I write this in a new world, one which I did not see coming back in 2019 or even at the start of 2020, and one which has altered everything about our lives profoundly. It started with bushfires in the Hills on the 20th December, and on Kangaroo Island where they continued to rage for over a month. Then COVID started to get some airplay but, to be honest, I really didn’t take much notice, nor take it that seriously, till the government started to shut things down on the 16th March. Suddenly, like many others, my work life changed in an instant. I am a public speaker and there was no more ‘public’, let alone travel to interstate events to speak!? My calendar started to clear like dominos falling down, and while I initially anticipated it might be a 6-month period before things returned to ‘normal’, it became obvious that things would never return the way they were, but rather eventually transform to a ‘new normal’. The physical, mental, emotional, and financial hardships that have affected many within our community as a result of the bushfires and COVID have been devastating, yet Nature, the garden and gardening has taught me many lessons that we can all learn from during this time.

Being an optimist, I always look for positive things out of challenges and hardships and here are some of the positives I have seen over the past year:

Connecting with nature

Being forced to stay home and self-isolate has caused many people to connect, or reconnect, with Nature. National parks, parks and public gardens have been packed with people getting out amongst Nature which is fantastic. Many gardeners I know were in seventh heaven, being forced to stay home and spend time in their garden without the regular distractions and commitments of their previous life.

Environmental benefits

People witnessed the environmental benefits of us reducing our impact on the natural world around us. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if this could spark lasting change?

Gardening for mental health and well being

I have talked for years about the gardening for physical and mental health and wellbeing, but during these tough times, it is our mental health and wellbeing that has needed the most support. Gardens can be a sanctuary from our fast paced, crazy lives, but they can also offer solace and comfort when we are struggling.

Rebuilding fire effected gardens and communities

Working with the fire affected communities of the Adelaide Hills and on Kangaroo Island I have seen firsthand how devastating it is for people to lose their gardens, with some people more devastated to lose their garden than their home. I have seen tears in the eyes of men and women of all ages who are mourning the loss of their gardens. My focus has been to help these people reconnect with gardening and get their hands back in the soil, starting a new garden. I have been amazed at how simple little things like planting a new fruit tree or rose, or improving soil with compost, can have a profound effect, with hope and joy growing within the gardener just as the new plants do in their garden.

New gardeners

The sudden interest in productive gardening brought about by the concern about food security (even though I am told by experts that there is no food insecurity in Australia and we do grow enough food) has created new gardeners, and that is an awesome thing. Ital failed in their attempts to grow produce; this could turn them off gardening. However, it seems that the internet has meant that they can google anything to have great success in their own patch. Once you start growing your own food, it’s really addictive, and it’s hard to go back away from fresh, tasty, seasonal, nutrient-dense food. One of the most profound moment of COVID for me was in the first few weeks of craziness in the shops when there was rationing of staples, when my 17-year-old son said something as a statement, even though it was really more of a question. His words were “We’ll be alright mum, wont we?”. He was referring to the fact that we grow much of our own food, with a vegie patch, and orchard and a flock to give us eggs. Without hesitation I could answer “Yes we will mate”. In that moment I realized that having a productive patch gives our family food security, and my children peace of mind.

Sharing

Like many others, because I grow my own food and have more than I need, I was able to share with family, friends and others who don’t have the ability to grow their own, supporting them during this time. This old-fashioned habit of sharing is so important and helps strengthen and support our relationships with those around us.

Generosity within our community

While it’s easy to focus on the negative sides of human nature and individuals, I have been blown away by the generosity of people and businesses to support others during these tough times. Whether it’s the training organisation supporting its international students by supplying meals for them https://www.facebook.com/sophiethomsonpublicfigure/posts/2625205491068296 or whether its nurseries like Balhannah Nurseries donating fruit trees to fire affected gardeners, at a time when stock is in short supply and they don’t have surplus.

Community building

I have often said that community gardens are about more than just growing food, they are about growing community. Worldwide they are renown for creating strong, connected, resilient communities and yet through my experience of creating a rapid build community garden at Parndana on Kangaroo Island, I have been privileged to witness this firsthand, and my life will never be the same again for this experience.

My goal was to simply provide those who had lost their homes and gardens on the western end of the Island with some of the basics we take for granted when we have a garden, like a bunch of parsley. While the Parndana Community Garden has done exactly that, it has also brought the community together and had a far more profound effect than anyone would have anticipated. (Read more about this project https://sophiespatch.com.au/2020/07/02/bushfire-recovery/ and https://sophiespatch.com.au/2020/09/17/sa-life-regrowth-bushfire-recovery/

So, while there have been lots of challenges, Nature, the garden and gardening continue to inspire me and give me hope for the future.

Hope that they do the same for you to. Happy gardening!

PS. Saving the World With Gardening

Four years ago, I did a TedX talk at the Adelaide Town Hall, called ‘Saving the World with Gardening’ and although it was done before COVID 19 and last summer’s devastating bushfires, what I talk about is as relevant as ever. It only goes for 10 minutes so if you haven’t seen it before, grab yourself a cuppa and check it out at https://sophiespatch.com.au/2017/08/17/tedx-saving-the-world-through-gardening/