Two imposing handmade stone walls on two sides of the garden are made from volcanic stone which is an important characteristic of Mt Eden. One wall is high and invites climbers – plants not children. The soil is rich volcanic too.
The garden had patches planted by a previous children’s gardening group and exploding with large cauliflowers, broccoli, parsley and edible flowers so the overall impression was inspiring. One bed was loaded with buckets of growing salad greens (ready to fundraise the following week at the school fair for $6 each), mature citrus trees with some fruit and potatoes just up. There was timber to make a modest DIY compost heap.
A highlight was an eccentric miniscule round concrete building with a knob on top like a honey pot that had housed swimming pool chemicals – they were going to remove it. “No, please don’t!” It is a whimsical feature of the garden; we will grow climbing edibles like beans and Malabar spinach and turn it into a cute fairy house folly. Or climbing hops could look fabulous too?
Only three trees include a huge old elm tree covered in its soft lime green bracts creates the obvious spot for an R&R table and chairs, a silver birch tree a little the worse for wear, but fresh green buds just opening and a pittosporum – not my favorite tree but a tree nevertheless. Untidy rubbish all over the place wasn’t on my radar. We’ll soon deal with that.
A week later an unofficial group came while we waited for the school fair to transpire and school life to settle down. The children were all ages, from several classes and bursting with enthusiasm. The proposed tomato bed was easy to pull weeds out of and at one end two kids added blood and bone and some soil mix in a narrow mound to rev up a tiny patch which was then planted with six donated pea plants by six children as keen as mustard. It’s tricky to spread the favored duties around when there are only six seedlings.
Another bed was overgrown with weeds in rock hard earth – weeds came out without their roots so large garden forks were employed to dig out huge clods and shake the weeds out of them. This was hard work and not a highlight – helpers mysteriously drifted to other parts of the garden. Several of the children had taken their shoes off and were wielding large garden forks. When I asked about this they conveniently omitted to tell me that they had taken their shoes off at the gate and that is where their shoes still were. One little girl wore jandals. The shoe rules changed the following week - closed in shoes to be worn at all times.
In our first session some areas were vaguely cleared so that the fair visitors the following Saturday would have a better impression. Dead brown grass in neat wide lines around each raised bed sent a non-organic message until the groundsman assured us that the spray he used was organic.
The pittosporum, albeit imperfect, has disappeared although I asked for it not to be chopped down. Unlike me, I decide to keep my mouth shut and get off to a diplomatic start in what I’m certain will become a superb schoolchildren’s edible garden.