Community orchards and gardens are peppered around Wellington, and are great way to learn how to grow food, connect with your neighbours and create little oases of nature in the middle of the city. We took a tour of three of Berhampore’s finest little gardens.
Debbie McGill has been living next door to the Berhampore Island Bay Community Orchard for nearly a decade, but it wasn’t until Matariki last year that she sowed her first seedlings.
A long-time resident at the Council-run Granville Flats next door, Debbie is now one of the orchard’s regulars – soon to be confirmed as a trustee for the orchard – and is making sure every other tenant knows it’s for them too.
“It’s encouraging people to find a different way, instead of just existing in a concrete jungle.”
Once Debbie realised the orchard’s potential for her neighbours, she asked Council if they could cut a hole in the fence between the flats and the orchard so they could have easy access.
There are now friendly fights among tenants of the flats about who’ll water the already watered gardens, a set of thriving worm farms for people to put food scraps in, and she takes cooking classes at the flats using produce grown at the garden.
About a dozen curious locals and people from other community gardens around the city have come for a walking tour of three of Berhampore’s plots, including a few of the Orchard’s founders.
What or who initially sparked the idea of the Berhampore Community Orchard seems to be lost to history, but there is agreement that former Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown was integral in pulling people together to get it done.
One of those involved since the start was Island Bay resident Jon Field, who explains that it wasn’t a hard graft to get the land prepared for its first trees, just some drainage here and there and off they went.
“We were a bit worried about vandalism, but we planted things and put stakes in the ground saying what they were. But the trees were left alone and the kids pulled out the stakes to play sword fights.”
Jon says while people of his generation grew up watching their parents “plant for Britain” it’s a skill that is lost a lot of people now, and many think they can’t grow much in Wellington.
“It was about showing people what’s possible and how to grow. But not just to grow, but to prune, to harvest, to preserve.”
It’s Chloe Bisley-Wright who runs the Orchard now, and she’s determined to start getting younger people involved. She wants to give them a sense that they can do something, a sense of hope.
For her, connecting to the community garden was a way of connecting to the land, or finding a place to call her turangawaewae. Her son’s placenta is now buried there.
Chloe and a number of other gardeners had a plot on the Home of Compassion until about four years ago, but had to make way for a new building.
So they carted their topsoil and enthusiasm up the road to the Orchard, where they started a vegetable garden in among the well-established fruit trees.
Chloe’s now Chair of the Orchard trust, and with four other trustees and several other volunteers, they run monthly working bees, have planting days, and gardening with kids on Mondays.
Chloe makes a point of making sure there’s no singular way to participate – however people can and want to be involved, it’s possible.
She describes volunteers’ relationship with a garden as “reciprocal”, pointing out that people receive just as much as they give to a community garden.
“Community gardens bring a sense of belonging, of calm and a place for like minded people to find one another.
“I think they empower people to live their values as they are stronger together.
“They encourage activism with food sovereignty and bring people back in touch with knowledge about when food is available and how much work the plant has gone through to bear fruit for you.”
About one kilometre away from the Orchard, down a quiet street and off a quieter walkway, is Stan’s Edible Garden.
Ahmed Zerzouri is the man in charge of a small but productive patch of land running between a barb-wire fenced-off substation and a walkway that only locals know exist.
The garden, organised by allotments, is a labour of love Ahmed inherited from the previous tenant of the neighbouring flat.
Ahmed says he grew up helping his father grow food in Morocco, so making compost, preparing soil and growing food all come naturally to him.
Since he took on the garden he’s worked with Council to make the space feel safer – he’s built a little white picket fence, planted colourful flowers and organised for the street lighting to be fixed.
“It get better and better…With my work in the garden I’m trying to bring the community and say this place is yours. It’s creating safety for a circle of community and for people passing here.”
Just a short stroll further down the road, another previously inhospitable patch of land is being brought back to life with a little love and a lot of hard work.
For the small crew running the relatively new Te Wharepouri Community Gardens, it was about bringing together the neighbourhood and creating a shared outdoor space.
It was at a neighbourhood Christmas party that someone brought up the idea of creating a garden in the little patch of land that sits at the end of the street, over a culvert and on a little known walkway to MacAlister Park.
Charlotte Paul, who lives in small workingman’s cottage with little outdoor space, says someone then called the Council to ask permission, and next thing they knew they had 40 native trees dropped on their street.
They held a working bee to clear noxious weeds and started preparing the land for planting, and they now have a thriving vegetable garden and a fledgling native forest.
“The beauty of it is in turning something that was very ugly – there was a lot of blackberry and convolvulus – and turning it into something lovely.”
You can find out more about the Berhampore Community Orchard on the team’s Facebook page or visit them on Adelaide Rd, opposite Wakefield Park.
Te Wharepouri Community Gardens hold working bees on the 1st and 3rd Saturday or each month from 11am to 12.30. You can find them at the end of Waripori St.
There are at least 16 community gardens in central Wellington, all of which welcome people to visit and be involved – a garden takes a village to thrive! Contact details for most are on Wellington City Council’s website.