Thursday, March 9, 2017

How to grow a community

Pammy and I have a little standing joke that we always share with her lovely Mum, Val, every time we go out together. At some stage in the evening one of us, or all of us together, says "You're doing very well for your age, dear!"

Where that came from is one doctor who condescendingly told Val at each visit, with a pat on her hand, that she's doing very well for her age. Yes, it's true. She's a very active octogenarian, with a sharp mind, a great sense of fun and a full social life, and when she's relaxing at home she loves to do a bit of gardening.

Where she lives, in her own townhouse within a well-run retirement village in Sydney's north-west, her front porch and rear balcony are both filled with pots of healthy plants. She's always been a green-thumb, and happily says that the secret of her success is talking to her plants and sharing with them her love for life. 

A few years ago, being a community-minded person who has always been on the front lines of getting things done locally for charities, the arts and other community groups, she and several other residents of her retirement village convinced the management that setting up some garden beds for growing vegies would be a great idea. 

And so it has proved. It's been a roaring success, and today I popped up with a box full of new seedlings to plant in Val's plot for autumn. So here's a quick look at what gardening should look like in every retirement village around the country.

This is what we should call "Phase One" of the vegie gardens. Local schoolkids and their teachers enthusiastically came along, assembled all the metal raised beds and filled them with what must have been several cubic metres of planting mix. It was quite a day for everyone involved, a great activity for the kids, much appreciated by the residents.

With Sydney's appallingly hot, record-breaking summer now over, it's a miracle that anything survived, and while there are bare patches in most plots at the moment, there are plenty of survivor crops, too.

Val had told me a week or two ago that everything in her little patch had carked it in the heat, but since then it has been raining on and off for the last two weeks, and of course the thyme (far right) has bounced back, so too the mint (centre) and a small dainty daisy (at the back). Some of the older gardening blokes are vegies-only-in-my-bed purists, but our Val goes the potager vegie gardening route, and likes to have some flowers planted with her vegies (and so do I).

So, today we planted out some seedlings of Cos lettuce, curly parsley, chives, red-stemmed shallots, perpetual spinach and some more flowers — this time dianthus. We scattered around some fertiliser, watered everything in with seaweed solution, then spread around a layer of water-saving mulch. Minutes after we finished, it started raining ... so hopefully that is a good omen for this autumn crop.

On the other side of the area of open ground, this is "Phase Two" of the ever-expanding vegie growing complex. The composting system is very serious now, and there's a quartet of wooden raised beds where crop rotation looks to be strictly practised.

Next to the wooden raised beds there are little propagating tents where seedlings are raised. All in all it's a well-organised, practical and productive place for people to while away the hours.

As far as I am concerned, everyone involved deserves congratulations for what's happening here. The whole of the retirement village is beautifully landscaped and the team of gardeners here do an excellent job of keeping everything looking healthy around all the buildings. They also happily chat with residents such as Val about the plants around her own townhouse, and are very receptive to her ideas about the plants growing there.

So it came as no surprise that a village management with its own commitment to beautifully landscaped gardens would happily embrace the idea of a community vegetable gardening area.

As residents have seen the success of the vegie plots, more and more of them are wanting to get involved and start their own patches.

One of the extra benefits of having a community garden, apart from the healthy produce, is that so many residents enjoy the chance to be outdoors, having a chat with their neighbours, or helping others out — and so the combined effect of just starting up a few garden beds is a very healthy one for body, spirit, mind and community.


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