Story telling from Australia
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!