With over 600 active Community Greening gardens across New South Wales, it can be tough to keep up to date with all of the countless achievements and acknowledge the many passionate people that help keep these valuable spaces looking great and continue to bring local communities together.
One amazing Community Greening champion is Marion Cartwright, who was recently awarded the very prestigious 2019 Bayside Council Citizen of the Year for her outstanding contributions to the community over the past 15 years. I have known and worked alongside Marion in the garden at Eastlakes ever since I started working with Community Greening eight years ago.
A community leader
Marion regularly brings the local community together for morning tea in the garden plus helps to organise weddings, funerals, and birthdays - all despite recent health issues. She continues to work primarily by herself in the one-acre public space outside of her complex, with help from Community Greening by the way of donated plants, materials and support.
It’s safe to say that she single-handily transformed an empty, dusty lot into a thriving community space, giving other members of the complex a sense of belonging, purpose and a safe place to gather.
I recently visited the garden at Eastlakes to catch up with Marion, who just celebrated her 80th birthday last week – another incredible achievement that adds to her heroic efforts and determination.
How has the community garden, or gardening changed you?
15 years ago I was in a pretty dark place after moving from Alice Springs and ending up in a women’s refuge home. After moving to Sydney in 2005 to this complex, I started planting a little patch of annual flowers – at the time I didn't' realise what I started.
This garden has saved my life, I was diagnosed with bipolar and with the help of medication and a good dose of social and therapeutic horticulture – I’m here today, alive and in good mental health. That little patch of flowers at the front of my ground floor unit was how I met the Community Greening coordinator at that time, Steve.
We started to chat, and I expressed how much I would like to expand the garden. The site was just hard grey sand with the odd tuft of grass. It is now over an acre of lush tropical gardens with all kinds of rare flowers donated by Community Greening. The garden includes fruit trees, peaches and mangoes, and recently added raised garden beds for herbs and vegetables.
Initially Community Greening was visiting weekly to support and establish the expansion of the garden but now, I’m in here everyday with other gardeners Italo and Saroya. I used to spend 3 or 4 hours each day in the garden but these days my physical health prevents me gardening as much as my mind would like to.
What are your most memorable achievements in the community garden?
My most memorable achievements would be finally getting an irrigation system last year as part of the grants I applied for – a long awaited addition to the garden so that I didn’t have to carry water jugs and negotiate with the hose. The grant also included new raised garden beds that are engaging more people in the complex and we are now growing more veggies than ever. New furniture and a covered area were also a few upgrades the garden received through the grant.
Of course, being named Citizen of the Year at a recent Australia Day celebration was a great achievement. And also making the acceptance speech in front of over 100 people, my family and fellow community gardeners.
What is the best thing about working in a community garden?
The best thing about the garden is how every second Saturday between 10 am and 2 pm the local church help to run a morning tea and lunch at the garden. Community members come out of their units to share home-made food and cakes in the garden and they tell me how beautiful the garden is - even those who don’t speak fluent English participate. The diverse Eastlakes community is brought together by the love of the garden and home-made food - a language understood by all.
Also, I spent much of last year in poor physical health and the community rallied around me to cook, clean and even assisted me to shower. It’s a true sign of how strong and resilient the community around us is and how the community garden is at the centre of such important bonds.
What is your favourite plant to grow and why?
My favourite plants are roses, I look back with fondness at how well I grew them when I lived in Alice Springs on a camel farm 100 km out of town. The rich soil and low humidity did amazing things for the roses but alas I’m surrounded by dark rich soil full of worms and struggle to grow roses now.
There are several ways you can take part of Community Greening including Corporate Volunteering. More information can be found here.