Two gardeners who strived to create the most inclusive community garden in New Zealand have been named Gardena Gardeners of the Year 2017.
Rebekah Manley-Campbell and Samantha Claire work at the Bright Smile Community Garden in the Coromandel town, which is managed and run by the Supported Lifestyle Hauraki Trust, an organisation set up to care for people with a wide range of physical and mental challenges.
As the duo are keen to ensure the garden is a welcoming place for everyone, they make sure that there is something here for everyone – whatever their interest or ability, young or old.
Lifestyle clients who come to the garden for working sessions and social occasions are able to learn about gardening, harvest food they have helped to grow, and interact with other community members. “Instead of being marginalised and ostracised as happened in the past, they are welcomed and valued by the gardening community,” Samantha explains.
There are also areas to walk through and relax in for the families who visit. When it was time to prune the peach tree, they made sure it would still be “climbable” for the younger children. They plant plenty of peas and beans partly because there is a particular Lifestyler who loves picking them. There is also plenty of flowers for those who like to pick posies.
The duo had been selected by public vote as the overall winner of the annual competition, run by NZ Gardener magazine.
Both Rebekah and Samantha see their win as one that belongs to the community too.
About 10 years ago, the development of the garden as it exists today began. The garden is named for the original Bright Smile mine which had been located there in the late 1800s. Since the mine closed, the Crown reserve land was largely unused. “When we started talking about the project and pushing it, lots of people helped out and contributed their time to building the vege beds and in so many other ways,” Rebekah recalls. “Then I got pregnant and was quite sick with my pregnancy so I couldn’t do as much. It was Trish Hatfield and Nancy Zwaan who pushed it and kept it going until about four years ago when they passed it on to me and Samantha.”
“When we took over, we were able to welcome new volunteers who are still very committed and now very experienced too,” Samantha continues. “We’ve moved into lots more areas in the garden and started developing it more as a food forest, with fruit trees and productive areas.”
Naturally, the prizes they have won will now be used in the garden. They include $2000 worth of Gardena products, LawnMaster gear worth more than $2000, $1000 in Tui products and a Gubba Shed worth $995. They, and four other finalists, also receive Gardena products worth $300 as well as products from Burnets, Gellerts, Kings Seeds, Skellerup and Orderings.
The Resene Most Colourful Character of the Year was awarded to Andrea Reid, who was a finalist for her work creating pollinator pathways of colourful flowering plants across Auckland.