"Eden Garden", South Sydney Uniting Church

“It is a radical act to garden …”
Brendan Wong

"It is a radical act to garden … We are afraid of being in deep relationship with each other … the earth … God. To plant a seed and begin that process is an act of hope” (Mural in the Eden Garden, South Sydney Uniting Church).

If you visit the Eden Garden, located in the grounds of the South Sydney Uniting Church, on any given Thursday you will be sure to find Robert Robinson and Keith Ferguson hard at work.

The garden, a one-time recipient of the Councils community garden of the year prize (presented by the Governor, Marie Bashir), is currently tended by volunteers from the Luncheon Club Inc. (HIV/AIDS Support Group), alongside some individual community gardeners.

I visited recently to see the work that Robert and Keith have been doing. They are currently in the stages of restoration and planting, and Keith says: Once we get on top of it, this place is going to look really nice. The two men have been hard at work cleaning up the area, which involves plenty of weeding, trimming and watering plants, as well as growing new vegetables.

Both men became involved with the garden project through membership of the Luncheon Club. Robert has only been helping out with the garden for four years and had no prior experience with gardening. Im not a horticulturalist or anything like that, but you learn. After four years I know what is going on, he says. And Ive been doing it every Thursday since.

Keith started volunteering at the Luncheon Club 15 years ago after a friend was infected with HIV. He became involved with the garden five years ago. It gets me out of the house, which is part of the idea of the garden. Its for the clients to come around, sit and have a rest if they like, get involved if they like and do your own thing, he says.
The two men showed me around the garden, pointing out the work they have done in the past and tasks that they are planning to do.

Robert explains that the main objective of the garden is to grow vegetables and provide food for the Luncheon Club. Keith adds: For the people who come along as volunteers if theres stuff here that they want, they can take it.

While the Uniting Church owns the garden, the Luncheon Club offers oversight and helps to care for designated parts of it for groups like Buckingham House, a charity organisation that assists people living with a psychiatric illness. People like to get a little piece of garden, so for different charity organisations we give them a little plot, Robert says.

Keith then points to Frog Haven, located in the back corner of the garden. The main attraction is an old bathtub that has been converted into a pond for frogs, shaded by a large tree. Its a peaceful little corner for people who just want to sit, do nothing and relax, he says. Five years ago, this was just a dump and I came here one afternoon, rearranged the bathtubs and dug holes and the result is that, five years on, youve got quite a comfortable area, especially during the summer with the mulberry tree.

We walk along a footpath made with recycled rubble to a garden arch known as the Remembrance Garden, which Robert says will soon be redone.

Beside the garden is a mysterious storage shed humorously named the Bomb Shelter. Keith explains: Some people believe it had been a bomb shelter constructed during the early parts of the war but its architecture doesnt lend itself to being a shelter and nobody seems to know any of the history of it, and we suspect that there could be another level to it below.

Keith and Robert find that gardening at the Uniting Church has been a fulfilling and therapeutic activity despite the hard work involved, but they also welcome any help from the public. Anyone can come. We have no problems with that, says Robert. Lots of people keep saying that they are going [to help] but I havent seen many of them.

One potential gardener is theatre practitioner, Leonie Tillman, who has been looking for a community garden to get involved with. I find being in contact with the earth takes me out of the congestion of the city, Leonie says. Being in the garden makes me happy.

She says the popularity of community gardens has grown with more people becoming more concerned about the environment and the economy. The only problem for Leonie is finding the time, but she hopes to make gardening a weekly to bi-weekly activity.

For more information about getting involved contact Andrew Collis on 0438 719 470.