Volunteer Brendan Murphy has been involved with the garden since the beginning of the renovation process. The biggest change Brendan has noticed is the number of people who are now able to access the garden. “People can go anywhere in the garden without having to worry about bumps, and nobody’s going to trip over things,” Brendan notes. “There’s actually more garden area in beds than there was before.”
In the past parts of the garden were only partially accessible, and the surface was too uneven for anyone with mobility issues. For Garden supervisor Vicky Barrett, addressing this problem was a major part of the renovation plan.
“The key goal was to create a better teaching space, connecting the bubble house to the garden so that the workshop [attendees] could access the garden, and we could move back and forth,” Vicky says. “What we have done is by raising the beds and creating solid, firm pathways we have increased accessibility.”
Vicky says the increased access to the garden has doubled the number of volunteers who are able to be involved with it.
And because the garden is easy to access it is easier to keep it maintained. “It’s just clean lines and easy to manage, easy to mow, mulch and weed. More accessible to all people really,” Vicky says.
During the year, the Dig It! Garden hosted a series of workshops on organic gardening practices. The workshops were run by a group of talented experts, including Derek Craig, Heritage Gardener and Science & Research Officer for Auckland Branch of NZ Tree Crops Association, Gardens 4 Health’s Richard Main and Dr. Robyn Gardner-Gee. The workshops covered a variety of topics including soil health, harvesting, micro greens, and growing edible plants.
The first new workshop will be on 10 March, focused on Alembic Distillation (“learning how to make essential oils from herbs and flowers,” Vicky explains).There will also be talks on Permaculture and disease and pest control later in the year. Vicky is also looking at doing some mosaic work during winter.
And the garden has much to look forward to this year.
The first big event of the year is the Heroic Garden Festival, on the 10-11 February. Every year, the Heroic Garden festival gives garden enthusiasts an opportunity to visit some of Auckland’s most impressive private gardens. For the first time, the Dig It! Royal Oak Organic Garden has been included as one of the gardens to visit.
"This is a great opportunity for us to showcase our garden to the public, and hopefully attract some new volunteers," Vicky says. "The garden is peaking in its production so it is the perfect time to see it!"
Brendan’s focus this year is opening a small shop at the back of the garden, where people will be able buy produce, fertilisers, garden products and locally-produced art work from disabled artists.
“It would be quite good to get some people who have a skill building it. Not only is it us making a little bit of money out of it but people can be involved if they don’t want to just garden,” Brendan says.
While 2017 was a year of major accomplishments for the Dig It! Royal Oak Organic Garden, what Vicky is most proud of is not the growth of the plants, but in the team that keeps them alive: the volunteers.
It has been opportunity for volunteers to grow as gardeners, and for people to discover their own specific talents - seed-sowing, planting, manicuring, staking, composting and mulching. “It’s like a beehive, really,” Vicky says. “Everyone finds what they are good at and we work together to form this massive team.”
“I think it’s becoming a real Garden of Eden. Because I think the world is facing a real soil crisis and to have a place like this that’s been nurtured along healthy lines to grow nutritious food, this is going to be a real special place long-term,” Vicky says.
Story by Tim George