. In exchange for their labour, participants learn garden skills, get to take home produce, and enjoy a pleasant get-together.

And so with some of Harry’s friends and family and few of our local mates and Woofers, we put together Garden Club. People turn up on a Thursday afternoon after their working day is over, and head out into the veggie garden, orchard or the rainforest to give a hand. My lower back gives a massive cheer as they tend to the veggie patch, orchard and rainforest while they learn new garden skills. I run around like a headless chook trying to organise tools and plants, co-ordinate all the activity. Fortunately peer learning allows the more experienced to show neophytes how things are done, taking a bit of the pressure off me. The tedious, fiddly, time-consuming jobs happen so much quicker when there are so many hands. And it’s fun.

This sense of community, the collective vibe generated by the shared work is wonderful to witness, 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.  Each person coming has their own unique history, set of skills, stories and insights from all sorts of diverse places to contribute to the mix. After dark we retire to the house and Myrna cooks up a meal for all to share. I am constantly blown away by the rich alchemy of experience, learning, ideas and community bubbling away in the garden and at the after-garden meal.