Do you ever find yourself mentoring someone a bit newer to gardening? Or wishing that you had someone to do this for you?
When we started front-yard food gardening about 12 years ago, we quickly learned to allow a bit of extra time for over-the-fence conversations during each job. Sometimes we fielded curious questions from passers-by, and at other times we were offered friendly advice (including “No offence, dear, but…” usually followed by something about how this garden had always been lawn – and presumably always should be). We were never lonely!
But what if you don’t know the gardeners in your neighbourhood?
There is something about gardening itself – perhaps being in touch with Nature’s generosity? – that brings out the sharing spirit in people. Even people who tend to use their gardens as a private refuge can often connect quite readily with someone else who is gardening. It’s a bit like the way that dog-walking connects even quite shy dog owners – that shared love generates goodwill. So if you see someone gardening up your street, there’s a pretty good chance that theywon’t mind if you show an interest and ask them a few friendly questions.
If you see a garden you admire but haven’t yet spotted the gardener, try dropping a note of appreciation in their letterbox with your contact details. Maybe invite them for a cup of tea and a garden chat (even if that means BYO tea and chatting at a long lopper’s length). And having made contact, there’s no harm in asking nicely for a few cuttings or seeds in season. It’s nice if you can reciprocate with something from your garden when you have a surplus. That might take a year, and that’s OK. They will be touched that you remember and appreciate their help after that time.
Being a great garden buddy
Often it’s like being an exercise buddy – motivating and encouraging each other to keep learning, keep trying, just keep going. But if you’re a few steps ahead, what does it take to offer your experience and advice without imposing? Well, I probably misjudge this sometimes – I hope not too often. But here’s some things I try and that people sometimes appreciate, and some things others do for me that I really appreciate.
- Show interest and encouragement. For new gardeners, every little success is a victory and a reason to continue learning and experimenting. Many people are afraid that they are ‘doing it all wrong’ or don’t know where to start. Help them to ‘keep calm and carry on’ with their efforts.
- Listen to their situation. This applies just as much to a person’s family situation and time commitments as to their garden’s location and microclimate. Think about what might be realistic for them to achieve – and ask, don’t assume.
- Mention your observations. Last week two friends spotted things on my fruit trees that needed my attention. This enabled me to investigate before any serious damage. I’m glad they noticed and spoke up.
- Share from your abundance. One gardener’s trash is another’s treasure. It is possible that a new gardener is not yet overrun with parsley or silverbeet, so even if yours has reached plague proportions at home, they might appreciate a few of your seeds or seedlings.
- Create connections. Help new gardeners to find others in the neighbourhood who are skilled at growing the plants they want to grow. Share tips on finding useful books, community gardens, social media groups or whatever you have found useful in your garden learning.*
- Remember that what goes around comes around. It’s possible that you’ll never see that particular new gardener again – but it is certain that the kind of sharing and support you offer will come back to you in one way or another.
Garden Buddying in 2020.
OK, so some things are not quite what they were in years gone by.
- Inviting new buddies into your garden – or popping into theirs – needs the same cautions and courtesies as at any other time. Obviously respect people’s privacy and personal space – and put appropriate boundaries around your own. And this year, add an extra arm’s length, to be on the safe side.
- People may be stressed. So they might not have the capacity to host a garden visitor. On the other hand, they may be really struggling with isolation and unexpectedly want to be closer or spend longer together than you are comfortable with. Try to communicate clearly about what you’d like, and don’t let ‘politeness’ override safe boundaries. If in doubt, postpone.
- Sharing materials safely. While sunshine, fresh air and soil are all great for our health and generally tend to favour friendly microbes, we really don’t know where other people’s produce, tools and materials have been – or who might have sneezed on them five minutes ago. It’s ok to handle things with gloves, extra containers, extra hand-washing, parking it outside when you get it home, or whatever it takes for you to be confident that you’re minimising risk of Covid-19 transmission. While you’re at it, might as well practise general garden safety and hygiene – take care and communicate carefully about sharing anything that might contain rusty nails, sharp edges, blunt tools – and sharp tools! – splinters, poisonous plants, weeds, redbacks and all the rest!
- And don’t take anything personally. Your failures and successes in the garden are not a measure of your character. Others’ comments aren’t either. If someone wants to offer you support, it doesn’t mean they think you don’t know what you’re doing. If you truly don’t know what you’re doing, you’re not alone, and you’re not a failure – if we’ve stopped learning, part of us has stopped living. If someone doesn’t want to take your advice or accept your generosity, it’s not your fault, and it doesn’t mean you should be less generous – just offer it elsewhere. Offer – and accept – with an open heart and with no expectations, just gratitude for the opportunity.
In one way, there has never been a better time to form new gardening connections. Lots of people have time on their hands and are looking to connect, our usual routines and habits have been shaken up, and there’s a very clear set of distancing guidelines to conveniently scaffold our tentative approaches to strangers.
Reaching out now could help to create the kind of neighbourhoods we’ve always wished we lived in.
Garden Share Adelaide – facebook group
The Food Forest http://www.foodforest.com.au/
Joe’s Connected Garden – https://www.facebook.com/JoesConnectedGarden/
Permaculture: a designer’s manual – Bill Mollison
Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture – Rosemary Morrow
The Permaculture Home Garden – Linda Woodrow
From the Ground Up – Sophie Thomson
Knowing Growing Eating – Neville Bonney
One Magic Square – Lolo Houbein
Organic Fruit Growing and Organic Vegetable Gardening – Annette McFarlane
RetroSuburbia – David Holmgren
The New Organic Gardener – Tim Marshall
The Seed Savers’ Handbook – Michel & Jude Fanton
The Weed Forager’s Handbook – Annie Raser-Rowland & Adam Grubb
Starting a Garden in Adelaide – Nadja’s Garden