Category: Blog

What’s happening in August 2017?

Tomato seedlings: These are now out in the glasshouse to get a bit of sun. At night they are wrapped up in frost cloth for protection. Hopefully, with lots of TLC they will be strong and healthy by the time Spring arrives.

Mulch Donation: City Care dropped off a truckload of chipped / shredded branches and bark. This will be spread on the Burns St corner. One of our volunteers has already started on this, ably assisted by his 4 year old son. Thanks again City Care.

The Blue Cedar trees at the rear of the garden have now been given a haircut by the arborists at City Care and are looking much more balanced. They did the job on one of those horrible cold and wet days we had last month but managed to avoid hypothermia. Great job.

Fruit Trees. Our fruit tree expert has sprayed them all with Conqueror Oil to combat mites and other bugs. Apparently it stops them settling on the plants. It’s a low toxicity product with no withholding period, so we are comfortable with using it in the Gardens.

The first Broad Beans and Peas are up and sowing for succession will be continued this month.

Preparation for our Little Spring Market Day on Sept 2nd is underway. We will have our usual array of plants, pickles and preserves for sale. We are experimenting with no leafletting for this event in order to assess the effectiveness of letter box drops. Keep an eye on our Facebook page and also the Neighbourly website.

Intern: A student from the Health Sciences Dept at UC will be joining us for August. She is working on a Health Education paper and will be developing a Garden Fitness programme and also some promotional material to complement it.

Community Gardens Life: Participation

People often ask when they stop by  – so who works here?  On-site volunteer workers include an average of 80 people p.a ( approx 15 p er week) and 3-4 paid staff . Paid staff are in my view critical to the capacity development, maintenance and stability of a community garden and provide the support and resources required by volunteers and the community. We have three main volunteer days – Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.  Tuesday is often spent off site on our two other sites and Friday is set aside for meetings and  administration.  Our weekend is Sunday and Monday so in the summer, help with watering on those days is much appreciated. . The work, like that of any  small farm is incredibly varied and suits those of a practical bent.

The rewards for volunteers working here on a regular basis are free resources ( plants, produce, preserves, compost etc..) and a free lunch twice a week. There are naturally other intangible and intrinsic rewards such as companionship, social support and learning. Enjoying lunch from the crops grown is important in order to enjoy the fruits of our labour and gives us time to sit down and talk about the work and relax together. At this time of the year we are having soup and toast made from autumn produce stored in the freezer and root crops growing in the garden now. In summer we have salad and rolls. We function as a workplace with a lunch break – so its back to work until afternoon tea-break, after which most volunteers head off. The average time spent here is 4 hours – usually 10.30 – 2.30. In the summer months we can still be working at sundown if the mood and weather takes us.

So what do we do on rainy days? We make pickles and preserves for fundraising, process seeds, clean and tidy the resource centre and sheds and have a covered potting shed so a bit of weather means we can get other work done and carry on with propagating plants.

If you take a look at our statistics page you will notice that a relatively small number of 80 volunteers facilitate the opportunity for the majority ( 4500+ ) of other participants visiting for plants and produce, advice and recreation, dropping off recycling, and for education ( school visits, student placements etc..)  or professional purposes. These people are as much participants as the volunteers and staff, are important to us and help us  contribute to our goal of supporting a sustainable community. We provide resources and grow crops for the wider community who participate by accessing them .  While the number of these participants we can reasonably count is up to 5000 people, I would estimate that we provide services for an additional 5000 people in terms of indirect and passive benefit. That’s  10,000 – the standard size for a ‘community’ or’ neighbourhood’ for research purposes.

We very much enjoy interacting with people utilising the site as a resource. I personally enjoy engaging with strangers.  Even discussing our harvesting policy with plunderers is satisfying in the sense that these exchanges need to be done face to face to back up the various notices about harvesting and to model ( or at least experiment with)  what a trust-based economy might look like in the flesh.

In the previous post I spoke of the less than desirable attitude of those few who act disdainfully towards the workers here while helping themselves to produce. Detachment from or avoidance of face to face interaction with real people is a  growing problem in our society. Community gardens create opportunities for participation in neighbourhood productivity and purposeful interaction while educating about fair sharing and trust in an increasingly competitive society.

Community Gardens Life

We are working hard at the moment making sure the community has some leafy greens to pick for winter. This involves planting, fertilising, mulching, protecting against birds and slugs and generally caring for the plants we raised from seed over late summer. While it is common courtesy to greet us while we work, when people don’t do this I sometimes wonder if they wish we were not present for a range of reasons. What we see on our security cameras after hours is mind boggling. Obvious attempts to ignore us or make eye contact in order to render us and them invisible are usually indicators that the person has no intention of buying into our cultural codes of conduct. More on that in a later post.

If you are not one of these people – the following does not apply to you. So read on friend of the Christchurch South Community Gardens.

It’s interesting how some people, will walk onto the gardens with a plastic bag in hand and either start picking crops without acknowledging the actual physical presence of people working on site (rude) or simply (and rather self-servingly)  assume we are there as mere labourers with no authority to comment on their actions (again, rude).

It is important that our work, role in the community and subsequently our authority to set the codes of conduct is respected. That is easier said than done in a trust-based economy which is one of the things that makes working in this setting so interesting. The issues raised in the Tragedy of the Commons can be very easily brought to bear and lead to talk of building a six foot high fence.

In doing so we would in my view be  buying into the notion that collective responsibility to share public resources fairly is an impossible dream and that self interest will cause people to exploit a freely available resource that is not policed.

When I discuss such issues it is common for some people to shrug and maintain that this is just ‘human nature’. I disagree. I maintain that most people are honest and do pay a reasonable sum for what they take, and take a modest amount for their needs but that those who don’t simply take the lion’s share and deprive us of much needed funds .

Most people are respectful in the way they use this resource and engage with us in many ways that raise our spirits.

Being the manager of a charitable trust that runs a community garden accessible to the community 24/7 can be quite a challenge. Some people see the gardens as either a “plunders paradise” (from petty theft to major burglary) and/or a place to dump and run (e.g. providers attempting to dump high needs clients , people dumping organic waste material that is so putrid that it has completely liquified, rotten sofas, broken BBQs and the like). More on attitudes to waste later.

While that group is in the minority, it is these people that take up most of our time time, cause us the biggest headaches and create the most damage to our sustainability and subsequent ability to provide services to the community.

We do not have unlimited funding and support from the state coffers to grow produce on an entirely voluntary basis for the community as well as run an effective resource centre, local waste processing service (24 tonnes p.a.), community education site (pre-school to PHD) and therapeutic centre.

I get asked quite often – what a lovely job you have – it must be so peaceful and cruisy  working here. As though all this happens as it would in some romantic fairy tale view of what an ideal community garden should be.


All of us not-for-profit managers in this sector are obliged to be the swan gliding on the lake for public relations purposes so the image of the service is not compromised and that people can have a nice peaceful look around the gardens – this is understandable.

However, swans also have a reputation for hissing and biting and flapping in order to protect that which they are driven to out of an inherent sense of value, not least because of the time and investment it took to create it.

Like any other non-profit organisation in the world, we have to write proposals for funding, keep a wide range of records, pay staff, support volunteers, put on fundraising events, engage with the community and monitor and evaluate outcomes. At the same time we are engaged in crop production and running a community nursery on a small horticultural  holding in the suburbs. We must provide legitimate reasons for our donors to keep us afloat and maintain stability so we can produce outputs and outcomes which contribute to our principle objective of supporting neighbourhood sustainability in the built environment.

We would love to meet people who would like to help us address these and the many other interesting and challenging issues faced on a suburban community garden. More later on participation, recycling, harvesting and neighborhood sustainability.