Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

Dirty Fingers

Here’s how bad it was. For several weeks now I’ve been staring at a sample of artificial turf – a chemical laden sheet of toxic waste masquerading as grass – wondering if it would really be so terrible to cover the entire patio in it.

You see, apart from rampant nasturtiums that burst out of their raised bed like bubble gum and smothered the bench seat below, not much has grown in our shady patio at the back of the house, certainly none of the fruit and veg I grew with such ease in Broken Hill. That wonderful connection with nature has gone; no peas, no beans, no chooks and no grass.

Then a flyer arrived, with two simple words that gladdened my foolish heart and saved me from spreading a sheet of plastic outside the back door. Community garden, it said. It said a lot more besides, but that’s all I read. It was tempting to grab a pair of gardening gloves and a trowel and race out of the door then I thought I should at least meet the other gardeners, calmly and politely, before flinging caution to the wind and digging with frenzied relish in someone else’s patch.


Mort Bay community garden hugs the side of a cliff at the edge of a park, with the skyscrapers of Sydney’s Darling Harbour visible in the distance. It was nothing like the allotments I remember from England, those long thin parcels of land set in regimental rows; this was a relaxed Aussie approach to gardening.


There were raised beds of different shapes, heights and sizes, made from corrugated metal and dotted along the patch of ground at odd angles. Some were netted and some weren’t, most were filled with earth, compost and a thick layer of mulch, and nearly every one of them was chock full of flourishing produce; peas, beans, kohlrobi, cabbage, rocket, lettuce, beetroot… you get the idea.


Mo, Margaret, Janice, Annette and other women in their forties, fifties and sixties wore broad smiles, flat shoes and – here’s the clincher – dirty gardening gloves.

‘How does it work?’ I asked, after I’d introduced myself, trying not to pant.

‘Well, you pay thirty bucks a year then you come and join us. We meet as a group every Thursday afternoon and every second Saturday, and there’s a gardening roster for the rest of the week.’


Thirty dollars. For the endless pleasure of spending time with other people who share my passion; for the delight of getting dirt under my fingernails; for the wonderful joy of planting tiny specks of seed that look no more appetizing than grit and that grow into fat, juicy vegetables ripe for harvest. I’ve spent way more than thirty dollars on failed plants in this Sydney garden of ours, so I’ll be signing up as soon as I can.

The lone fig I harvested from the back garden suddenly doesn’t look so lonesome.


I’ve found my gardening tribe in Sydney and I can’t wait to get stuck in!



12 comments on “Dirty Fingers

  1. Jane @ Shady Baker
    May 15, 2014

    Beautiful Deb…so happy for you! What a wonderful idea. A very well spent thirty dollars I would say. The photo with the bridge in the background is amazing. Happy community gardening to you.


    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      May 16, 2014

      Thanks Jane, it’s inspired me to stop feeling quite so negative about our own back yard as well, I’m sure I can grow something edible in it somewhere!


  2. candidkay
    May 15, 2014

    I love this! Green is sanity, isn’t it? 🙂


  3. monsoonwendy
    May 16, 2014

    They are lucky to have YOU Deb is all I can say! Missing you.


  4. debhuntinbrokenhill
    May 16, 2014

    Hope I can resist picking their snow peas for long enough to be useful! Miss you too. x


  5. Sue Hines
    May 16, 2014

    I so understand. It has been one of the joys moving back to Adelaide is having my garden. Full of good soil, worms and the space. Eating peas that have grown form the pea straw. They never make it inside as I would much prefer to eat them fresh. Gardening is so good for the soul. Xx


  6. Adele Hughes
    May 21, 2014

    Peace at last for your gardeners heart Deb! Sounds like a wonderful compromise, have fun. Cheers Adele xx


  7. debhuntinbrokenhill
    May 23, 2014

    It’s made me realise how much work needs doing at home! x


  8. Carricklass
    June 16, 2014

    I’d love to hear how your community garden is going. Bet you’ll meet some characters. BBC Northern Ireland did a series on an allotment in Belfast. It made for great viewing. Trying to keep people to the rules was Reg, in charge of all the gardens. He was the enemy! A really lovely person but you have to have a bit of animosity.

    The “craic” as we say was mighty! One girl, Rosie, a great wit and a practical joker. The series finale culminated with a little exhibition. One gentleman of serious disposition proudly displayed his large pumpkin and perfect pumpkin.. On the day of the show, Rosie hid his pumpkin and put a miniature one in it’s place!

    So, let us know how your own adventures go.


    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      June 17, 2014

      What a brilliant idea, I can feel a murder mystery plot stirring. I went along to the community garden on Saturday and there were some fantastic characters there (and some not inconsiderable dissent over the nasturtiums.)


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This entry was posted on May 15, 2014 by and tagged , , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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