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A view from Plot C - an ordinary member contemplates

March 2011


It's been a while since anyone has added to our website. Are we all too busy gardening to sit down at our computers and report on our activities?No, it's much more likely that we are all too wary of the technological minefields that await the neophyte horticultural reporter in getting word and image from the garden to the internet.


Thus it is that though I've long been aware of the need for a new contribution to our website -(the occasional browser can only have concluded that we have all simply died and gone to the Garden of Paradise) - it has taken a suggestion from my fellow committee members for me to attempt something.


Indeed it's my being on the committee that entitles me to call myself the Ordinary Member - you know, one appointed with no special function, and in my case, to fill the Casual Vacancy, in this case brought on by the casual vacancy in my brain failing to get my nomination form in on time.


But Ordinary and Casual also describe my very free form of gardening at the PCG. I'm one of only two or three members who don't have their own plot, so all of my efforts are in tandem with my coworkers in Plot C. This is a wonderful way to learn to garden. It means that when things are going - and growing - great, you can claim at least a portion of the credit. And when instead Plot C looks like it's been visited simultaneously by all Ten Plagues of Egypt, you can assign all the blame to your co-gardeners.


Some may wonder why anyone would bother becoming a member of a community garden if they didn't want their own plot. Despite growing up on a dairy farm, where the results of my parents gardening were eaten at almost every meal, I never bothered to learn even the basics of growing fruit and vegetables. My thumb, unlike my politics, never turned even the palest shade of green.


And when I left home, the very rare effort to grow something always ended in disaster. Visiting, and seeing my latest garden failure, my mother said, "Steve, stick to succulents". I've disliked those virtually indestructible plants ever since, not even resorting to them to green the Paddington terrace I've lived in for over 20 years, and which has remained a virtual desert.


But while I've never been a gardener myself, I've always enjoyed gardens themselves, and admired those who create and maintain them. So when the opportunity arose to join with others to make productive a barren corner of Paddington, I was in like a shot. In fact, I realised it was possibly a once in a lifetime chance, one so important, if I didn't take advantage of it, I might very seriously regret it for a long time to come. Too timid to ask for a whole plot for myself, and being interstate quite a bit, being on a communal plot corresponds perfectly to my level of ability and availability.


Since having the good fortune to become a member of the garden, I've been enjoying the benefits of the stated aims of the Paddington Community Garden as set out in The Garden Plan (and accessible on this site under Objectives).


1. Meeting Place - The garden makes it impossible to continue to whinge about the lack of a sense of community in our neck of the woods. I've met a number of remarkable people here. With two or three of them I'd already unknowingly been sharing friends and colleagues for some time. It is a community garden after all, drawn from the community and fostering its sense of community in a shared enterprise. In an age of intense individualism, and especially for shy introverts like myself, that provides welcome balance. The paradox here is that if you enjoy getting away from work and family and spending time outdoors by yourself, the garden provides ample opportunities for solitariness.


2. Learning Place - Prospective Members should be warned: the Paddington Community Garden may challenge you in ways you mightn't expect. You may have to learn to work together with others whose modus operandi is different from your own, you may learn about your own limitations in knowledge or physical ability, you may learn to accept help when you're used to going it alone, you may even learn to offer it when you see the need. Immediately after joining the garden, I saw the potential for a TV series to be set there - and not a gardening programme at that: no, it would be a sitcom, or a murder-mystery series, probably a mixture of the two. The garden has all those elements - it provides a perfect matrix to learn about yourself as you work with and next to others, with all the expected ups and downs that brings. You might even learn something about gardening in the process!


3. Healthy Place - "THIS HAS GOT TO BE GOOD FOR ME!!" This is what I tell myself as I pant my way sweatily up the steep footpath through Trumper Park towards the garden, lugging three kilos of fresh-baked bread and a gallon of homemade hummus for a communal meal, and a bulging bag of compost for our bin. This is what I tell myself as I labour under a pitiless Paddington sun carting sandstone, wood chips, and timber railway sleepers, or digging trenches in building enterprises which put the Pyramids and the Tower of Babel to shame. This is what I tell myself up to my elbows in and covered with the foulest mixture ever concocted, a witches brew of unholy ordure which is unfortunately and in all actuality Plot C's best hope for a rich and productive compost well down the track. This is what I tell myself as I down my sixth glass of wine - organic, surely? - at a communal garden meal.


4. Beautiful Place - How many times have we just popped into the garden for five minutes to water or turn compost and ended up staying thirty minutes just enjoying the beauty of the place. And this beauty is something that we have all helped create. Turn in any direction and you take pleasure in city vista views, tall gums, or our own special rock garden with exotic bananas and pool. In the garden itself, a passing parade of flowers. I'd thought sweet peas had become extinct - I'd not seen them since my childhood, but our canny gardeners have grown the most stunning looking and smelling displays of sweet peas imaginable. And it's not just humans who enjoy our garden: besides the usual bird and insect life which visit (some with less than honourable intent) we've hosted ducks, a blue-tongue lizard, and a buff-banded rail, a scavenger bird rarely sighted in the inner city because it is so shy. All in all, the garden is the perfect place to repair to when overcome by the ugliness of life.


Update. The best way to update yourself on what's happening at the garden is to participate as fully as possible in the life of the place. There's always something going on - working bees, workshops, meetings, and meals. If you're not a member, come and see what's happening on a Wednesday morning or Sunday afternoon when there is almost always a group at work there. The garden is so tucked away that even some who live very close by are unaware of our existence. At the time of writing, March 2013, the doughty Construction Team, who are responsible for the infrastructure of the place, have been organising the rest of us in putting in drainage through the garden to counter the soggy soil that we get in wet periods. This is relatively straightforward but extremely labour-intensive work, and is an excellent example of the garden organisation working at its best. It involves 1) communication and liaison with the Woollahra Council, by whose good graces the garden exists at all, 2) leadership and organisation by the Construction Team, 3) willingness of garden members to pitch in and help - that is, to take their part in the collective responsibility to maintain and improve the garden. It's precisely at times like these, when I see everybody doing their bit that I see most clearly: though I'm just an Ordinary Member of the Paddington Community Garden, I'm actually part of something extraordinary.


Stephen Walter

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